Special Alert: Disparate Impact Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act After Inclusive Communities

On June 25, the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Court, in a 5-4 decision, concluded that the FHA permits disparate-impact claims based on its interpretation of the FHA’s language, the amendment history of the FHA, and the purpose of the FHA.

Applicability to ECOA

When certiorari was granted in Inclusive Communities, senior officials from the CFPB and DOJ made clear that they would continue to enforce the disparate impact theory under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) even if the Supreme Court held that disparate-impact claims were not cognizable under the FHA. It is reasonable to expect that the Court’s decision will embolden the agencies, as well as private litigants, to assert even more aggressively the disparate impact theory under ECOA. Read more…

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DOJ Assistant AG Caldwell Delivers Remarks at the ABA’s National Institute on Bitcoin and Other Digital Currencies

Today, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell delivered remarks at the ABA’s National Institute on Bitcoin and Other Digital Currencies. Speaking on the DOJ Criminal Division’s approach to the developing landscape of virtual currency, Caldwell acknowledged the legitimate uses of virtual currencies, such as having the ability to lower costs for brick and mortar businesses and its potential to promote a more efficient online marketplace, while also addressing the Department’s concern for the criminal activity surrounding  virtual currencies, noting, “virtual currency facilitates a wide range of traditional criminal activities as well as sophisticated cybercrime schemes.” Citing recent actions against various individuals and groups involved in criminal activities that “sought to exploit decentralized systems such as Bitcoin” – specifically, Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht; and Carl Force and Shaun Bridges, both involved in the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force – Caldwell stressed that there are “many exchanges that don’t concern themselves with following the law.” She explained that the primary legal bases for enforcement are money services business, money transmission, and anti-money laundering statutes, as well as state money transmitter licensing laws and, in some states like New York, virtual-currency specific licensing requirements. Caldwell also noted the Department’s partnership with FinCEN, summarizing its involvement in the Ripple Labs resolution to show that “compliance and remediation can lead to a more favorable resolution of criminal investigations.”  Further, Caldwell observed that while there is no “one-size-fits-all” compliance program, the adherence to regulations and state licensing laws by those involved in virtual currency businesses will reduce liability and complying with anti-money laundering guidelines will allow “the legitimate use of virtual currency to grow and be responsive to infiltration and abuse by criminal elements.”

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FinCEN Fines MSB and Its Owner for Alleged BSA Violations

Today, FinCEN announced the assessment of a civil money penalty against a Los Angeles-based Money Services Business (MSB) and its owner for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). During a 2011 examination of the MSB, FinCEN determined that, from October 1, 2010 through the present, the MSB knowingly violated the BSA by failing to (i) establish and ensure ongoing compliance with an adequate AML program; (ii) provide adequate training; and (iii) conduct independent testing of its compliance program. In addition, the MSB violated the BSA’s reporting requirements by failing to “file required currency transaction reports (“CTRs”) on all of its reportable transactions during the examination scope period,” and continued to file untimely CTRs even after the examination scope period ended on March 31, 2011. Finally, FinCEN expressed concern over the MSB owner’s failure to disclose that the MSB “frequently exchanged check for cash with another MSB, an arrangement known as ‘wholesaling’ or ‘bulk check cashing.’” According to the assessment document, the MSB’s owner, who was also the designated AML compliance officer, participated in the BSA violations by failing to accept his responsibility to “ensure that [an] AML program was in place, was effective, and was followed.” To resolve FinCEN’s allegations, the MSB and its owner admitted to violating the BSA program and its reporting requirements and will pay a civil money penalty of $60,000.

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Fed Governor Discusses Payment Security

On June 25, Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell delivered remarks at a payments conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas to discuss improvements to the U.S. payments system. Specifically, Powell advised that payment system participants must work together to improve the payment system, stating “[A]t a minimum, banks, merchants, and other institutions that process or store sensitive financial information need to keep their hardware and software current to the latest industry standards.” He noted that the Federal Reserve has established two task forces regarding the U.S. payment system, one geared towards faster payments and the other geared towards payment security. Powell cited the use of EMV chip cards and tokenization technology as examples of effective payment security measures. In addition, Powell discussed the importance of proactive efforts to implement preventative measures to prepare for potential cyber-attacks or data breaches.

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August 10 Deadline Set for New York Virtual Currency Firms to Apply for BitLicense

On June 24, the New York State Register published the Department of Financial Services’ BitLicense framework, requiring companies and individuals who provide virtual currency services involving New York or a New York Resident to apply for a BitLicense by August 8, 2015. Virtual currency firms must submit the 31-page application providing information including, among other things, (i) written policies and procedures including, but not limited to BSA/AML, cybersecurity, privacy and information security, (ii) company information, (iii) biographical information on company directors and stockholders, and (iv) an explanation of the methodology used to calculate the value of virtual currency in fiat currency. In addition, the NYDFS released a set of FAQs to help clarify the BitLicense requirements. For more information or guidance related to the BitLicense application process, please visit BuckleySandler’s Privacy, Cyber Risk, and Data Security Resource Center.

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Special Alert: Supreme Court Upholds Disparate Impact Under Fair Housing Act, But Emphasizes Limits on Such Claims

Today, the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In a 5-4 decision, the Court concluded that the use of the phrase “otherwise make available” in Section 804 of the Fair Housing Act supports disparate-impact claims. The Court also held that Section 805 of the Fair Housing Act (which applies to lending) permits disparate impact, reasoning that the Court “has construed statutory language similar to § 805(a) to include disparate-impact liability.” The Court also wrote that the 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act support its conclusion because (1) all the federal Courts of Appeals to have considered the issue at that time had held that the FHA permits disparate-impact claims; and (2) the substance of the amendments, which the Court characterized as exceptions from disparate impact, “is convincing support for the conclusion that Congress accepted and ratified the unanimous holdings of the Courts of Appeals finding disparate-impact liability.”

The Court emphasized, however, that “disparate-impact liability has always been properly limited in key respects . . . .” Specifically, the Court explained disparate-impact liability must be limited so companies “are able to make the practical business choices and profit-related decisions that sustain a vibrant and dynamic free-enterprise system.” “Entrepreneurs must be given latitude to consider market factors,” the Court explained. The Court clarified further that a variety of factors, including both “objective” and “subjective” factors, are “legitimate concerns.” Read more…

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CFPB Consumer Complaints Database Goes Live with Option to Publish Narratives

Today, the CFPB expanded its consumer complaint database, publishing for the first time over 7,700 consumer narratives which provide descriptive details of issues consumers face with respect to mortgages, bank accounts, credit cards, and debt collection, among other topics. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the Bureau finalized its Policy earlier this year requiring consumers who file complaints to “opt-in” to have the actual narrative of the complaint disclosed in the CFPB consumer complaint database. In addition, the Bureau issued a Request For Information seeking feedback on how complaint information contained within the database can be more easily identified and “normalized.” The Bureau also announced that it had received more than 627,000 complaints as of June 1, with mortgages and debt collection among the most frequent sources of complaints.

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Alleged Ringleader of Global Cybercrimes Extradited to United States to Face Charges

Today, the DOJ unsealed an eighteen-count indictment in Brooklyn, New York charging a Turkish citizen (Defendant) with organizing worldwide cyberattacks against at least three U.S. payment processors’ computer networks. The Defendant’s organization allegedly used “sophisticated intrusion techniques” to hack the computer systems, stealing prepaid debit card data and subsequently using the stolen data to make ATM withdrawals in which standard withdrawal limits were manipulated to allow for greater withdrawals. According to the indictment, the Defendant managed a group of co-conspirators responsible for distributing the stolen card information to “cashing crews” around the world, who then used the information to conduct tens of thousands of fraudulent ATM withdrawals and fraudulent purchases. Within two days – February 27 and 28, 2011 – the DOJ alleges that the “cashing crews withdrew approximately $10 million through approximately 15,000 fraudulent ATM withdrawals in at least 18 countries.” The remaining two operations, occurring in late 2012 and early 2013, resulted in ATM withdrawals of roughly $5 million and $40 million, respectively. The Defendant, along with other high-ranking members of the conspiracy, received the funds from the fraudulent operations via wire transfer, electronic currency, and personal delivery of U.S. and foreign currency. The Defendant was arrested in Germany on December 18, 2013, and was extradited to the United States on June 23, 2015. The charges against the Defendant follow previous charges against members of the conspiracy, including the arrest of a member of the New York cashing crew.

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Federal Reserve Orders Community Bank to Improve its BSA/AML Program

On June 23, the Board of Governors announced the execution of an enforcement action against a California-based community bank over BSA/AML deficiencies. According to the Cease and Desist Order, the deficiencies were identified by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the California Department of Business Oversight, and directs the Bank to submit written plans outlining their efforts to strengthen their BSA/AML risk management program, including customer due-diligence and suspicious activity monitoring and reporting policies and procedures. In addition, the Bank must retain an independent third party to conduct a review of account and transaction activity affiliated with any high-risk customer and foreign branch accounts conducted at, by, or through the Bank from July 2014 through December 2014. No civil money penalty was imposed on the Bank.

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Special Alert: CFPB Issues Proposal to Delay TRID Rule Until October 3

The CFPB issued a proposed rule today to delay the effective date of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) rule, including all amendments, from August 1 to October 3, 2015. The proposed delayed effective date is two days later than the date announced last week so that the effective date falls on a Saturday. The CFPB chose Saturday because it “may allow for smoother implementation by affording industry time over the weekend to launch new systems configurations and to test systems. A Saturday launch is also consistent with existing industry plans tied to the Saturday August 1 effective date.”

The proposed rule explains that, due to “an administrative error on the Bureau’s part in complying with the [Congressional Review Act]…, the [TRID] Rule cannot take effect until at the earliest August 15, 2015.” Because “some delay in the effective date is now required, the Bureau believes that a brief additional delay may benefit both consumers and industry more than would allowing the new rules to take effect on [August 15].” The Bureau stated that the additional delay is being proposed to avoid challenges associated with a mid-month effective date and to allow more time to implement the rule in light of recent information the CFPB received that “delays in the delivery of system updates have left creditors and others with limited time to fully test all of their systems and system components to ensure that each system works with the others in an effective manner.”

The proposed rule does not include any substantive changes to the TRID rule, other than changes to reflect the new proposed effective date. Despite requests by many in industry, the Bureau did not propose to allow lenders to begin complying with the rule before the effective date.

Comments must be received on or before July 7, 2015.

For additional information and resources on the TRID rule, please visit our TRID Resource Center.

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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.

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CFPB Publishes Eighth Edition of Supervisory Highlights

On June 23, the CFPB published its eighth edition of Supervisory Highlights, covering supervisory activities from January 2015 through April 2015. The latest edition identifies issues with dual-tracking at mortgage servicers and the need for improved quality control measures at consumer reporting agencies. The report also provided supervisory observations related to debt collection, student loan servicing, mortgage origination and servicing, and fair lending. Notably, the report reveals that non-public supervisory actions and self-reported violations at banks and nonbanks in the areas of mortgage origination, fair lending, mortgage servicing, deposits, payday lending, and debt collection resulted in $11.6 million in remediation to more than 80,000 consumers during the first four months of 2015.

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OCC Fines National Bank for Alleged Unfair Billing Practices

On June 19, the OCC released recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently or formerly affiliated with national banks and federal savings associations. Among the actions was the issuance of a consent order for a civil money penalty against a national bank for allegedly violating the Federal Trade Commission Act. During its investigation, the OCC discovered deficiencies relating to the bank’s billing and marketing practices, specifically with regard to identity protection and debt cancellation products. According to the consent order, since April 2004, the bank, along with an identity protection product vendor, marketed and sold various types of identity theft protection products to its customers. Before customers could access the credit monitoring service of the identity theft product, they “were required to provide sufficient personal verification information and consent before their credit bureau reports could be accessed.” However, the OCC found that the vendor (i) billed the bank’s customers the full fee for the products, even if they were not receiving all of the credit monitoring services; (ii) billed the customers prior to receiving the customers’ information and consent and establishment of credit monitoring; and (iii) failed to ensure that customers received electronic benefit notifications. The bank retained a portion of the fees that the customers paid. Additionally, the bank’s vendors incorrectly informed customers during telemarketing calls that only one of the products offered had the ability to access identity protection benefits electronically. As a result, some customers purchased the more expensive Enhanced Identity Theft Protection, as opposed to the less expensive Identity Theft Protection, under the mistaken belief that this was the only way they could access the product’s benefits online. Finally, the OCC also alleged that, from August 2005 through November 2013, the bank’s debt cancellation product vendor’s billing practices, which posted recurring payments on the same day of the month regardless of the payments’ due dates, resulted in some customers paying recurring late fees. The bank will pay $4,000,000 to resolve the OCC’s allegations.

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CFPB Cracks Down on Medical Debt Collector Over Alleged FCRA and FDCPA Violations

On June 18, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against a third-party medical debt collection company for allegedly failing to issue debt validation notices to customers, mishandling consumer credit reporting disputes, and preventing customers from exercising certain debt collection rights.  According to the Bureau, from 2011 through 2013, the company failed to properly investigate consumers’ complaints with respect to information furnished to credit reporting agencies, and lacked internal policies and procedures on how to handle and respond to the complaints, resulting in a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  In addition, the Bureau contends that the company did not properly inform consumers of the amount of medical debt owed before commencing efforts to obtain payment on the debt, subsequently violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  The CFPB ordered the medical debt collector to, among other things, (i) provide over $5 million in restitution to affected consumers, (ii) correct errors in consumer credit reports, (iii) pay a $500,000 civil money penalty, and (iv) improve its business practices.

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U.S. House Appropriations Committee Approves Amendment to Delay CFPB Arbitration Rule

On June 17, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would require the CFPB to conduct a peer-reviewed cost-benefit analysis of the use of arbitration agreements prior to issuing a final rule.  The amendment is tied to a fiscal year 2016 financial services spending bill, which would bring the Bureau under the congressional appropriations process. U.S. House Representatives Steve Womack (R-AR) and Tom Graves (R-GA) brought forth the amendment, which was adopted by the Committee on a voice vote.

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FHA Announces Updated Defect Taxonomy to Clarify its Plan for Classifying Loan Defects Found in its Single-Family Loan Portfolio

On June 18, the FHA released its Single-Family Housing Loan Quality Assessment Methodology (“Defect Taxonomy”), a framework outlining the agency’s plans to identify and capture information related to loan defects found in Single-Family FHA endorsed loans. The new framework is intended to increase the efficacy of FHA’s Quality Assurance efforts and focuses on three core concepts – (i) identifying defects, (ii) capturing the sources and causes of defects, and (iii) assessing the severity of defects. Once implemented, the Defect Taxonomy will reduce the number of codes that the FHA uses to describe loan defects from 99 to nine.  Additionally, the Defect Taxonomy will implement “Basis of Ratings Codes” that will capture both the sources and causes of defects.  Finally, the Defect Taxonomy will refine FHA’s process for communicating the severity of defects by subdividing its current categories of “Unacceptable” and “Deficient” findings into four tiers of findings that will describe defects in greater detail. The FHA anticipates that these changes will provide greater transparency to lenders so that they can mitigate their credit risk when originating FHA loans. FHA further hopes that the Defect Taxonomy will help FHA monitor for deficiency trends and enhance its program policies.  In its announcement, FHA warns that the Defect Taxonomy “is not a comprehensive statement on all compliance monitoring or enforcement efforts by FHA or the Federal Government and does not establish standards for administrative or civil enforcement action….”  FHA also maintains that the Defect Taxonomy does not address how FHA will respond (i) to findings of patterns and practices of loan-level defects in FHA originations or (ii) to findings of fraud or misrepresentation in connection with any FHA-insured loan.  FHA has yet to set a date for the Defect Taxonomy to take effect.

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