FTC Resolves Claims Against Auto Dealers Based on Alleged Deceptive Advertising

On June 29, the FTC filed two administrative complaints and issued proposed orders against two Las Vegas auto dealers to resolve allegations that they engaged in misleading advertising practices that misrepresented the purchase price or leasing offers of their vehicles, as well as the amount actually due at signing. In addition, the FTC also contends that the auto dealers failed to disclose other key information in its advertisements, such as the need for a security deposit, whether a down payment was required, and the terms of repayment. Under the proposed consent orders, the FTC will require both dealerships to refrain from misrepresenting the actual cost to purchase or lease a vehicle, and to comply with requirements of the Consumer Leasing Act and the Truth in Lending Act. No monetary judgment is proposed for either auto dealership.

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New York AG Announces Nearly $14 Million Agreement with Local Auto Dealers Over Deceptive Sales Practices, Plans to Sue an Additional 11 Auto Dealerships

On June 17, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an approximate $14 million agreement with three jointly-owned auto dealers in connection with the alleged unlawful sale of add-on products, such as credit repair and identity-theft prevention services. According to the AG, the auto dealers failed to disclose the costs and fees of many “after-sale” items to consumers, in some instances resulting in the addition of $2,000 to the purchase or leasing price of a vehicle. Furthermore, the AG contends that the dealers concealed that they were charging consumers for the add-on services, or misrepresented that the services were free of charge. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the auto dealers must, among other things, (i) pay more than $13.5 million in restitution to affected consumers and (ii) pay $325,000 in penalties, fees, and costs to New York State. In addition to the settlement announcement, AG Schneiderman made public that his office has served notices of intent to file suits against an additional eleven dealerships for allegedly engaging in similar practices.

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Special Alert: CFPB Finalizes Rule To Oversee Nonbank Auto Lenders

On June 10, the CFPB issued its final rule to oversee “larger participant” nonbank auto finance companies.  Although the CFPB received significant feedback during the comment period, the final rule is nearly identical to that proposed in September 2014.  Under the final rule, the CFPB will have supervisory authority over nonbank auto finance companies with at least 10,000 aggregate annual originations.  These originations include making, purchasing, acquiring, or refinancing extensions of credit for the purchase or lease of an automobile.  The CFPB estimates this threshold will bring about 34 entities and their affiliates under its supervisory authority, which represents roughly seven percent of all nonbank auto finance companies, and approximately 91% of the nonbank automobile financing market.  In addition to the final rule, the CFPB also published updated automobile finance examination procedures to include industry specific guidance for covered persons.

The rule will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Although the CFPB has not determined when and in what order examinations will begin, some industry insiders have predicted they could start in late 2015. Read more…

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FTC Provides Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to CFPB and Federal Reserve

On June 9, the FTC announced that it has provided to the CFPB its 2014 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report. The report highlights the FTC’s enforcement, research, rulemaking, and policy development activities with respect to the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), the Consumer Leasing Act (Regulation M), and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (Regulation E). Areas detailed within the report include enforcement actions related to non-mortgage credit, including auto finance and payday lending, mortgage loan advertising, and forensic audit scams; and consumer and business outreach related to truth in lending requirements.  The report, submitted on May 29, will be used to prepare the CFPB’s Annual Report to Congress. The FTC also submitted a copy of the report to the Federal Reserve Board.

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South Carolina Passes Legislation to Create the Guaranteed Asset Protection Act, Effective Immediately

On June 1, Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) signed into law Senate Bill 441, enacting the Guaranteed Asset Protection Act and instituting a framework under which guaranteed asset protection (GAP) waivers may be offered in South Carolina.  As outlined in SB 441, a GAP waiver is “a contractual agreement in which a creditor agrees for a separate charge to cancel or waive all or part of amounts due on a borrower’s finance agreement in the event of a total physical damage loss or unrecovered theft of the motor vehicle.” Effective June 5, SB 441 prohibits the creditor from conditioning the terms of an extension of credit upon the borrower’s purchase of a GAP waiver and requires the creditor to disclose the terms of the GAP waiver “in easily understandable language,” including the purchase price, the procedures for obtaining GAP waiver benefits, and a statement that the purchase of a GAP waiver is optional.

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FTC Lobbies Michigan Legislature to Repeal Ban On Direct-to-Consumer Sale of Motor Vehicles by Auto Manufacturers

On May 11, the FTC released a statement regarding the agency staff’s May 7 letter to Michigan Senator Booher, which concerns pending SB 268 – an act to regulate the sale and servicing of automobiles. The proposed legislation seeks to create an “exception to current law that prohibits automobile manufacturers from selling new vehicles directly to consumers.” While the letter states that the bill likely will encourage competition and benefit consumers, the staff’s view is that the legislation’s scope is too narrow and “would largely perpetuate the current law’s protectionism for independent franchised dealers, to the detriment of Michigan car buyers.” The focal point of the FTC staff’s letter is that, “absent some legitimate public purpose, consumers would be better served if the choice of distribution method were left to motor vehicle manufacturers and the consumers to whom they sell their products.”

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Oklahoma Enacts Law Establishing Penalty Amount for Liens on Auto Vehicles

On May 1, Governor Mary Fallin (R-OK) signed into law SB 465, which amends a current law imposing a $100 penalty on a secured party if it does not furnish a release of a lien after seven days. Under the new law, a $100 penalty will be imposed each day following the first seven days – the penalty can reach $1,500 or the value of the vehicle, whichever is less. The law is effective November 1, 2015.

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Maryland Law to Require Notice to Purchaser of Vehicle Prior to Dealer-Arranged Financing Approval

On May 12, Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) signed HB 313, which will require auto dealers to provide notice to the purchaser/lessee before the dealer-arranged third-party financing is approved. The law requires the dealer to “notify a buyer in writing if the terms of a certain financing or lease agreement are not approved by a third-party finance source within a certain period of time.” Specifically, the dealer has four days from the delivery of the vehicle to notify the purchase/lessee of the third-party rejection. If the sale of the vehicle is canceled, the purchaser/lessee must return the vehicle to the dealer within two days of receiving the written notice. The new law is effective October 1, 2015.

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FTC Announces Results of “Operation Ruse Control” on Auto Industry

On March 26, the FTC announced the results of Operation Ruse Control, “a nationwide and cross-border crackdown” on the auto industry with the intent to protect consumers who are purchasing or leasing a car. Efforts taken jointly by the FTC and its law enforcement partners resulted in over 250 enforcement actions, including the six most recent cases that involved (i) fraudulent add-ons; (ii) deceptive advertising; and (iii) auto loan modification. According to the press release, the FTC recently took its first actions against two auto dealers for its add-on practices, which allegedly violate the FTC Act by failing to disclose the significant fees associated with offered programs or services and misrepresenting to consumers that they would save money. Three auto dealers recently “agreed to settle charges that they ran deceptive ads that violated the FTC Act, and also violated the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and/or Consumer Leasing Act (CLA).” Finally, at the FTC’s request, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida temporarily put an end to the practices of a company that charged consumers an upfront fee to “negotiate an auto loan modification on their behalf, but then often provided nothing in return.” The FTC’s recent actions are indicative of its ongoing efforts to prevent alleged fraud within the industry.

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CFPB “Keeping Watchful Eye on Auto Lending Market”

On February 23, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered prepared remarks at the National Association of Attorneys General Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. In his remarks, Cordray indicated that the CFPB is keeping a watchful eye on the auto lending market, stating that auto lending practices are currently being supervised at the largest banks. Cordray further revealed that the CFPB intends to move forward with a proposed rule to oversee the larger nonbank auto lenders as well. Cordray also lobbied the attorneys general to use the CFPB’s government portal to analyze consumer complaints to assist in investigations, stating, “[w]e now have 22 attorneys general and 28 state banking regulators who are already signed up and accessing this information through the secure portal. I strongly urge the rest of you to join us and do the same.”

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DOJ and North Carolina AG Settle First-Ever Federal Discrimination Suit Involving Auto Lending

On February 10, the DOJ, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and the North Carolina AG, announced the settlement of the federal government’s discrimination suit involving two “buy here, pay here” auto dealerships. According to the DOJ, this is the federal government’s first-ever settlement involving discrimination in auto lending. Filed in January 2014, the settlement resolves a lawsuit alleging that two North Carolina-based auto dealerships violated the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act by “intentionally targeting African-American customers for unfair and predatory credit practices in the financing of used car purchases.” The North Carolina AG further alleges that the auto dealerships’ lending practices violated the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The terms of the settlement require the two dealerships to revise the terms of their loans and repossession practices to ensure that “reverse redlining” ceases to exist; required amendments include: (i) setting the maximum projected monthly payments to 25% of the borrower’s income; (ii) omitting hidden fees from required down payment; (iii) prohibiting repossession until the borrower has missed at least two consecutive payments; and (iii) providing better-quality disclosure notices at the time of the sale. Also required by the settlement agreement, the two auto dealerships must establish a fund of $225,000 “to compensate victims of their past discriminatory and predatory lending.”

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NY Department of Financial Services Settles With Auto-Dealer

On December 19, the New York Department of Financial Services announced a recent settlement with a Long Island-based auto lender to resolve allegations of violations of several consumer protection laws including the DFA, TILA, NY Banking Law, and NY Financial Services Law. According to the consent judgment, the Defendants allegedly (i) failed to notify consumers who made overpayments on their accounts; (ii) miscalculated the interest charged to customers; and (iii) endangered the security of its customer information by leaving loan files openly around common areas. As part of the settlement, the auto dealer must (i) pay $3 million in penalties; (ii) pay full restitution plus nine percent interest to all affected customers; (iii) liquidate all remaining loans; and (iv) surrender its licenses in all states.

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Webinar Recap: The CFPB’s Expanding Oversight of Auto Finance, Part I

On October 1, 2014, BuckleySandler hosted a webinar, The CFPB’s Expanding Oversight of Auto Finance, Part One. Through an examination of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) authority, recent enforcement activities, and discussion of the exam process, Kirk Jensen, John Redding, Michelle Rogers, Marshall Bell and Lori Sommerfield explored the different areas of the auto finance industry coming into the CFPB’s focus.

BuckleySandler will present The CFPB’s Expanding Oversight of Auto Finance, Part Two on October 30, 2014.

Explaining the Larger Participant Rule

Since its creation, the CFPB has held statutory authority to supervise nonbank institutions who are “a larger participant of a market for other consumer financial products or services.” On September 17, 2014, the CFPB proposed a rule defining a market for “automobile financing” and “larger participants” within that market. Under this proposed rule:

  • A nonbank institution is a larger participant in the auto finance market if it “has at least 10,000 aggregate annual originations,” which includes:
    • Credit granted for the purpose of purchasing an automobile
    • Refinancings
    • Automobile leases
    • Purchases of extensions of credit and leases
  • An “automobile” includes any self-propelled vehicle used primarily for a consumer purpose for on-road transportation, except for certain identified vehicle types, including recreational vehicles, motor scooters and limited others
  • Affiliates are included in calculations but dealers are excluded

Read more…

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Federal Register Publishes Proposed Rule On CFPB Oversight Of Nonbank Auto Finance Companies

On October 8, the CFPB published a rule proposing oversight of larger nonbank auto finance companies for the first time at the federal level. The proposed rule will “amend the regulation defining larger participants of certain consumer financial product and service markets by adding a new section to define larger participants of a market for automobile financing.”  Under the new section, a market would be defined to include: (i) grants of credit for the purchase of an automobile, refinancings of such credit obligations, and purchases or acquisitions of such credit obligations (including refinancings); and (ii) automobile leases and purchases or acquisitions of such automobile lease agreements. Previously, on September 17, the CFPB released information regarding its resolve to supervise and enforce auto finance companies’ compliance with consumer financial laws, including fair lending laws. Comments on the proposed rule must be received on or before December 8, 2014.

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CFPB Offers More Details On Plans To Supervise Auto Finance Market

On September 17, the CFPB released new information about its plans to supervise and enforce auto finance companies’ compliance with consumer financial laws, including fair lending laws. As it indicated it would earlier this year, the CFPB released a proposed rule that would allow it to supervise certain nonbank auto finance companies. Also as previously promised, the CFPB published a white paper on its method to proxy for race and national origin in auto finance transactions. Finally, the CFPB published its most recent Supervisory Highlights report, which is dedicated to its supervisory findings at depository institutions with auto finance operations.

The CFPB released the materials in connection with its September 18th field hearing on auto finance issues. These actions come roughly 18 months after the CFPB first provided guidance to auto finance companies regarding its expectations related to dealer “reserve” (or “participation”) and fair lending. Read more…

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