On April 30, the OCC and the FDIC announced parallel enforcement actions against a national bank and an affiliated state bank to resolve allegations that the institutions violated Section 5 of the FTC Act in their marketing and implementation of overdraft protection programs, checking rewards programs, and stop-payment processes for preauthorized recurring electronic fund transfers. The OCC claims that (i) bank employees failed to disclose technical limitations of the standard overdraft protection practices opt-out, (ii) the bank’s overdraft opt-in notice described fees that the bank did not actually charge, (iii) the bank failed to disclose that it would not transfer funds from a savings account to cover overdrafts in linked checking accounts if the savings account did not have funds to cover the entire overdrawn balance on a given day, even if the available funds would have covered one or more overdrawn items, (iv) the bank failed to disclose technical limitations of its preauthorized recurring electronic funds transfers that prevented it from stopping certain transfers upon customer request, and (v) the bank failed to disclose posting date requirements for its checking reward program. The OCC orders require the bank to pay approximately $2.5 million in restitution and a $5 million civil money penalty. In addition, the bank must (i) appoint an independent compliance committee, (ii) update its compliance risk management systems with appropriate policies and procedures, and (iii) adjust its written compliance risk management policy. The FDIC order requires the state bank to refund customers roughly $1.4 million and pay a $5 million civil penalty.
On May 17, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against a homebuilder the CFPB alleges violated Section 8(a) of RESPA through joint venture arrangements. According to the CFPB, the homebuilder created two joint ventures, one with a state bank and the other with a nonbank mortgage company. The CFPB consent order alleges the homebuilder referred mortgage customers to the joint ventures in exchange for payments from those ventures, and that such payments violate RESPA’s prohibition on the acceptance of any fee, kickback, or thing of value in exchange for referral of customers for real estate settlement services. The homebuilder did not admit to the allegations, but agreed to disgorge over $100,000 and cease from performing any real estate settlement services, including mortgage origination. The CFPB investigation resulted from an FDIC referral. That agency issued an enforcement action in June 2012 against the state bank for related alleged activities.
On April 18, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York State Department of Financial Services obtained two additional separate settlement agreements, one with QBE Insurance Company and one with Balboa Insurance Company, stemming from a DFS investigation of the lender-placed insurance industry. Neither company admitted any wrongdoing in connection with their respective settlements. This follows the DFS’ announcement last month that it had reached an agreement with Assurant, pursuant to which the company agreed to pay a $14 million penalty. Like the Assurant settlement, the QBE agreement requires it to (i) re-file rates for lender-placed insurance, (ii) change its disclosures and notices to borrowers, and (iii) discontinue paying commissions to servicer affiliates in New York. QBE agreed to a penalty of $4 million. Balboa, whose business was purchased by QBE in mid-2011 and is currently in run-off, agreed to a $6 million penalty. In addition, borrowers may be entitled to partial premiums refunds if they (i) can prove they defaulted on their mortgage or were foreclosed upon because of lender placement, (ii) were charged for lender placement at a coverage amount higher than permitted by their mortgage, or (iii) were erroneously charged for lender-placed insurance when they had voluntary insurance in effect, or were charged commercial rates for a residence. BuckleySandler represented both QBE and Balboa in the investigation and its resolution.
On February 20, the FTC announced that it obtained a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada against a firm and affiliated entities alleged to have debited consumers’ bank accounts and charged their credit cards small amounts, without authorization. Although the FTC does not yet know how the defendants obtained the consumers’ financial information, the FTC states that some consumers had recently applied for payday loans via the Internet. The FTC’s complaint alleges that the firms attempted to conceal the scheme by (i) creating dozens of shell companies to open merchant accounts with payment processors that enable merchants to get customers’ money via electronic banking, (ii) registering more than 230 Internet domain names, often using identity-hiding services and auto-forward features, and (iii) inflating their total number of deposits and lowering their return rates by taking multiple unauthorized debits of a few pennies each, and then immediately refunding them before making a larger debit of about $30. The FTC is seeking, among other things, restitution and a permanent injunction. The FTC was assisted in its investigation by the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection and the Arkansas Attorney General Office’s Consumer Protection Division.
On February 1, the FTC announced that it is requiring a social networking application company to pay $800,000 and make certain compliance enhancements to resolve allegations that the firm (i) misled and deceived users by automatically collecting and storing personal information from users’ mobile device address books even if the users had not selected that option and despite claims that the application collected only certain non-personal user information, and (ii) violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule by collecting personal information from approximately 3,000 children under the age of 13 without first getting parents’ consent. Pursuant to the consent decree, in addition to the monetary penalty, the company must establish a comprehensive privacy program, and obtain independent privacy assessments every other year for the next 20 years.
Concurrently, the FTC Read more…
On January 15, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it reached a settlement with a Michigan community bank regarding alleged redlining practices. In its complaint, the DOJ charged that between 2006 and 2009, the bank served the credit needs of white neighborhoods in the Saginaw and Flint, Michigan metropolitan areas to a significantly greater extent than it served the credit needs of majority African-American neighborhoods. Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to open a loan production office in an African-American neighborhood in Saginaw, invest $75,000 in a special financing program to increase the amount of credit the bank extends to majority African-American neighborhoods in and around Saginaw, invest $75,000 in partnerships with organizations that provide credit, financial, homeownership, and/or foreclosure prevention services to the residents of those neighborhoods, and invest $15,000 in outreach that promotes the bank’s products and services to potential customers in those neighborhoods.
Federal Regulators Agree to Monetary Settlement With 10 Servicers In Lieu of Independent Foreclosure Review
On January 7, the OCC and the Federal Reserve Board announced that 10 of the 14 mortgage servicers subject to consent orders issued in April 2011 regarding alleged improper servicing and foreclosure practices agreed in principle to resolve those allegations by paying borrowers $3.3 billion directly and providing $5.2 billion in borrower assistance through loan modifications and forgiveness of deficiency judgments. For the settling servicers, the agreement ends the costly and ineffective Independent Foreclosure Review program required by the consent orders, pursuant to which the banks were to compensate borrowers for any financial injury and/or improper foreclosure identified by third-party consultants through a case-by-case loan file audit process or in response to borrower requests for review. The OCC states that more than 3.8 million borrowers are expected to receive compensation ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, without having to take any action to become eligible. The exact payout will depend on the type of alleged servicing error, and the regulators expect that borrowers will be contacted by the end of March with payment details. The regulators continue to seek similar agreements with the remaining companies subject to the 2011 consent orders.
On October 1, the CFPB announced a coordinated enforcement action taken by federal regulators against a major credit card company and several of its subsidiaries alleged to have violated multiple consumer financial protection laws. According to the CFPB, the investigations conducted by it and other federal regulators and a state regulator revealed that the companies (i) charged illegal late fees, (ii) discriminated on the basis of age in the offering of credit, (iii) engaged in deceptive marketing, and (iv) failed to properly report consumer credit disputes. To resolve the allegations, the companies agreed to enter into several different consent orders. Two orders obtained by the CFPB and a joint CFPB/FDIC order require three of the subsidiaries collectively to refund approximately $85 million to approximately 250,000 customers and pay a cumulative $18 million in civil money penalties. Likewise, the OCC issued a consent order that includes an additional $500,000 penalty, and provides for restitution that overlaps with the broader restitution ordered by the CFPB. Finally, an order obtained by the Federal Reserve Board, requires the company, and certain of its subsidiaries, to pay an additional $9 million penalty. Furthermore, pursuant to the various orders, the companies agreed to undergo an independent audit and implement enhanced compliance systems to address the alleged illegal practices. This is the third public CFPB-led enforcement action aimed at credit card companies, and the first to go beyond allegations regarding ancillary products and resolve alleged violations of the CARD Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
On September 24, the CFPB announced that it resolved an investigation initiated by the FDIC and subsequently joined by the CFPB into telephone sales of certain ancillary or “add on” products marketed and sold by a major credit card issuer. The products related to (i) payment protection, (ii) credit monitoring, (iii) identity theft protection, and (iv) protection in the event of wallet loss. Pursuant to the Joint Consent Order released by the CFPB, the bank will pay a $14 million penalty and provide approximately $200 million in restitution to eligible consumers who purchased one or more ancillary products over a period of approximately four years. The order also calls for certain changes to the bank’s marketing and sales practices in connection with the products. During a press call to announce the consent order, CFPB Director Richard Cordray explained that the CFPB “expect[s] that more such actions will follow.” The CFPB is publishing the orders from its various actions on its administrative adjudication docket. Mr. Cordray also stated that “[i]n the meantime, [the CFPB is] signaling as clearly as [it] can that other financial institutions should review their marketing practices to ensure that they are not deceiving or misleading consumers into purchasing financial products or services.” In July, the CFPB issued Bulletin 2012-06, which outlines the CFPB’s expectations for the institutions it supervises, and their vendors, with regard to offering ancillary products in compliance with federal consumer financial laws. BuckleySandler represented the bank in this joint CFPB-FDIC investigation and enforcement action.
On July 26, the OCC and the DOJ announced resolution of actions brought against a national bank for alleged violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The DOJ filed a complaint and consent order in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, simultaneously bringing and resolving allegations that over a roughly five year period the bank failed to provide sufficient protections to servicemembers (i) denying valid requests for interest rate reductions because the servicemembers’ military orders did not include specific end dates for the period of military service, (ii) foreclosing without a court order, (iii) repossessing motor vehicles without a court order, and (iv) obtaining default judgments without first filing accurate affidavits. Under the DOJ settlement, the bank must pay $12 million in damages to servicemembers. Concurrently, the OCC released consent orders resolving similar allegations. Under both the DOJ and OCC orders, the bank must take specific actions to enhance compliance with SCRA, including with regard to vendor management, training, and internal reporting. The OCC also is requiring that the bank report periodically to the OCC, and conduct a look-back review of its servicemember accounts. The DOJ notes that the bank already has adopted enhanced SCRA policies on its own initiative, including extending a four percent interest rate to qualifying servicemembers and giving an additional one-year grace period before de-enrolling servicemembers from the reduced interest rate program.
On July 18, the CFPB announced its first public enforcement action – a Consent Order entered into by a major credit card issuer to resolve allegations that the issuer’s vendors deceptively marketed ancillary products such as payment protection and credit monitoring. The OCC made a corresponding enforcement announcement and released a Cease and Desist Order and Civil Money Penalty to resolve related charges. Under the CFPB order, the issuer will refund approximately $140 million to roughly two million customers, and will pay a $25 million penalty. The OCC order requires restitution of approximately $150 million (of which $140 million overlaps with the CFPB order) and an additional $35 million civil money penalty. Under both agencies’ actions, the issuer is prohibited from selling and marketing certain ancillary products until it obtains approval to do so from the regulators, and the issuer must take specific actions to enhance compliance with consumer financial laws.
Concurrently, the CFPB issued Bulletin 2012-06, which states that the CFPB expects supervised institutions and their vendors to offer ancillary products in compliance with federal consumer financial laws. The guidance cites “CFPB supervisory experience [that] indicates that some credit card issuers have employed deceptive promotional practices when marketing” such products, including (i) failing to adequately disclose terms and conditions, (ii) enrolling customers without their consent, and (iii) billing for services not performed. The Bulletin reviews applicable federal law and outlines the compliance program components that the CFPB expects supervised institutions to maintain.
In a recent article published in Law360, BuckleySandler partners Thomas Sporkin and Robyn Quattrone, and associate Kendra Kinnaird, write about SEC enforcement proceedings and provide tips for minimizing missteps when interfacing with SEC staff. Counsel’s conduct and interactions with SEC staff prior to, during and following any type of informal or formal investigation can have a huge impact on the staff’s treatment and management of the proceeding. The authors review recent statements from senior government officials and examples from recent enforcement proceedings and explain that, while courtesy and professionalism will not avoid actions where they are warranted, mismanaging interactions with staff can make matters worse and even seemingly small and simple mistakes can be costly to the reputations (and wallets) of clients. To aid practitioners and companies facing an SEC investigation, the authors provide best practices for counseling clients and interacting with SEC staff prior to the filing of a formal SEC enforcement action, including tips for developing compliance programs, presenting internal investigation results, and negotiating penalties and other settlement provisions.
Special Alert: DOJ Increasingly Pursuing Monetary and Non-Monetary Relief in Civil Enforcement Actions
Last month, in a potentially significant but largely overlooked development, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) signaled that it would “increasingly” pursue “innovative, non-monetary measures” when it settles civil fraud cases. In remarks to the American Bar Association on June 7, 2012, Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General, said it was DOJ’s “view that there will be cases in the future in which obtaining only a monetary recovery will not adequately redress the wrong.” Responding specifically to the charge that qui tam lawsuits represent merely a “cost of doing business” and that qui tam settlements could be viewed as just another “regulatory burden,” Delery said that DOJ’s civil fraud settlements will increasingly include “non-monetary remedies and other measures to help prospectively reduce fraud.” By way of example, he cited the Department’s recent health care fraud settlement with Abbott Laboratories, in which the $1.5 billion criminal-civil settlement included such terms as a period of probation; an “agreed statement of facts”; a corporate integrity agreement; and a requirement that the company institute additional compliance measures. Although Delery acknowledged in his remarks that seeking non-monetary relief could “prolong” or even “prevent” settlement discussions, he described it as “increasingly” DOJ’s view “that we owe it to taxpayers to do our best to implement measures to fully explain the conduct that led to the resolution, and to deter future bad acts.”
Responding to a subpoena can be a daunting task and early missteps can have severe repercussions. Here is a short list of critical steps you can take in the early stages of the subpoena response to protect your company.
- Preserve. Preserve. Preserve. Immediately upon receipt of a subpoena, you should inform all necessary employees of the need to retain documents, including electronic documents, with a document hold memo that replaces standard document retention policies for potentially responsive materials. Destroying or removing documents in the context of a government investigation—whether done affirmatively or by failing to suspend automated document retention protocols—may be viewed as obstruction of justice. At the very least, it will create the appearance of an unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation.
- Establish a dialogue with the appropriate enforcement authorities. Communication is critical to understanding the scope of the investigation and establishing a working relationship with the government. You should initiate contact quickly to discuss the scope of the subpoena and develop a feasible production schedule.
- Inform the company’s key executives. Receiving a subpoena is no small matter and, depending on the nature of the subpoena and potential enforcement action, the key executives and even the board of directors need to be made aware immediately. This is especially important if your company is publicly traded as there may be disclosure obligations.
- Determine whether the subpoena was properly served. Not all subpoenas are properly served and improper service may provide valid grounds to get the subpoena quashed. You should quickly evaluate the basis upon which the subpoena was issued and served to determine whether to object or take other action.
- Advise employees of their rights and responsibilities, including access to counsel. Either at the time the subpoena is initially served or in follow up activities, agents may attempt to interview employees. It is important to remind employees immediately of their responsibility to be truthful when speaking with agents of the government, but that they may choose to have an attorney present if they do decide to be interviewed. You should also reiterate your company’s policy on cooperating with investigations and request that employees inform the legal department of any discussions or contacts with the government. Read more…