On November 18, the CFPB announced an action against a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO for alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, and for engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices. Specifically, the CFPB alleges that, from May 2008 through December 2012, the online lender (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic funds transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. The case will be tried by an Administrative Law Judge from the CFPB’s Office of Administrative Adjudication.
Special Alert: CFPB Issues Guidance Regarding Preauthorized Debit Transactions Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E
On November 23, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) released Compliance Bulletin 2015-06 (“Bulletin”), which provides industry guidance on the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (“EFTA”) and Regulation E requirements for obtaining consumer authorizations for preauthorized electronic fund transfers (“EFTs”). The CFPB issued this Bulletin, in part, because it observed during its examinations that some companies are not fully complying with the EFTA and Regulation E. Principally, this Bulletin addresses two areas of concern: (i) obtaining the customer’s authorization for preauthorized EFTs over the telephone; and (ii) providing a copy of the authorization to the customer. Read more…
On November 18, the FTC announced that it approved, by a 3-1 vote, final amendments to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) that ban telemarketers from using certain payment methods that are commonly used by scammers. Per the amendments, telemarketers are prohibited from (i) using specific types of checks and “payment orders” that are remotely created by the telemarketer or seller and which permit direct access to consumers’ bank accounts; (ii) receiving payments through traditional “cash-to-cash” money transfers, which allow scammers to easily obtain consumer funds anonymously and without the ability to reverse the transaction; and (iii) accepting as payment “cash reload” mechanisms. The FTC concluded that the aforementioned payment methods constituted abusive practices because they caused or were likely to cause “substantial injury to consumers that is neither reasonably avoidable by consumers nor outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition.” Finally, according to the FTC, “the amendments address changes in the financial marketplace to ensure consumers remain protected by the TSR’s antifraud provisions, but are narrowly tailored to allow for innovations with respect to other payment methods that are used by legitimate companies.”
On November 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote H.R. 1210 and H.R. 1737, both of which will affect CFPB policies governing the mortgage and auto lending industries. The “Portfolio Lending and Mortgage Access Act” – H.R. 1210 – would amend the Truth in Lending Act to create a safe harbor from certain requirements for depository institutions making residential mortgage loans held in portfolios. Specifically, the bill permits loans that appear on a depository institution’s balance sheet to be treated as a Qualified Mortgage subject to certain limitations, thus permitting such loans to fall under the Ability-to-Repay Rule’s safe harbor provisions. The “Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Finance Guidance Act” – H.R. 1737 – would invalidate CFPB Bulletin 2013-02, which provides guidance to indirect auto lenders regarding compliance with federal fair lending laws.
On November 19, the Federal Reserve announced a plan to redistribute unclaimed funds from the Independent Foreclosure Review Payment Agreement (Agreement). Under the Agreement, borrowers whose homes were in any state of the foreclosure process in 2009 or 2010 received payment from Federal Reserve -regulated servicers, resolving allegations of improper mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices. The Fed’s recently announced plan gives borrowers who have yet to cash or deposit their original check until December 31, 2015 to request a replacement check; all checks must be deposited by March 31, 2016. In an effort to distribute the maximum amount of funds to borrowers affected by alleged deficient servicing and foreclosure practices, the Federal Reserve will instruct the paying agent company to redistribute the remaining funds after March 31, 2016 to the borrowers who did cash or deposit their original checks.
Second Circuit Upholds District Court Decision, Applies New York’s Six-Year Limitations Period on Contractual Claims
On November 16, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the Southern District of New York’s decision to dismiss a leading global bank’s complaint against a nonbank mortgage lender alleging breach of contractual obligations to repurchase mortgage loans that violated representations and warranties. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Quicken Loans Inc., No. 14-3373 (2nd Cir. Nov. 16, 2015). The bank, under its right as Trustee of the loans, alleged that the lender breached aspects of representations and warranties contained in a 2006 Purchase Agreement, including those related to (i) borrower income; (ii) debt-to-income ratios; (iii) loan-to-value and combined loan-to-value ratios; and (iv) owner occupancy. The bank’s complaint also alleged that it sent the lender a series of notification letters between August 2013 and October 2013 demanding cure or repurchase of the loans, which the lender allegedly failed to do without justification. The bank challenged the District Court’s decision by arguing that New York’s six-year statute of limitations on contractual claims did not apply because the terms of the representations and warranties contained an “Accrual Clause” placing future obligations on the lender. Read more…
State AGs Urge Card Companies to Advance Consumer Protection by Implementing Chip and PIN Technology
On November 16, nine state attorneys general sent a letter urging leading card brands to expedite the implementation of chip and PIN technology in the United States. The letter summarizes research connected to recent data breaches, stating “individuals whose credit or debit cards were breached in the past year were nearly three times more likely to be an identity fraud victim.” Addressing concern that PIN technology would be burdensome or confusing to consumers, the AGs maintain that many consumers are accustomed to financial transactions that rely on PIN technology, such as transactions involving debit cards, and point to a November 2014 poll that indicated cardholders were supportive of chip and PIN technology. The AGs emphasize that PIN technology is “nothing new” and is considered the “gold standard” for payment card security, noting that countries around the world have seen a dramatic decrease in fraud since implementing the technology. Finally, while the letter stresses that chip and PIN technology would better protect both consumers and businesses from data breaches, it does not suggest that the technology be legally mandated at the federal or state level: “[T]his letter calls upon you as good corporate citizens to voluntarily expedite the implementation of existing technology that offers the most substantial security benefits, and to continue to adapt and improve security as quickly as possible as technology advances.”
On November 16, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (OWB) issued its 2015 annual report to Congress on its Whistleblower Program established pursuant to Dodd-Frank. According to the report, in Fiscal Year 2015, the OWB received more than 3,900 whistleblower tips – a 30% increase since 2012, which the SEC attributes to increased public awareness of the program due to Dodd Frank’s implementing rule awarding tipsters 10 to 30 percent of a securities violation when the penalty is greater than $1 million. Additional items to note from the report include: (i) the SEC brought its first enforcement action against a company for using language in confidentiality agreements that impeded a whistleblower from reporting possible securities law violations; (ii) the SEC received whistleblower submissions from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with tips from individuals in 95 countries outside of the U.S.; and (iii) the most common complaint categories reported were Corporate Disclosures and Financials, followed by Offering Fraud and Manipulation.
On November 16, the FCC and the FTC executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on continued cooperative efforts to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive acts and practices involving telecommunications services. In an effort to formalize existing cooperation among the agencies, the MOU outlines the ways in which the two agencies will continue to work together, including: (i) coordinating agency initiatives where one agency’s action will significantly impact the other agency’s authority or programs; (ii) sharing investigative techniques and tools, intelligence, technical and legal expertise, as necessary, in addition to best practices in response to reasonable requests for such assistance; and (iii) collaborating on consumer and industry outreach and education efforts, as appropriate. Moreover, the MOU identifies the scope of each agency’s enforcement authority with respect to common carriers, and confirms that the 2003 MOU regarding Telemarketing Enforcement between the two agencies remains effective, stating that the most recent MOU should not “be construed as altering, amending, or invalidating that  MOU.”
On November 16, the FDIC issued FIL-52-2015 to advise financial institutions that it revised its 2005 guidance on payday lending, which established the FDIC’s expectations for prudent risk-management practices in the payday loan industry. The letter emphasizes that the 2005 payday lending guidance, as issued in FIL-14-2005, does not apply to depository institutions offering certain products and services, such as deposit accounts and extensions of credit, to non-bank payday lenders. Specifically, the letter states, “[f]inancial institutions that can properly manage customer relationships and effectively mitigate risks are neither prohibited nor discouraged from providing services to any category of business customers or individual customers operating in compliance with applicable state and federal laws.”
On November 16, the DOJ’s Deputy AG Sally Yates delivered remarks at the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association Money Laundering Enforcement Conference. Yates focused her remarks on recent revisions – originally outlined in a September 9 policy memorandum – to the United States Attorney’s Manual (USAM), as follows: (i) updating the corporate criminal cases section, specifically the “Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations” chapter, or the “Filip factors”; (ii) implementing an entirely new section to the civil cases chapter on enforcing claims against individuals in corporate matters; and (iii) updating its policy on parallel proceedings. First, the DOJ updated the Filip factors and the written guidance accompanying the factors to emphasize individual accountability in corporate cases and company cooperation in the DOJ’s investigation of individual wrongdoing. Yates highlighted the following policy change: “In the past, cooperation credit was a sliding scale of sorts and companies could still receive at least some credit for cooperation, even if they failed to fully disclose all facts about individuals. That’s changed now… providing complete information about individuals’ involvement in wrongdoing is a threshold hurdle that must be crossed before [the DOJ will] consider any cooperation credit.” Read more…
On November 16, HUD released FHA’s annual report to Congress on the financial condition of its Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund. For the first time since 2008, the report shows that FHA’s MMI fund’s capital ratio exceeds the congressionally required 2% threshold, standing at 2.07%. The report points to FHA policy changes and program improvements as the driving factors behind the improved MMI fund capital ratio. Notably, the report states that the agency’s decision to reduce annual mortgage insurance premiums by a half percent (i) marginally decreased the projected time to reach the 2% capital ratio; (ii) enabled over 75,000 new creditworthy borrowers to purchase homes; and (iii) compensated for the credit risk of the Forward mortgage loan program. Finally, the report highlights the agency’s efforts to reduce risk and improve loss mitigation by making substantial revisions to its credit guidelines, including strengthening its underwriting guidelines to discourage extreme risk layering and prohibiting seller-funded down-payment assistance.
On November 16, the DOJ announced a $95.5 million settlement with the country’s second-largest for-profit education company to resolve alleged federal and state violations of the False Claims Act (FCA). According to the DOJ’s complaint, the company’s admissions personnel received payment based on the number of students they enrolled, a violation of Title IV of the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) Incentive Compensation Ban (ICB) and the Regulatory Safe Harbor. The DOJ alleges that the company misrepresented its compliance with Title IV of the HEA to the Department of Education by certifying in Program Participation Agreements that it had not “paid to any persons or entities any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments, financial aid to students, or student retention.” The Department of Education calculated that, from July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2011, the company, having submitted “a variety of claims to the government for Title IV funding that it [knew] to be false based upon its non-compliance” with the ICB, received more than $11 billion in government funding. Under the terms of the settlement, the $95.5 million will be divided among the United States, the co-plaintiff states, and the whistleblowers and their counsel in the FCA cases filed separately in federal court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee.
On November 16, FinCEN Director Jennifer Calvery and Treasury’s Acting Under Secretary Adam Szubin delivered remarks at the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association Money Laundering Enforcement Conference on continued AML enforcement efforts. Szubin focused on the topic of “de-risking,” which he described as “instances in which a financial institution seeks to avoid perceived regulatory risk by indiscriminately terminating, restricting, or denying services to broad classes of clients, without case-by-case analysis or consideration of mitigating options,” and addressed Treasury’s efforts to curtail the negative effects attributed to de-risking, such as preventing access to the dollar and pushing people out of the regulated financial system. Szubin emphasized, however, that the Treasury would not “dilute or roll back [its] AML/CFT standards,” but expects financial institutions to be vigilant when identifying potential risks and to implement AML/CFT programs that effectively address risks associated with illicit financing on a client-by-client basis. In a separate speech, Director Calvery addressed FinCEN’s reliance on Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) data to “uncover risks, vulnerabilities, and gaps in each financial sector,” noting that BSA data supports FinCEN’s ongoing AML enforcement efforts.
On November 9, an Atlanta-based claims management firm disclosed that it reported possible FCPA violations to DOJ and SEC. The company discovered the possible violations during an internal audit and has since launched an investigation, using outside counsel and external forensic accountants. The company stated that it intends to cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ in this matter, but the filing did not elaborate on the nature or location of the potential violations.