CFPB & State Attorneys General Fine Retailer and Debt Collectors for Alleged Illegal Debt Collection Practices Against Military Servicemembers

On December 18, the CFPB and the Attorneys General of North Carolina and Virginia announced an enforcement action against three affiliated companies offering credit and financing services to military servicemembers. The complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia alleges that the companies used illegal tactics to collect debts in violation of Dodd-Frank, including by (i) filing illegal lawsuits; (ii) debiting consumers’ accounts without authorization; and (iii) contacting servicemembers’ commanding officers. The complaint also charges that one of the companies violated the EFTA by failing to properly disclose the terms of preauthorized transfers, while another company violated TILA by failing to properly disclose terms and interest rates on the loans it offered to servicemembers. The CFPB and the Attorneys General filed a consent order in the district court to require the companies and their owners and chief officers to provide over $2.5 million in consumer redress, pay a $100,000 civil penalty, and undergo ongoing compliance monitoring for a period of five years.

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CFPB Announces Enforcement Action Against Telecommunications Company for Alleged Unauthorized Third-Party Charges

On December 17, the CFPB filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York against a telephone company for allegedly charging its customers tens of millions of dollars in unauthorized third-party charges. According to the CFPB’s press release, for roughly a decade the company “crammed” consumers’ wireless bills with illegal charges by outsourcing payment processing for digital purchases – such as apps, games, and movies – to vendors known as “billing aggregators.” The CFPB alleges that the company failed to properly monitor the aggregators’ billing of customers as a payment processor for the third parties, and violated Dodd-Frank and the CFPA by (i) allowing third party vendors to attach illegitimate charges to consumers’ bills; (ii) billing customers for the unauthorized charges without their consent; (iii) failing to heed red flags showing that the system “was a breeding ground for unauthorized charges”; and (iv) failing to respond to consumer complaints. The complaint seeks refunds for consumers and penalties.

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CFPB Files Suit Against Texas Company for Alleged Deceptive Practices Targeting Union Workers

On December 17, the CFPB announced it filed suit against a Texas-based company for allegedly deceiving consumers into paying fees to sign up for a “sham” credit card. According to the complaint filed in the Northern District of Texas, the CFPB alleges that the company falsely advertised a general-use credit card that, in actuality, could only be used to buy products from the company. The CFPB further alleges that the company deceptively implied an affiliation with unions by, among other things, using pictures of nurses, firefighters, and other public servants in its advertising. The complaint seeks compensation for consumers, a civil penalty, and an injunction against the company.

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District Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Class Action Against Debt Collection Firm Over “Misleading” Collection Letters

On December 15, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a motion to dismiss a class action suit against a fund and law firm specializing in debt collection. Marucci et al v. Cawley & Bergmann, LLP et al, No. 13-cv-4884 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2014). The suit claims that the firm violated the FDCPA by not informing consumers that interest was accruing on the amount specified in their collection letters. According to the complaint, the debt collection letters used by the firm “would lead the least sophisticated consumer to believe that payment of the amount stated in the letter would satisfy the Debt, when in fact interest is accruing and the consumer may still owe additional accrued interest.” The court found that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the letter was sufficiently reasonable to state a claim.

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District Court Awards Florida Couple Over $1 Million In Robocalls Suit

Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Florida denied a major bank’s motions to vacate and modify a judgment that awarded a Florida couple a total of $1,051,000 – approximately $1,500 per unauthorized call. Coniglio v. Bank of America, N.A., No. 8:14-CV-01628-EAK-MAP (M.D. Fla. December 4, 2014). In a complaint filed in July, the couple claimed the bank violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act after they received over 700 calls in four years, including calls from an automated telephone dialing system, without their consent. The calls began as a result of the couple falling behind on their mortgage payments in 2009. In October, the Court agreed with the couple’s claims and ordered the bank to pay the awarded amount.

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CFPB Addresses Medical Debt Collection, Requires Consumer Reporting Agencies To Provide Accuracy Reports

On December 11, the CFPB held a field hearing on medical debt collection and how it affects consumer credit reports. In his prepared remarks, Director Cordray announced the release of a white paper focused on the specific issue of medical debt collection. According to Cordray, medical debt collection presents unique challenges as compared to other industries due to inconsistent debt collection practices by medical service providers, insurance companies, and collection agencies. More broadly, Cordray addressed issues within the consumer reporting system and announced that major consumer reporting agencies will now be required to submit “regular, standardized accuracy reports” as part of its ongoing examinations efforts. Specifically, consumer reporting agencies will have to (i) identify furnishers with the most disputes; (ii) identify industries with the most disputes, and (iii) provide peer group ranking of furnishers consumer disputes relative to their industry.

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ABA Requests Guidance On SCRA Notice Form Expiration

On December 3, the ABA sent a letter to HUD’s General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Housing requesting guidance on the use of form HUD-92070 under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. HUD Form 92070 relates to the debt protections servicemembers receive under the SCRA. However, the most current version of the form expired on November 30, 2014. The letter seeks guidance regarding (i) compliance requirements now that the form has expired; and (ii) how to provide an accurate notice to servicemembers since the current form will be inaccurate effective January 1, 2015. Finally, the letter requests that HUD advise lenders as to how they should remain in compliance with the Congressional mandate until a new form is published.

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Unofficial Transcript of CFPB’s November 18 Webinar on Completing the Closing Disclosure Form

On November 18, the CFPB presented Part 4 in its series of webinars (hosted by the Federal Reserve) addressing frequently asked questions regarding the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) rule. In this session, the CFPB addressed questions on completing the Closing Disclosure form.  As with past CFPB webinars on the TRID rule, BuckleySandler has prepared a transcript of the webinar that incorporates the CFPB’s slides. The transcript is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal opinions, interpretations, or advice by BuckleySandler. The transcript was prepared from the audio recording arranged by the Federal Reserve and may have minor inaccuracies due to sound quality. In addition, the transcripts have not been reviewed by the CFPB or the Federal Reserve for accuracy or completeness.

Questions regarding the matters discussed in the webinar or the rules themselves may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.  In addition, please visit our TRID Resource Center for additional information about the TRID rule and related materials.

 

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CFPB Fines Debt-Settlement Firm

On December 4, the CFPB fined a New Jersey-based debt-settlement service provider $69,075 in civil monetary penalties for alleged violations of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The CFPB alleged that the firm charged upfront fees to consumers which are prohibited for debt-settlement services. Further, the CFPB charged that the firm failed to provide debt-settlement services to consumers which harmed their credit history. In addition to the civil money penalty, the consent order requires the firm submit a compliance plan that includes (i) written policies and procedures designed to prevent violations of the TSR; (ii) training programs addressing the TSR and Federal consumer financial laws; (iii) written compliance monitoring processes; (iv) consumer complaint monitoring process; and (v) specific deadlines for when the compliance plan will be completed.

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FHFA Issues Advisory Bulletin, Tightens Oversight of Single-Family Servicers and Sellers

On December 1, the FHFA issued an advisory bulletin highlighting its supervisory expectation that Fannie and Freddie maintain the safety and soundness of their operations by closely assessing the risk profile of lenders and servicers. Under the new framework, any new lender or servicer that enters into a contract with Fannie or Freddie will undergo a thorough assessment of their capital levels, business models and whether they would be able to fulfill certain responsibilities under economic downturns. This includes buying back faulty mortgages or being able to work with borrowers to avoid foreclosure. Other risks, such as potential legal troubles, will also be examined.

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Senate Confirms New HUD Deputy Secretary

On December 2, the U.S. Senate confirmed Nani Coloretti to be appointed as the new Deputy Secretary of HUD. Nominated in March, Coloretti currently serves as the Assistant Secretary for Management at the Department of Treasury where she advises on the development and execution of Treasury’s budget, strategic plans, and the internal management of the Department and its bureaus. Following the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, she also helped stand-up the CFPB by serving as its Acting COO.

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New York Announces New Regulations of Abusive Third-Party Debt Collection Practices

On December 3, New York Governor Cuomo announced that the DFS finalized regulations to help end abusive debt collection practices. The new regulations will (i) require debt collectors and debt buyers to provide enhanced disclosures regarding the debt; (ii) protect consumers who may have debts where the statute of limitations has expired; (iii) require that the debt collector substantiate that the debt is actually owed; (iv) ensure that consumers receive written confirmation of settlement agreements; and (v) allow consumers to communicate with debt collectors via personal email. The new regulations will take effect on March 3, 2015, with the exception of Sections 1.2(b) and 1.4, which will take effect August 30, 2015. Section 1.2(b) refers to disclosure requirements and 1.4 refers to substantiation of debts.

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CFPB Proposes Amendments to Mortgage Servicing Rules

On November 20, the CFPB announced the issuance of a proposed rule to amend RESPA (Reg. X) and TILA (Reg.Z). The proposed rule changes primarily focus on clarifying, revising or amending (i) Regulation X’s servicing provisions regarding force-placed insurance, early intervention, and loss mitigation requirements; and (ii) periodic statement requirements under Regulation Z’s servicing provisions. In addition, the proposed amendments also revise certain servicing requirements that apply when a consumer is a potential or confirmed successor in interest, is in bankruptcy, or sends a cease communication request under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Further, the proposed rule makes technical corrections to several provisions of Regulations X and Z. The public comment period will be open for 90 days upon publication in the Federal Register.

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CFPB Issues Guidance to Help Lenders Avoid Fair Lending Risk

On November 19, the CFPB issued a press release highlighting the publication of its compliance bulletin, “Social Security Disability Income Verification.” The compliance bulletin reminds lenders that requiring consumers receiving social security disability income to provide burdensome or unnecessary documentation may raise fair lending issues. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits lenders from discrimination against “an applicant because some or all of the applicant’s income is from a public assistance program, which includes Social Security disability income,” and the Bureau’s bulletin highlights standards and guidelines intended to help lenders comply with the requirements of ECOA and its implementing regulation, Regulation B.

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DOJ Announces Arrests and Charges Against Debt Collection Company

On November 19, the DOJ issued a press release announcing charges against six employees of a Georgia-based debt collection company for allegedly running a $4.1 million dollar debt collection scam. According to the press release, from approximately 2009 to May 2014, the accused employees allegedly falsely represented themselves as affiliated with various law enforcement agencies, and made a variety of false statements to consumers in an attempt to coerce them into making payments to the debt collection company. The action appears to be the first case in which multiple federal agencies – U.S. Attorneys’ Office, CFPB, FBI, and the FTC – have taken a coordinated action against a debt collector. The complaint was filed in the Southern District of New York.

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