On July 14, the FTC announced the approval of a final consent order against two Ohio-based auto dealers to resolve allegations that they failed to make certain advertising disclosures in violation of the FTC Act, the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), and the CLA’s implementing Regulation M. Specifically, according to the FTC’s November 2015 complaint, the auto dealers’ lease advertisements (i) failed to disclose, or adequately disclose, that typical consumers would not qualify for advertised terms; and (ii) displayed a monthly payment amount without clearly and conspicuously disclosing terms required by the CLA and Regulation M. Pursuant to the consent order, the auto dealers are prohibited from, among other things, (i) advertising the amount of any payment, or the length or any payment term, without also clearly and conspicuously disclosing all related qualification restrictions, such as those based on the consumer’s credit score; (ii) misrepresenting payment terms; and (iii) advertising payment terms without clearly and conspicuously disclosing terms required by the CLA and Regulation M.
On July 14, the FTC announced that two debt collectors and three companies (collectively, Defendants) previously charged with using false threats and other illegal collection tactics in violation of the FTC Act and the FDCPA have agreed to a stipulated final order. According to the FTC, the Defendants purchased consumer debts and then collected payment by intimidating consumers with false threat of lawsuits, wage garnishment and arrest, and by impersonating attorneys or process servers. In addition, the FTC alleged that the Defendants (i) failed to disclose to consumers their right to receive verification of a debt; (ii) did not identify themselves as debt collectors; and (iii) disclosed debts to third parties. The final order imposes a $4,802,646 judgment, which the FTC partially suspended upon the surrender of certain assets, and requires that the two individual debt collectors separately pay $59,207 and $50,562. The action is part of the FTC’s Operation Collection Protection, a nationwide initiative designed to combat alleged abusive and deceptive debt collection practices.
On June 16, the FTC announced that it obtained a court order against a debt collector and one of its officers for allegedly deceiving consumers with text messages, emails, and phone calls that falsely threatened arrest or lawsuits if they failed to make debt collection payments. In May 2015, the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued an ex parte Temporary Restraining Order that “froze a number of Defendants’ assets, provided the FTC with immediate access to Defendants’ business premises, and granted expedited discovery to determine the existence and location of assets and documents pertinent to the allegations of the Complaint.” The recently issued final order prohibits the defendants from, among other things: (i) engaging in debt collection activities; (ii) misrepresenting material facts regarding financial-related products or services; and (iii) disclosing, using, or benefiting from consumers’ personal information, and failing to properly destroy such information when appropriate. Finally, the final order imposes a $980,000 judgment to be used as equitable monetary relief, including, but not limited to, consumer redress.
On June 6, the FTC submitted a comment to the FCC on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) regarding the implementation of recent changes to provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that permit robocalls “made solely to collect a debt owed or guaranteed by the United States.” Recommending that the FCC proceed cautiously with the expansion of permissible robocalling, the FTC instructed the FCC to establish standards for the collection of government debt that are consistent with the FDCPA, Section 5 of the FTC Act, and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). Specifically, the FTC’s comment advises the FCC to limit permitted robocalls to only (i) those relating to debts in default status; (ii) persons who actually owe the debts; (iii) those relating to the collection of the government debt; and (iv) collection purposes exclusively. In addition, the FTC’s comment on the NPR suggests that the FCC (i) maintain reasonable security practices over the data collected during covered robocalls; (ii) limit robocalls to the hours of 8:00 am to 9:00 pm; and (iii) require covered callers to “transmit caller ID information that includes a caller number that connects to a live agent representing the debt collector.”
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.