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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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  • Texas Attorney General leads 14-state brief to 5th Circuit challenging CFPB structure

    State Issues

    On July 10, the Attorney General of Texas and 13 other state Attorneys General filed an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in April, the 5th Circuit agreed to hear a challenge by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single-director structure in response to a CFPB action filed against the companies. The brief encourages the appellate court to disagree with the en banc decision of the D.C. Circuit, which upheld the Bureau’s structure (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). Instead, the Attorneys General argue, the court should find the structure unconstitutional rendering “all its actions unlawful.” The brief poses similar arguments to past challenges, including (i) the director should be removable at will by the president and (ii) the president’s removal power should only be restricted for multi-member commissions.

    Notably, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently disagreed with the D.C. Circuit decision, concluding the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and terminated the Bureau as a party to an action because the agency lacked the authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)

    State Issues Courts CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA State Attorney General

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  • DOJ announces task force on market integrity and consumer fraud

    Federal Issues

    On July 11, the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, announced the establishment of a new task force on market integrity and consumer fraud pursuant to an Executive Order (EO) issued by President Trump on the same day. The task force, led by Rosenstein, will provide guidance for the investigation and prosecution of cases involving fraud on the government, financial markets, and consumers. The announcement lists a wide range of fraudulent activities, including (i) cyber-fraud; (ii) fraud targeting older Americans and service members; (iii) securities and commodities fraud; and (iv) corporate fraud affecting the general public, such as money laundering and other financial crimes. Rosenstein emphasized that the task force will work to achieve “more effective and efficient outcomes” to identify and stop fraud “on a wider scale than any one agency acting alone.”

    While the EO requests senior officials from numerous federal agencies be invited by the DOJ to participate in the task force, Rosenstein was joined by acting Director of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney; Chairman of the SEC, Jay Clayton; and Chairman of the FTC, Joe Simons in the announcement. Mulvaney stated, “[t]he Bureau takes its mandate to enforce the law seriously, and the Bureau will continue to apply the law to achieve this end of combatting fraud against Americans…. This task force is an example of the growing cooperation of the Bureau’s work with other federal and state authorities to combat a multitude of bad actors out there today.”

    Federal Issues Fraud Consumer Finance Anti-Money Laundering Financial Crimes DOJ SEC FTC CFPB

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  • New York Attorney General: Don’t delay action if CFPB appeals constitutionality determination

    Courts

    On July 9, the New York Attorney General and a New Jersey-based litigation funding company and its affiliates filed a joint letter in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York addressing how the parties would like to proceed in the legal matter after the court terminated the CFPB as a party to the action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June, the district court held the agency’s structure is unconstitutional and therefore not allowed to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), but allowed the Attorney General to continue the action. The letter discusses the parties’ desired path for the litigation should the Bureau choose to appeal the court’s constitutionality determination. If the Bureau should appeal, the defendants request the court allow the immediate appeal and stay the current litigation, while the Attorney General disagrees with allowing the immediate appeal and “would like the case to proceed as expeditiously as possible.”

    As for whether the court continues to have jurisdiction over the remaining claims, the Attorney General argues that the federal district court continues to have subject matter jurisdiction over the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) claims and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The defendants disagree and interpret the June decision to strike all substantive provisions of the CFPA that would form the basis for federal jurisdiction.

    The letter states the Bureau has not yet decided if it will pursue an appeal of the court’s determination.

    Courts State Attorney General CFPB CFPA Consumer Finance

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  • NYDFS recommends online lenders be subject to state licensure and usury limits in new report

    Lending

    On July 11, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS or the Department) released a study of online lending in New York, as required by AB 8938. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)  In addition to reporting the results of its survey of institutions believed to be engaging in online lending activities in New York, NYDFS makes a series of recommendations that would expand the application of New York usury and other statutes and regulations to online loans made to New York residents, including loans made through partnerships between online lender and banks where, in the Department’s view, the online lender is the “true lender.”

    In particular, NYDFS recommends, “[a]ll New York lenders should operate under the same set of rules and be subject to consistent enforcement of those rules to achieve a level playing field for all market participants….”  Elsewhere in the report, the Department states that it “disagrees with [the] position” that online lenders are exempt from New York law if they partner with a federally-chartered or FDIC-insured bank that extends credit to New York residents.  NYDFS criticizes these arrangements, stating its view that “the online lender is, in many cases, the true lender” because the online lender is “typically … the entity that is engaged in marketing, solicitation, and processing of applications, and dealing with the applicants” and may also purchase, resell, and/or service the loan.  

    NYDFS also noted that it opposed pending federal legislation that would reverse the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, which held that federal preemption of New York’s usury laws ceased to apply when a loan was transferred from a national bank to a non-bank.  The Department expressed concern that, if passed, the bill “could result in ‘rent-a-bank charter’ arrangements between banks and online lender that are designed to circumvent state licensing and usury laws.”

    Noting that many online lenders remain unlicensed in New York, the Department states that “[d]irect supervision and oversight is the only way to ensure that New York’s consumers and small business owners receive the same protections irrespective of the channel of delivery….”  To this end, NYDFS recommended lowering the interest rate threshold for licensure from 16 percent to 7 percent.

    Although NYDFS stressed that its survey results may be unreliable due to uneven response rates, it reported that, for respondents, the average median APR for online loans to businesses was 25.9%, the average median APR for online loans to individuals for personal use was 14.8%, and the average median APR for the underbanked customers was 19.6% (New York currently caps interest for civil liability at 16% and at 25% for criminal liability).

    Overall, the report appears to forecast a more difficult regulatory and enforcement environment in New York for online lenders, as has been the case in West Virginia and Colorado.

     

    Lending State Issues NYDFS Online Lending Usury Consumer Finance Madden

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  • CFPB studies how borrowers transition out of student loan debt

    Federal Issues

    On June 29, the CFPB released a new Data Point report from the Office of Research titled, “Final Student Loan Payments and Broader Household Borrowing,” which examines how student borrowers transition out of their student loan debt and repayment patterns are interconnected with general household finances. Among other things, the report found (i) 94 percent of final payments exceed the scheduled payment, and the median final payment made is 55 times larger than the scheduled payment; (ii) student borrowers who pay off loans early are 31 percent more likely to take out their first mortgage in the year following the student loan payoff than in the previous year; and (iii) student borrowers who pay off loans on schedule are likely to use new monthly savings to pay down other debts. The CFPB’s findings suggest (i) the timing of student loan payoffs may be determined by life events such as increases in wealth and household formations, and (ii) continuing to study student loan payoffs may help predict the evolution of the student loan market.

    Federal Issues CFPB Research Student Lending Consumer Finance

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  • FTC and New York Attorney General announce action against phantom debt operation

    Consumer Finance

    On June 27, the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s Office announced charges against two New York-based phantom debt operations and their principals. The complaint alleges they ran a deceptive and abusive debt collection scheme involving the marketing and selling of fictitious loan debt portfolios and collecting on debts consumers did not owe. The charges brought against the operations allege violations of the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and New York state law. According to the complaint, the debt broker knowingly purchased fabricated debt from a phantom debt collection operation previously charged by the FTC and the Illinois Attorney General in a separate action for selling fabricated debt. (As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Illinois-based operation was banned from the debt collection business and prohibited from selling debt portfolios.) The debt broker then engaged a debt collection agency and its owner to collect on the fabricated debt using illegal collection tactics, while continuing to purchase debts and place them for collection despite having knowledge that consumers disputed the debts. The complaint seeks, among other things, injunctive relief, restitution, and disgorgement.

    Consumer Finance FTC State Attorney General Debt Collection Debt Buyer FTC Act FDCPA State Issues

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  • Native American tribes to forfeit $3 million in profits made from payday lending scheme

    Federal Issues

    On June 26, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed two forfeiture complaints, which cover agreements with two Native American tribes to forfeit a combined $3 million in profits made from their involvement in an allegedly fraudulent payday lending scheme (see here and here). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2016, the FTC required a Kansas-based operation and its owner to pay more than $1.3 billion for allegedly violating Section 5(a) of the FTC Act by making false and misleading representations about costs and payment of the loans. The business owner and his attorney were subsequently found guilty in October 2017 of operating a criminal payday loan empire. As part of the agreements, the two tribes admit that representatives filed affidavits containing false statements in the legal actions against the payday loan scheme. If the tribes comply with agreement requirements, the DOJ will not pursue criminal action for the specified violations.

    In February, multiple federal agencies entered into a $613 million deferred prosecution agreement over Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program deficiencies with a national bank, which included allegations that the bank was on notice of the owner’s use of the bank to launder proceeds from his fraudulent payday lending scheme. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)

    Federal Issues DOJ Payday Lending FTC Consumer Finance Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering FTC Act

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  • NY District Court holds CFPB structure is unconstitutional

    Courts

    On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York terminated the CFPB as a party to an action against a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants), concluding that the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and therefore, the agency lacks authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau and the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) filed a lawsuit in in February 2017, claiming the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans by mischaracterizing loans as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. The defendants sought dismissal of the case, arguing that, among other things, “the CFPB’s unprecedented structure violates fundamental constitutional principles of separation of powers, and the CFPB should be struck down as an unconstitutional administrative agency.”

    The court denied the defendants’ motion as to the NYAG, finding that it had plausibly alleged claims under the CFPA and New York law and had the independent authority to pursue those claims.  But the court concluded that the CFPB lacked such authority, noting that it was not bound by the recent decision of the D.C. Circuit upholding the Bureau’s constitutionality in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert).  The court instead adopted portions of two separate dissents from that decision to conclude that the Bureau’s single director structure is unconstitutional and that the defect cannot be remedied by striking the limitations on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau director because the “removal for cause” provision is “at the heart of Title X” of Dodd-Frank.  Quoting one of the PHH dissents, the court stated, “I would strike Title X in its entirety.” 

    The court also rejected an attempt by acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims.  Although the action was initiated by Director Cordray, the Bureau filed a notice in May ratifying that decision and arguing that, because the Bureau is currently led by an acting director who can be removed by the president at will, defendants’ motion to dismiss the Bureau’s claims should be denied.  The court disagreed, concluding that the constitutional issues presented in the case “are not cured by the appointment of Mr. Mulvaney” because “the relevant provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that render the CFPB’s structure unconstitutional remain intact.”

    Courts PHH v. CFPB State Attorney General CFPB CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA

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  • Court allows certain City of Oakland claims to proceed against national bank

    Courts

    On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action brought by the City of Oakland, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its September 2015 complaint, Oakland alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue for the city. After the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, Oakland filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint expanded Oakland’s alleged injuries to include (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. The bank moved to dismiss all of Oakland’s claims on the basis that the city had failed to sufficiently allege proximate cause. The court granted the bank’s motion without prejudice as to claims based on the second alleged injury to the extent it sought monetary relief and claims based on the third alleged injury entirely. The court allowed the matter to proceed with respect to claims based on the first injury and, to the extent it seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, the second injury.

    Courts Fair Housing FHA Lending Consumer Finance Mortgages

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