CFPB Takes Action Against Law Firm, its Partners, and Debt Buyer for Alleged FDCPA Violations

On April 25, the CFPB issued separate consent orders to a New Jersey-based law firm and two of the firm’s partners and a New Jersey-based debt buyer for alleged violations of the FDCPA and the Dodd-Frank Act. According to the CFPB, between 2009 and 2014, the law firm, which specializes in retail debt collection litigation, filed lawsuits on behalf of the debt buyer without having “sufficient documentation” to support “the original contracts underlying the alleged debts, documentation of the consumer’s alleged obligation, or the chain of title evidencing that the debt buyer actually owned the debt and thus had standing to sue the consumer.” The CFPB alleges that, among other things, (i) the law firm relied on an automated system and non-attorney staff to complete the initial review of data submitted by the debt buyer regarding consumers’ debt accounts; (ii) the debt buyer failed to require that the law firm complete an account-level review of the documents it submitted prior to filing suit; (iii) neither the debt buyer nor law firm obtained sufficient documentation evidencing the alleged debt and its transactional history; and (iv) the debt buyer and law firm collected debts and filed suits based on unreliable data. The CFPB further contends that the named partners had “managerial responsibility for the Firm and materially participated in the conduct of its debt-collection litigation practices.” In addition to the $1 million civil money penalty imposed on the law firm and the two partners and the $1.5 million civil money penalty imposed on the debt buyer, the consent orders prohibit the firm, the two named partners, and the debt buyer from filing suits or threatening to file suits without substantial evidence that the debt is accurate and enforceable and from using deceptive affidavits, including those that misrepresent the type of documentation reviewed and that the review was conducted by the actual person signing the affidavit.

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CFPB Releases Supervisory Highlights, Winter 2016 Issue

On March 8, the CFPB released its tenth edition of Supervisory Highlights, summarizing supervisory observations in the areas of consumer reporting, debt collection, mortgage origination, remittances, student loan servicing, and fair lending. The report covers the CFPB’s supervision work in the last quarter of 2015, generally between September 2015 and December 2015. Noteworthy findings in the report include: (i) violations of the Dodd-Frank Act’s unfair practice provisions by student loan servicers who would automatically default borrowers and co-signers on a private loan if either declared bankruptcy; (ii) violations of the October 2013 Remittance Rule, including providers failing to give complete and accurate disclosures to consumers, failing to cancel transactions within the required timeframe, failing to promptly credit a consumer’s account when an error occurred, and either not communicating the results of error investigations within the required timeframe or at all, or communicating them to an unauthorized party; (iii) inaccuracies in checking account information reported to NSCRAs by banks and credit unions; and (iv) violations of the FDCPA, with debt collectors failing to honor consumers’ requests to stop making contact with them and threatening garnishment against student loan borrowers who were not eligible for garnishment under the Department of Education guidelines. In addition to summarizing supervisory observations, the report provides an overview of the public enforcement actions taken between September and December 2015. Regarding non-public supervisory actions in the areas of deposits, debt collection, and mortgage origination, the report states that the CFPB collected more than $14 million in restitution to approximately 228,000 consumers in the fourth quarter of 2015.

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FTC Reports to CFPB on 2015 Activities to Combat Illegal Debt Collection Practices

On February 17, the FTC sent the CFPB a letter summarizing its 2015 efforts to stop allegedly illegal debt collection practices. According to the letter, in 2015, the FTC’s FDCPA activities included “aggressive law enforcement activities and public outreach to address new and troubling issues in debt collection,” such as (i) coordinating the first federal-state-local enforcement initiative, Operation Collection Protection, that targets deceptive and abusive debt collection practices; (ii) prosecuting various cases involving the use of purportedly unlawful text messages to collect debts; (iii) publishing a list of every company and individual that has been banned from engaging in debt collection activities because of the FTC’s work; and (iv) hosting three Debt Collection Dialogues “to promote a more robust exchange of information between the debt collection industry and the state and federal governmental agencies that regulate their conduct.” The letter highlights various actions against debt collectors taken jointly by the FTC and the CFPB, and the offices of the New York and Illinois Attorneys General. Under the FDCPA, the FTC shares enforcement responsibilities with the CFPB. The FTC’s recent letter is intended to assist the CFPB in preparing its annual report to Congress about its administration of the FDCPA, as required by Dodd-Frank.

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CFPB Announces Proposed Consent Order with Debt Collection Law Firm

On December 28, the CFPB filed a proposed consent order to resolve allegations that a Georgia-based law firm operated a debt-collection lawsuit mill by collecting millions of dollars from consumers who may not have owed the debts in the amounts claimed, or may not have owed debts at all. According to the July 2014 complaint, the firm violated the FDCPA and engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by (i) intimidating consumers through the use of automatically-filed lawsuits that did not involve attorneys; and (ii) using sworn statements from its clients to support its lawsuits, even though the signers could not have known the details to which they were attesting. The CFPB’s proposed consent order would prohibit the firm and its partners from (i) filing lawsuits or threatening to sue to enforce debts unless they are able to prove, through specific documentation, that the debt is enforceable; (ii) filing or threatening lawsuits unless specific documentation regarding a consumer’s debt was reviewed by an attorney; and (iii) using affidavits as evidence to collect debts unless the signer’s knowledge of the facts and the documents are specifically and accurately described in the statements. The proposed order also seeks a $3.1 million civil money penalty.

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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…

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