On January 5, the FTC announced separate settlements with two online payday lenders to resolve charges dating back to April 2012 that the defendants violated TILA, the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act), and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA). According to the FTC, the defendants (i) violated TILA by failing to accurately disclose information regarding the loan terms, such as the finance charge, annual percentage rate, payment schedule, and the total of payments; (ii) violated the FTC Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts or practices by misrepresenting how much loans would cost consumers; and (iii) violated the EFTA by conditioning extension of credit to consumers on the consumers’ repayment by preauthorized debits from their bank accounts. In addition to prohibiting the defendants from engaging in practices that violate the TILA and EFTA, the FTC’s final orders require the defendants to each pay $2.2 million and collectively waive $68 million in uncollected fees to consumers. Combined with other settlements, the FTC has recovered approximately $25.5 million in connection with its case against several payday lending companies and related individuals.
On March 23, the CFPB simultaneously issued a report and an advisory providing financial institutions with information on the financial exploitation of older Americans and recommendations on how to prevent and respond to such exploitation. The report combines the CFPB’s “expertise regarding elder financial exploitation” with knowledge gained from interviews conducted between May 2014 to March 2016 with various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, representatives of individual banks and credit unions of various sizes, trade associations, technology vendors, and law enforcement. According to the CFPB, the release of recommendations outlined in the report and advisory mark the “first time a federal regulator has provided an extensive set of voluntary best practices to help banks and credit unions fight [financial exploitation of older Americans].” The CFPB recommended that financial institutions (i) establish protocols for ensuring staff compliance with the Electronic Fund Transfer Act; (ii) train staff to detect the warning signs of financial exploitation and respond appropriately to suspicious events; (iii) maintain fraud detection systems that provide analyses of the types of products and account activity associated with elder financial exploitation; (iv) report cases of suspected exploitation, which includes filing Suspicious Activity Reports with FinCEN when necessary; and (v) collaborate with stakeholders, including law enforcement, at the local, regional, and state level.
CFPB Orders Small-Dollar Lender to Pay $10 Million for Debt Collection Practices; Releases Compliance Bulletin
On December 16, the CFPB announced a consent order against a Texas-based small-dollar lender for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), and the EFTA’s implementing regulation, Regulation E. According to the CFPB, beginning in July 2011, the company engaged in unfair and deceptive acts or practices and violated Regulation E by (i) visiting consumers’ homes and places of employment to collect debts; (ii) contacting third parties for reasons other than to acquire consumers’ location information, which put consumers at risk of their information being disclosed to third parties, and ignoring requests to stop calling consumers’ workplaces; (iv) making false threats of litigation if consumers did not pay the past due amount; (v) misrepresenting the company’s ability to, and routine practice to, run credit checks on loan applicants; (vi) requiring consumers to pay using pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; (vii) causing consumers to incur fees from their banks due to electronic withdrawal practices; and (viii) misrepresenting a consumer’s ability to repay loans early and to revoke authorization for electronic withdrawal authorization. The CFPB’s administratively-filed consent order requires the company to pay $7,500,000 towards refunding consumers affected by its practices, and pay a civil money penalty of $3,000,000. In addition, the order prohibits the company from collecting on defaulted loans owed by approximately 130,000 consumers, and from engaging in unfair and deceptive debt collection practices in the future. Read more…
On November 18, the CFPB announced an action against a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO for alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, and for engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices. Specifically, the CFPB alleges that, from May 2008 through December 2012, the online lender (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic funds transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. The case will be tried by an Administrative Law Judge from the CFPB’s Office of Administrative Adjudication.
CFPB Files Complaint Against Student Financial Aid Consulting Company for Allegedly Illegal Sales and Billing Practices
On July 23, the CFPB announced that it had entered into a proposed consent order with a Sacramento-based company that provides fee-based student financial aid counseling and preparation services. The CFPB’s simultaneously filed complaint alleges that the company violated the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act by engaging in deceptive sales tactics through its websites and call center representatives. The complaint claims that from at least July 21, 2011 to present (recognizing that the company no longer operates one of the websites effective July 13, 2015), the company offered consumers certain services “as an upgrade from its ‘standard’ service level at ‘no additional cost.’” However, consumers were allegedly charged future annual fees of $67 to $85 for such upgrades. The Bureau also alleges that the company violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act by enrolling consumers in automatic, recurring payments without their knowledge or consent: “The Company did not provide consumers a copy of the consumers’ authorization for electronic fund transfers in which the terms of the preauthorized transfers – including automatic, recurring charges going forward – were clear and readily understandable.” The proposed consent order would require the company to pay $5.2 million in consumer relief and cancel all automatic and recurring charges currently in place. Due to the company’s limited financial resources, the proposed order seeks a civil money penalty of $1.00.