CFPB Orders Payday Lender to Pay Over $500k in Civil Monetary Penalty and Restitution to Customers

On December 16, the CFPB announced that it had entered a stipulation and consent order assessing a $250,000 civil monetary penalty and other remediation against a financial-services company that offers payday loans and check-cashing services based on allegations that it misled consumers through deceptive online advertisements and collections letters and made unauthorized electronic transfers from consumers’ bank accounts. Among other things, the Bureau took particular issue with the fact that Bureau examiners had previously identified “significant compliance-management-system weaknesses that heightened the risk that violations w[ould] occur,” and that “[a]t the times the violations described in this order, the company had not adequately addressed these issues.”

According to the terms of the consent order, the company is required to: (i) end its deceptive practices and obtain authorization for any electronic-fund transfers; (ii) pay approximately $255,000 to redress harm caused to affected consumers; and (iii) pay a civil monetary penalty of $250,000. As explained by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “consumers were making decisions based on false and deceptive information, and today’s action will give the company’s customers the redress they are owed.”

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CFPB Monthly Complaint Snapshot Spotlights Debt Settlement, Check Cashing, and Other Financial Services Complaints

On November 29, the CFPB released Volume 17 of its monthly complaint snapshot reports on consumer complaints stemming from financial services that fall outside of the Bureau’s major complaint categories. The “other financial services” covered in the report include debt settlement, check cashing, money orders, and credit repair. To date, the CFPB has handled approximately 1,035,200 complaints nationally across all products. As reported in the current snapshot: (i) Debt collection was the most-complained-about financial product or service in October; (ii) Student loan complaints showed the greatest increase—108 percent—of any product or service over the three-month period of August to October; and (iii) Alaska, New Mexico, and Missouri experienced the greatest year-to-year complaint volume increases from August to October 2016 period versus the same time period 12 months before. The current report also highlighted a trend in complaints coming from Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City metro area.

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California Department of Business Oversight Issues Opinion Letter Declaring Foreign Check Clearing Services Not Subject to State’s Money Transmission Act

On August 24, the California Department of Business Oversight issued a redacted opinion letter clarifying that foreign check clearing services are not considered money transmission subject to the Money Transmission Act. In order to fall under the state’s Financial Code’s definition of money transmission, a financial institution must receive money or monetary value for transmission within the United States. Emphasizing the domestic prerequisite outlined in the code, the DBO’s opinion indicates that if a bank establishes an exchange rate for an American financial institution that has received a check for deposit written against a foreign bank, the exchange rate service provided by the bank is considered a foreign check clearing service and not “receiving money or monetary value in the United States.” Accordingly, such check clearing activity does not fall under the California Financial Code’s definition of money transmission.

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FinCEN Issues Geographic Targeting Order to Combat Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud in South Florida

On July 13, FinCEN issued a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) requiring check cashers in two South Florida counties to strengthen identification requirements for customers cashing certain Federal tax refund checks. According to FinCEN, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have become a haven for criminals who, using stolen identities, file fraudulent Federal tax returns and then cash the refund checks at a local check casher. Effective August 3 through January 30, 2016, the GTO will require check cashers located in those counties to obtain additional identifying information from customers seeking to cash Federal tax refund checks (including refund anticipation loan checks from third parties) that exceed $1,000. Issued in coordination with the IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the GTO will require customers to provide the following: (i) a valid government-issued identification; (ii) a digital photograph at the time of the transaction; (iii) a valid phone number; and (iv) a thumbprint. The GTO is intended to put a “roadblock in the path of those who would steal another person’s identity,” making it more difficult for the criminals to evade anti-money laundering controls and “reap the rewards of their actions.”

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OIG for U.S. Postal Service Probes Expansion Into Financial Services

On May 21, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service (OIG) issued a report titled, “The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services.” The report follows a January 2014 white paper issued by the OIG, which explored how the U.S. Postal Service could expand its provision of financial products to underserved Americans. The report summarizes five potential approaches for increasing the Postal Service’s financial services offerings, including: (i) expand current product offerings, which include paper money orders, international remittances, gift cards, and limited check cashing, as well as adjacent services  (e.g., bill pay, ATMs); (ii) develop one key partner to provide financial services offerings, including possible expansion to general purpose reloadable prepaid cards, small loans, and/or deposit accounts; (iii) develop different partners for each product; (iv) make the Postal Service a “marketplace” for distribution of financial products of an array of providers; and/or (v) license the Postal Service as a financial institution focused on the financially underserved (although the OIG is not recommending this approach). Factors to consider when determining which approach to take, if any, include the legal and regulatory landscape; the effectiveness of cash management systems; dedication of the internal team, and public awareness of existing and potential services offered.

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