CFPB and FTC Warn Mortgage Companies about Potentially Misleading Advertisements

On November 19, the CFPB announced that it issued warning letters to about a dozen nonbank mortgage lenders and brokers regarding advertisements targeted towards older Americans and veterans that may violate the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (MAP Rule). The CFPB claims that certain companies’ ads may (i) make misrepresentations about government affiliation, (ii) provide inaccurate information about interest rates, (iii) make misleading statements about the costs of reverse mortgages, or (iv) misrepresent the amount of cash or credit available to a consumer. The letters do not make any determinations as to whether the ads at issue violate the law, and the letters provide the companies an opportunity to review and remedy any potential violations. However, the CFPB announcement also notes that the Bureau has initiated formal investigations of six companies for “serious violations of the law.” At the same time, the FTC announced that it sent letters to twenty real estate agents, home builders, and lead generators warning that certain advertisements may similarly violate the MAP Rule or section 5 of the FTC Act. The FTC also acknowledged that it has opened nonpublic investigations of other advertisers that may have violated federal law. This coordinated CFPB/FTC action resulted from a review of about 800 randomly selected mortgage-related ads from across the country, including ads for mortgage loans, refinancing, and reverse mortgages. BuckleySandler is representing one of the companies being investigated by the FTC in connection with this review.

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Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group Announces Several New Cases

On November 20, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of the Co-Chairs of the federal-state Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group, announced a new case filed in the New York State Supreme Court alleging Martin Act violations by a securities firm and several of its affiliates in connection with the offering of RMBS. The complaint charges that the firms made fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions to promote the sale of RMBS to private investors and deceived investors regarding the care with which the firms evaluated the quality of loans included in certain RMBS offerings. The suit claims that investors suffered cumulative losses over $11 billion on RMBS sponsored and underwritten in 2006 and 2007. The DOJ’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, of which the RMBS Working Group is a part, noted the significant federal-state coordination that led to the filing, including the “significant” contributions of the FHFA’s Inspector General, as well as assistance from the SEC and Assistant U.S. Attorneys from across the country.

On November 16 the SEC announced that it had obtained more than $400 million from two firms alleged to have misled investors in RMBS. In cases coordinated with the RMBS Working Group, the SEC charged that both firms failed to fully disclose their bulk settlement practices, which involved retaining cash from the settlement of claims against mortgage loan originators for problem loans that the firms had sold into RMBS trusts, and which they no longer actually owned. The SEC also claimed, among other things, that one of the firms misstated information concerning the delinquency status of loans that served as collateral for an RMBS offering it had underwritten, while the second firm allegedly applied different quality review procedures for loans that it sought to put back to originators and instituted a practice of not repurchasing such loans from trusts unless the originators had agreed to repurchase them.

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Federal District Court Dismisses Virginia State Law Claims in FHFA RMBS Suit

On November 19, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the FHFA’s state-law claims against a financial institution with regard to the offering of certain residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) could not survive because, unlike federal law, the state law does not apply to the “offering” of securities. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency v. Barclays Bank PLC, No. 11-6190, slip op. (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2012). The case is one of sixteen in which the FHFA alleges as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that billions of dollars of RMBS purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were based on offering documents that contained materially false statements and omissions. In prior rulings in this series of cases the court generally has denied the financial institutions’ motions to dismiss, with the lead case currently pending on appeal to the Second Circuit. The instant case, however, presented a unique issue with regard to the FHFA’s state law claims. As the court explained, the federal Securities Act’s private liability provisions apply to any person who “offers or sells” a security and broadly defines “offer,” while the Virginia Securities Act “omits the term ‘offer’ from its otherwise identical private liability provision.” The court determined that through inaction, Virginia “has purposefully sought to ensure that the scope of private liability under its statutes is more limited than that under federal law” and its law does not apply to the offering of securities, only the sale. The court dismissed the FHFA’s state law claims but allowed all other claims to proceed based on the reasoning presented in prior decisions.

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CFPB and Federal Reserve Board Increase Thresholds for Exempt Consumer Credit and Lease Transactions

On November 20, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve Board announced that, effective January 1, 2013, dollar thresholds in Regulation Z (TILA) and Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act) for exempt consumer credit and lease transactions will increase to reflect the annual percentage increase in the consumer price index as of June 1, 2012. Transactions at or below the thresholds are subject to the protections of the regulations. Based on the adjustments, the TILA and Consumer Leasing Act protections generally will apply to consumer credit transactions and consumer leases of $53,000 or less in 2013. Mortgage transactions and private student loans remain subject to TILA regardless of the amount of the loan. While the CFPB has rulemaking authority under TILA and the Consumer Leasing Act, the Federal Reserve Board retains authority to issue rules for certain motor vehicle dealers. In addition to the joint adjustment, the CFPB separately adjusted the dollar amount that triggers additional protections for certain home mortgages under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA). Consistent with the increase in the consumer price index, the 2013 dollar amount of the HOEPA fee trigger will be $625.

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OCC Notifies Banks of Civil Money Penalty Inflation Adjustments and New Flood Insurance Penalties

On November 20, the OCC issued Bulletin 2012-38 to advise national banks and federal savings associations about a recent OCC rule that adjusted the maximum civil money penalties (CMPs) for inflation and implemented higher flood insurance CMPs. The OCC rule revises the penalty tables that identify the statutes that provide the OCC with CMP authority, describe the different tiers of penalties provided in each statute, and set out the maximum penalty the OCC may impose pursuant to each statutory provision. The rule also implements the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was signed into law on July 6, 2012 as part of a broad transportation bill. That Act increased the maximum CMP per flood insurance violation and removed the annual cap on flood insurance penalties assessed against a single lender in a calendar year.  Effective December 6, 2012, any regulated lending institution that is found to have a pattern or practice of committing flood insurance violations will be assessed a civil penalty not to exceed $2,000 per violation, with no calendar year limit on such penalties.

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