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  • CFPB announces settlement with companies that allegedly delayed transfer of consumer payments to debt buyers

    Consumer Finance

    On October 4, the CFPB announced a settlement with a group of Minnesota-based companies that allegedly violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act when consumers made payments on debts that the companies had already sold to third parties, and the companies improperly delayed the forwarding of some of those payments to debt buyers. According to the consent order, the companies—whose practices include the purchasing, servicing, collection, and furnishing consumer-report information on consumer loans—partnered with third-party banks to sell merchandise on closed-end or open-end revolving credit. Within a few days, banks originated the loans and sold the receivables to the companies. The companies subsequently serviced the debts and sold the receivables to a third party. For defaulted accounts, the companies charged off the accounts and sold them to third-party debt buyers. According to the Bureau, the companies allegedly failed to notify consumers when their accounts were sold, failed to inform them who now owned the debt, and continued to accept direct pays from consumers. The Bureau contends that between 2013 and 2016, the companies delayed forwarding direct pays for more than 31 days in 18,000 instances, and in 3,500 of those instances, the companies did not forward the payments for more than a year. Moreover, the Bureau asserts that these delays led to misleading collection efforts, including collection activity on accounts consumers had completely paid off. The order requires the companies to pay a civil money penalty of $200,000, and improve their policies and procedures to prevent further violations.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Third-Party Debt Buying CFPA Settlement

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  • FTC reaches settlements with student debt relief operators

    Consumer Finance

    On September 28, as part of Operation Game of Loans, a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement, the FTC announced settlements with several individuals and their associated companies (defendants), accused of violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule when marketing and selling student debt relief services. According to the FTC, the defendants, among other claims: allegedly (i) misrepresented to consumers that they were affiliated with the Department of Education or a borrower’s loan servicer; (ii) claimed that consumers who paid an up-front fee—as much as $1,000 according to the FTC’s complaint—would qualify for or be approved to receive permanently reduced monthly payments or have their student loans forgiven or discharged; and (iii) engaged in deceptive advertising practices through social media, falsely claiming they could qualify, establish eligibility for, approve, or enroll consumers in loan forgiveness programs.

    Under the terms of the settlements, the defendants are permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief products or services—or from assisting others to do the same. The defendants also are prohibited from making misrepresentations related to financial products and services. Combined, the settlements total more than $19 million in monetary judgments, all of which have been partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay the entire amount of their respective judgments. The more than $5 million in unsuspended amounts may be used for equitable relief, including consumer redress.

    Consumer Finance Student Lending Debt Relief FTC FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • FTC announces settlements with website operators over the sale of fake documents allegedly used for fraud and identity theft

    Consumer Finance

    On September 18, the FTC announced three proposed settlements with the operators of websites who allegedly violated the FTC Act’s prohibition against unfair practices by selling fake financial documents used to facilitate identity theft and other frauds, including loan and tax fraud. As previously covered in InfoBytes, identity theft was the second largest category of consumer complaints reported in 2017 according to the FTC. The FTC brought charges against the first defendant, alleging the defendant engaged in the sale of fake pay stubs, bank statements, and profit-and-loss statements, as well as providing a product that allowed customers to edit existing (and authentic) bank statements. The second defendant’s charges include the alleged sale of fake pay stubs, auto insurance cards, and utility and cable bills, while the allegations against the third defendant also include the sale of fake tax forms, bank statements, and verifications of employment. While the defendants’ websites claimed that the fake documents were sold for “‘novelty’ and ‘entertainment’ purposes,” the FTC asserts that the defendants “failed to clearly and prominently mark such documents as being for such purposes and did not state on the documents themselves that they were fake.”

    Under the terms of the proposed settlement agreements (see here, here, and here), monetary judgments are imposed against the defendants, who also are permanently prohibited from advertising, marketing, or selling similar fake documents.

    Consumer Finance FTC Identity Theft Fraud Consumer Complaints Settlement FTC Act

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  • CFPB studies geographic patterns in credit invisibility

    Consumer Finance

    On September 19, the CFPB released a new Data Point report from the Office of Research titled, “The Geography of Credit Invisibility,” which examines geographic patterns in the prevalence of “credit invisible” consumers, a term for those who do not have a credit record maintained by a national credit reporting agency, or have a credit record that is deemed to have too little or too old of information to be treated as “scorable” by widely used credit scoring models. The report studies whether the geographic location of a consumer’s residence is correlated with the likelihood of remaining credit invisible and aims to “aid policymakers and advance the conversation around potential causes and solutions.” Among other things, the report found:

    • credit invisibility may be higher for geographic tracts near universities due to their concentration of adults under 25 who may not have established a credit record yet;
    • rural areas have the most credit invisibility per capita;
    • consumers are less likely to use a credit card as an entry product to establishing a credit record in rural and low-to-moderate income areas;
    • credit invisibility was more prevalent in areas with less internet access as many products are originated through online services; and
    • there is little relationship between distance to the nearest bank branch and the occurrence of credit invisibility.

    The CFPB previously published two other Data Point reports on the subject: “Credit Invisibles” in 2015 and “Becoming Credit Visible” in 2017.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Research Credit Reporting Agency

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  • DOJ settles with apartment owner for alleged SCRA violations

    Consumer Finance

    On September 11, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Nebraska apartment complex owner resolving allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by unlawfully charging lease termination fees for 65 servicemembers. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between January 2012 and June 2017, the apartment complex owner imposed early lease termination fees, ranging from $78 to almost $1,500, on servicemembers who sought termination due to qualifying military orders under the SCRA. The settlement requires the apartment complex owner, among other things, to (i) pay more than $76,000 in damages to the 65 identified servicemembers; (ii) pay a $20,000 civil money penalty, and (iii) develop policies and procedures related to SCRA lease terminations.

    Consumer Finance DOJ SCRA Settlement Servicemembers

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  • CFPB publishes quarterly consumer credit trends on telecommunications-debt collection reporting

    Consumer Finance

    On August 22, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which focuses on the reporting of telecommunications-debt collections to nationwide consumer reporting agencies based on a sample of approximately 5 million credit records.  The report notes that during the past five years approximately 22 percent of credit records contained at least one telecommunications-related (telecom-related) item, with nearly 95 percent of these telecom-related items being reported by collection agencies. The report highlights that 37 percent of consumers who reported having been contacted about a debt in collection in the prior year were contacted about a telecommunications debt, and more than one fifth of all debt collection revenue is telecom-related debt. The report also observed that a single telecom collection may be associated with multiple tradelines in a credit record over time, suggesting that telecom collections are often reassigned. Notably, however, the report suggests that while the presence of a telecom-related collection item on a credit record is most commonly associated with consumers with lower credit scores, the change in score before and after the collection item appears on the credit record is often small, and as a result, a single telecom-related collection is unlikely to affect a credit decision for those consumers.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Collection Consumer Reporting Agency

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  • FDIC releases 25th anniversary edition of FDIC Consumer News

    Consumer Finance

    On August 3, the FDIC published a special edition of its quarterly FDIC Consumer News publication, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the newsletter, titled “25 Years of Tips You Can Bank On: Time-Tested Strategies for Managing and Protecting Your Money.” The quarterly newsletter intends to deliver “timely, reliable and innovative tips and information” about financial matters to consumers. The special edition reprises and updates an old article from each year going back to 1993 and includes topics such as (i) retirement planning and saving; (ii) how to know what is FDIC insured; (iii) minimizing the risk of identity theft; (iv) refinancing loans; and (v) cybersecurity checklists.

    Consumer Finance FDIC Consumer Education

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  • FTC halts fraudulent telemarketing scheme in Arizona

    Consumer Finance

    On July 31, the FTC announced that it had successfully halted a $3 million telemarketing scheme, which falsely promised to obtain grants for consumers in exchange for the upfront payment of fees. The FTC alleges the Arizona-based defendants charged consumers upfront fees ranging from $295 to $4,995 and promised to obtain $10,000 or more in government, corporate, or private grants that could help the consumers pay off personal expenses such as medical bills. However, “most, if not all,” consumers ultimately received nothing in return and the defendants often changed the company name once they received consumer complaints or state attorney general notices, or once they lost merchant accounts.

    On July 16, the FTC filed a now-unsealed complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The FTC simultaneously sought a temporary restraining order (TRO), which the court granted the following day. Among other things, the TRO prohibits the defendants from: (i) conducting similar business activities; (ii) violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule; and (iii) using or disseminating consumer information obtained through the fraudulent activities. Additionally, the TRO freezes the defendants’ assets and places the companies in receivership until relief is determined.

    Consumer Finance FTC Federal Issues Courts Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • CFPB announces settlement with Alabama-based operation for allegedly failing to properly disclose finance charges

    Consumer Finance

    On July 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a small-dollar lending operation that allegedly failed to properly disclose finance charges and annual percentage rates associated with auto title loans in violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the prohibition on deceptive practices in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). According to the consent order, the Alabama-based operation, which owned and operated approximately 100 retail lending outlets in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina under several names, materially misrepresented the finance charges consumers would incur for Mississippi auto title loans by disclosing a finance charge based on a 30-day term while having consumers sign a 10-month payment schedule. The Bureau asserts that “[c]onsumers acting reasonably likely would not understand that the finance charge disclosed in the loan agreement does not actually correspond to their loan payment term.” Furthermore, the Bureau contends that the operation also failed to disclose the annual percentage rate on in-store advertisements as required under TILA. The order requires the operation to pay redress in the amount of $1,522,298, which represents the total undisclosed finance charges made directly or indirectly by affected consumers on their loans. However, based on defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the operation’s paying $500,000 to affected consumers. In addition to the penalties, the operation is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and the operation’s board must ensure full compliance with the consent order.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement CFPA TILA Auto Finance Disclosures

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  • CFPB settles with Kansas-based company and part-owner for debt collection violations

    Consumer Finance

    On July 13, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Kansas-based company and its former CEO and part-owner for using a network of debt collection agencies (the Agencies) that allegedly engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the prohibitions in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) on engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (UDAAPs) and on providing substantial assistance to others engaging in such practices. The Bureau also alleged that the company, acting through the Agencies, violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to the consent order, the Kansas-based company and its part-owner had “knowledge or a reckless disregard” of the illegal debt collection tactics used by the Agencies, including misrepresenting the amount the consumer actually owed and falsely threatening consumers and their families with lawsuits. In its findings and conclusions, the CFPB alleges that, after reviewing the Agencies’ practices, the company’s “compliance personnel recommended terminating the Agencies because of the Agencies’ illegal collection acts and practices, but [the company and its part-owner] continued placing accounts with the Agencies” and selling debts to one of the Agencies. In addition, the Bureau alleges the company and its part-owner provided operational assistance to the Agencies, such as (i) drafting and implementing policies and procedures that falsely implied compliance with federal laws; (ii) defending the Agencies’ practices when original creditors raised concerns about collection tactics; and (iii) preventing compliance personnel from conducting effective reviews of the Agencies. The order imposes a civil money penalty judgment of $3 million against the Kansas-based company and $3 million against the part-owner but the full payment is suspended subject to the company paying a $500,000 penalty and the part-owner paying a $300,000 penalty. In addition to the penalties, the company is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and must create and submit to the Bureau a comprehensive compliance plan, while the part-owner is permanently restrained from acting as an officer, director, employee, agent or advisor of, or otherwise providing management, advice, direction or consultation to, any individual or business that collects, buys, or sells consumer debt. 

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement Enforcement

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