CFPB Fines Mortgage Lender $3.5 Million for Paying Illegal Kickbacks

On January 31, the CFPB issued consent orders against four entities—a mortgage lender, two real estate brokers, and a mortgage servicer—alleged to have participated in an illegal mortgage business referral scheme.  According to the first order (2017-CFPB-0006), the mortgage lender violated RESPA when it, among other things, (i) paid for referrals pursuant to various agreements with real estate brokers and other counterparties; (ii) encouraged brokers to require consumers to “prequalify” with the lender; and (iii) split fees with a mortgage servicer to obtain consumer referrals.  Based on these and other allegations, the CFPB ordered the lender to pay a $3.5 million civil money penalty.  In addition, the Bureau issued consent orders against the two real estate brokers and the mortgage servicer that allegedly participated in the kickback scheme (see 2017-CFPB-0008, 2017-CFPB-0009, and 2017-CFPB-0007).  Notably, the Bureau alleges that the servicer also violated FCRA by ordering “trigger leads” from credit bureaus so that it could market the lender to consumers.  The real estate brokers and servicer were ordered to pay a combined $495,000 in consumer relief, repayment of ill-gotten gains, and penalties.  Read the special alert issued February 1 on InfoBytes.

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CFPB Fines Mortgage Servicers $28 Million, Claims Failure to Provide Foreclosure Relief

On January 23, the CFPB announced that it had entered consent orders (2017-CFPB-0004 , 2017-CFPB-0005), against two affiliated mortgage servicers, claiming the companies had misled homeowners seeking foreclosure relief. One of the respondent companies is alleged to have, among other things, burdened consumers with excessive and unnecessary paperwork demands in response to foreclosure relief applications thereby violating both RESPA and the Dodd-Frank Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts or practices. The Bureau is therefore requiring the company to pay an estimated $17 million to compensate affected consumers and to pay a civil penalty of $3 million.

As for the second respondent, the CFPB alleged that it failed to consider payment deferment applicants for foreclosure relief options, misled consumers about the impact of deferring payments, charged certain borrowers for credit insurance that should have been cancelled, prematurely cancelled credit insurance for other borrowers, provided inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies, and failed to investigate consumer disputes. Finding violations under RESPA,  FCRA, and various “deceptive acts or practices,” the Bureau is requiring the second company to refund approximately $4.4 million to consumers and to pay a civil penalty of $4.4 million.

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CFPB Files Suit Against Nation’s Largest Student Loan Company

On January 18, the CFPB initiated an enforcement action against the nation’s largest student loan servicer based upon alleged violations of the CPA, FCRA, and FDCPA. In a complaint filed with the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Bureau charged that the student lender “systemically and illegally” created “obstacles to repayment” and “cheated” many borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, causing them to pay much more than they had to for their loans. The CFPB “seeks to obtain permanent injunctive relief, restitution, refunds, damages, civil money penalties, and other relief.”

Later that day, the lender issued a statement categorically rejecting the CFPB’s charges, explaining: “[T]he suit improperly seeks to impose penalties [] based on new servicing standards applied retroactively and applied only against one servicer. The regulator-asserted standards are inconsistent with Department of Education regulations, and will harm student loan borrowers, including through higher defaults.” The company also noted that “the timing of this lawsuit—midnight action filed on the eve of a new administration—reflects their political motivations.”

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CFPB Orders Medical Debt Collection Law Firms to Refund $577,135 to Consumers

On January 9, the CFPB entered into a Consent Order and Stipulation against two medical debt-collection law firms and their president for alleged violations of the FDCPA and FCRA. Based on these allegations, the CFPB ordered the Respondents to provide $577,135 in relief to affected consumers, correct their business practices, and pay a $78,800 civil money penalty. According to the allegations set forth in the consent order, between January 2012 and August 2016, debt collectors working for the firms violated the FDCPA by giving the false impression that the firm’s “Demand Letters were from an attorney or that the firm’s attorneys were meaningfully involved in reviewing the consumer’s case or had reached a professional judgment that sending a Demand Letter or making a collection call was warranted.” The Bureau also found that the firms notarized consumer affidavits for use in debt-collection lawsuits without properly verifying the truth of the signature. The CFPB also alleged that the firms violated FCRA’s Regulation V by failing to establish, implement, and periodically review and update reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of consumer information furnished to consumer reporting agencies.

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Legislators Appeal to CFPB Regarding Payday Loan Proposal

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.

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