On November 30, the Fed announced the release of its annual report on debit card transactions in 2015. The report is the fourth in a series to be published every two years pursuant to Section 920 of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). As in prior years, the 2015 report reflected that issuers’ costs of authorizing, clearing, and settling debit card transactions (excluding issuer fraud losses) varied greatly across respondents. Data compiled in the report estimates that debit-card fraud losses to all parties (merchants, cardholders, and issuers) increased by 44 percent from 2013 to an estimated total of $2.41 billion in 2015. The median covered issuer had average fraud prevention and data security costs of 1.9 cents per transaction.
In a letter sent to CFPB Director Richard Cordray on December 1, a group of Republican members of Congress expressed concern about the Bureau’s proposal regarding payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans. The letter observes that CFPB’s proposal “attempts to further regulate an industry that is already highly regulated by nearly a dozen federal laws including the Truth in Lending Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.” Specifically, the letter contends that the CFPB’s framework will effectively preempt existing statutory and regulatory frameworks and/or eliminate regulated small dollar credit products from the market, thereby leaving consumers without access to credit or forcing them to seek “riskier, illegal” forms of credit.
On July 14, the CFPB ordered a Delaware-based national bank to pay a $10 million civil penalty to settle allegations that its overdraft fee practices were deceptive and violated Regulation E of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act because the bank allegedly charged consumers overdraft fees in connection with ATM and one-time debit card transactions without obtaining their affirmative consent. The CFPB alleges that the bank incentivized sales representatives of a third-party telemarketing vendor to market its overdraft service through “Opt-in Call Campaigns.” According to the consent order, vendor representatives deviated from sales scripts approved by the bank and provided consumers with incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading information to persuade them to enroll in the overdraft service. The CFPB alleges that the bank failed to properly monitor the vendor and detect “widespread problems” throughout the Opt-in Call Campaigns, including, but not limited to: (i) enrolling consumers in the bank’s overdraft program without their consent; (ii) falsely advertising the overdraft program as free, when in fact consumers were charged $35 per overdraft; (iii) misleading consumers into believing they would be charged overdraft fees regardless of whether or not they signed up for the program, or telling consumers they would face additional charges if they opted out of the program; and (iv) falsely claiming that the purpose of the call was “not a sales call” but rather to let consumers know that the bank had changed its name. In addition to imposing a $10 million civil penalty, the consent order requires the bank to, among other things, (i) validate that all consumers who were enrolled in the program through its vendor wish to remain in the program; (ii) stop using a vendor to conduct the marketing of its overdraft service; and (iii) develop and implement a new or revised written policy to govern vendor management for Service Providers engaged in telemarketing of consumer financial products or services.
On June 6, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2015 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report covers the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with Regulation Z (TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act or CLA), and Regulation E (Electronic Fund Transfer Act or EFTA), as well as the FTC’s related activities in rulemaking, research, policy development, and consumer/business education related to TILA. According to the report, the FTC’s enforcement efforts in 2015 concerning TILA involved mortgage-related credit and non-mortgage credit, including automobile purchases and financing, car title loans, payday lending, and consumer electronics financing. Regarding mortgage-related credit activity, the report highlights continued litigation involving mortgage assistance relief services/forensic audit scams: “[i]n these scams, mortgage assistance relief providers offer, for a substantial fee, to review or audit the mortgage documents of distressed homeowners to identify violations of TILA, Regulation Z, and other federal laws.” The report further noted that under Regulation M and as part of the FTC’s Operation Ruse Control sweep on the auto industry, the FTC issued five final administrative consent orders and one consent agreement for public comment. Finally, regarding the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with the EFTA, the report states that four of the FTC’s seven cases involving the EFTA in 2015 arose in the context of “negative option” plans, where consumers agreed to a trial period in which they received certain goods or services for no additional charge or at a reduced price, but later incurred recurring charges due to failure to cancel before the trial period ended.
On November 20, the CFPB released its fall rulemaking agenda. The CFPB’s notable current initiatives include: (i) addressing arbitration clauses in contracts related to consumer financial products and services and providing an outline of rulemaking ideas such as “whether to propose rules that would prevent companies from using these agreements to foreclose consumers’ ability to bring class action lawsuits”; (ii) developing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, with an anticipated release date in the first quarter of 2016, to address concerns relating to payday and auto title lending; (iii) finalizing its December 2014 proposed rule, “Prepaid Accounts Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (Regulation E) and the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z),” to address consumer protection concerns relating to reloadable cards and other similar prepaid products; and (iv) considering rules to designate consumer installment loans and vehicle title loans as “larger participants” under the CFPB’s supervisory authority. Looking ahead, the CFPB’s report highlights the potential for rulemaking to address issues related to credit reporting and student loan servicing. Regarding student loan servicing, the CFPB stresses that it “has made it a priority to take action against companies that are engaging in illegal servicing practices,” and that it will “continue to monitor the market for trends and developments and evaluate possible policy responses, including potentially proposing rules.”