FTC Reports on 2016 Enforcement Activities to Counter Illegal Debt Collection Practices

On February 14, the FTC announced that it has provided the CFPB with a letter summary of the Commission’s efforts during the past year to combat unlawful debt collection practices, provide education and public outreach activities, and conduct research and policy initiatives in the debt collection area. The purpose of the letter, as explained by the Commission, is to “assist the CFPB in its annual report to Congress about its administration of the [Fair Debt Collection Practices Act]”—an act for which the Commission and the CFPB share enforcement responsibilities.

According to the summary, many of the Commission’s law enforcement actions focused on curbing illegal debt collection practices, including phantom debt collection. Specifically, during 2016, the Commission, among other things: (i) filed or resolved 12 cases against 61 defendants, and obtained nearly $70 million in judgments; (ii) permanently banned 44 companies and individuals that engaged in “serious and repeated violations of law” from working in the debt collection industry; and (iii) obtained summary judgment decisions in three litigated matters that resulted in court orders banning the pertinent defendants from the debt collection industry. The summary notes further that, during 2016, two federal appellate courts adopted interpretations of the FDCPA that it considered “favorable” to consumers in cases in which the Commission and CFPB filed joint amicus briefs.

Moreover, with respect to educational initiatives, the summary highlights the Commission’s continued efforts to educate consumers and businesses during the past year about their rights and responsibilities under the FDCPA and the FTC Act. Among other things, the Commission reported: (i) reaching consumers through approximately 16,000 community-based organizations and national groups; (ii) distributing 15.5 million print publications to libraries, police departments, schools, non-profit organizations, banks, credit unions, and other businesses and government agencies; (iii) logging more than “43 million views” on its pertinent website pages; and (iv) reaching consumers through its videos, which were viewed more than 600,000 times. The Commission also noted that it continues to monitor and evaluate the debt collection industry and its practices through public workshops, and by providing input to the CFPB regarding related “rulemaking and guidance initiatives.”

LinkedInFacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

FTC Issues Summary of ECOA Enforcement and Educational Activity to CFPB as Bureau Prepares Annual Report

On February 3, the FTC provided the CFPB with an overview of its work on ECOA-related policy issues, focusing specifically on the Commission’s activities with respect to Regulation B. The letter discusses, among other items, the Commission’s fair lending research, policy development and educational initiatives such as (i) surveying consumers about their experiences in buying and financing automobiles; (ii) providing a report to businesses to help them avoid exclusionary or discriminatory outcomes when using big data analytics; (iii) creating a FinTech forum series that explores emerging financial technology and its implications for consumers; (iv) issuing a report to Congress on Commission efforts in African American and Latino communities related to fraud prevention; (v) hosting a workshop to examine marketplace changes based on population changes and diversity trends; and (vi) attending Interagency Task Force on Fair Lending meetings to share information on lending discrimination, predatory lending enforcement, and policy issues. The letter also discusses the Commission’s business and consumer education efforts on fair lending issues.

LinkedInFacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

FTC Fines Large Debt Collector $700,000 for Unlawful Collection Calls

On February 14, the FTC announced that it has entered a Stipulated Order for Permanent Injunction and Civil Penalty Judgment of $700,000 with a debt collector that allegedly used unlawful tactics to collect on federal student loans and other debts. According to the complaint, filed by the DOJ on behalf of the FTC in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, agents working for the defendant-debt collectors (i) left messages that illegally disclosed purported debts to individuals other than the debtors without permission to do so; and (ii) contacted consumers multiple times despite being told they had the wrong number or that the person answering did not owe the debt. Furthermore, the company was alleged to have falsely represented to regulators that it would take steps to prevent its employees from making such unlawful calls. In addition to the $700,000 fine, the Stipulated Order also enjoined the company from continuing such practices going forward.

LinkedInFacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
COMMENTS: Comments Off
TAGS: ,
POSTED IN: Consumer Finance, Courts

Eleventh Circuit Rules Managing Member of Debt Collection Company Personally Liable for FTC Act Violations

In a ruling handed down on February 10 by an Eleventh Circuit panel in FTC v. Williams, Scott & Associates, LLC, 16-10063, an appellate panel held that a district court acted within its discretion in finding that the managing member of a debt collection company was jointly and severally liable for the amount of net revenue that the company had received while he was involved with the company. The Appellate Court noted, among other things, that the managing member had posed as a law enforcement official seeking payments for debts that consumers did not owe or debts that the company had no authority to collect. Furthermore, in determining the amount for which the individual defendant should be liable, the Appellate Court affirmed the district court’s holding that the total amount of net revenue earned—as opposed to profit—is the correct measure of unjust gains under section 13(b). The Appellate Court noted further that “the disgorgement amount must be limited to the time frame for which the party seeking disgorgement presented evidence of the defendant’s bad acts.”

A copy of the Amended Complaint filed with the district court can be found here.

LinkedInFacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
COMMENTS: Comments Off
TAGS: ,
POSTED IN: Consumer Finance, Courts

Top “Smart TV” Manufacturer Agrees to Pay $2.2M to Settle FTC “Smart TV” Tracking Investigation

On February 6, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New Jersey Attorney General (NJAG) announced that they had entered into a $2.2 million settlement to resolve claims that a “smart” television manufacturer secretly gathered users’ viewing data and sold it to third parties who used the data for targeted advertising purposes. The settlement, which was approved by the FTC by a unanimous 3-0 vote, includes a payment of $1.5 million to the FTC and $700,000 to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, with an additional $300,000 in penalties to New Jersey suspended. The settlement also requires that the TV maker not misrepresent its data collection and sharing practices, prominently disclose its data collection and sharing practices and obtain permission from each consumer prior to collecting viewing data, delete most of the viewing data it already collected, implement a comprehensive privacy program, and undergo biennial third-party privacy assessments.

Notably, in a concurring statement, acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen emphasized that this settlement marks “the first time the FTC has alleged in a complaint that individualized television viewing activity falls within the definition of sensitive information.” Previously, the FTC had limited the definition of sensitive information to “financial information, health information, Social Security Numbers, information about children, and precise geolocation information.” Chairman Ohlausen noted “the need for the FTC to examine more rigorously what constitutes ‘substantial injury’ in the context of information about consumers” and indicated her intention to “launch an effort to examine this important issue further.”

LinkedInFacebookTwitterGoogle+Share