On March 17, the CFPB announced a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comment on key aspects of the credit card market. This RFI is a part of a review mandated by the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (the CARD Act)—a law passed in 2009 that requires the CFPB to conduct a review of the credit card market every two years. The review seeks feedback on how the credit card market has functioned over the last two years and the impact new credit card protections have had on consumers. Specifically, the review solicits input on the changing patterns of credit card agreement terms, unfair or deceptive practices within the credit card market, the use of third-party debt collection agencies, and how consumers understand credit card reward products. Information obtained from the review will culminate in a public report to Congress.
CFPB and Navajo Nation Partner in UDAAP Action Against Companies Involved in Alleged Tax Refund Scheme
On April 14, the CFPB along with the Navajo Nation jointly announced an enforcement action against two companies and their respective owners (Defendants) for running an alleged tax-refund scheme, marking the CFPB’s “first enforcement action taken in conjunction with a tribal government.” According to the complaint, the Defendants operated several tax-refund franchises in New Mexico and in the Navajo Nation territory in which clients were offered short-term, triple-digit APR loans secured by the consumer’s anticipated tax refund, also known as refund anticipation loans (“RALs”). The CFPB and Navajo Nation contend, among other things, that the Defendants (i) steered low-income and vulnerable consumers toward high-cost RALs; (ii) understated the APR of the RALs in disclosure agreements to consumers; and (iii) failed “to disclose that consumers’ tax refunds had been received and would soon be available, but instead persuaded consumers to take out additional RALs.” Under the terms of the proposed consent order, the Defendants would, among other things, (i) pay approximately $438,000 in total consumer redress, which consists of $256,267 in redress fees in addition to roughly $184,000 that has already been paid to affected consumers; (ii) incur $438,000 in civil money penalties; and (iii) be barred, for five years, from offering products associated with tax refunds. The consent order also would prohibit the Defendants from investing, financing, or working for an entity that offers tax refund products.
CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks
On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty, in part for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating refinance mortgage loans guaranteed by the VA, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil penalty, the consent order requires the lender to end any deceptive marketing, cease deceptive endorsement relationships, submit a compliance plan to the CFPB, and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
On December 17, the CFPB announced it filed suit against a Texas-based company for allegedly deceiving consumers into paying fees to sign up for a “sham” credit card. According to the complaint filed in the Northern District of Texas, the CFPB alleges that the company falsely advertised a general-use credit card that, in actuality, could only be used to buy products from the company. The CFPB further alleges that the company deceptively implied an affiliation with unions by, among other things, using pictures of nurses, firefighters, and other public servants in its advertising. The complaint seeks compensation for consumers, a civil penalty, and an injunction against the company.
Special Alert: CFPB Takes Enforcement Action Against “Buy-Here, Pay-Here” Auto Dealer for Alleged Unfair Collection and Credit Reporting Tactics
On November 19, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against a ‘buy-here, pay-here’ auto dealer alleging unfair debt collection practices and the furnishing of inaccurate information about customers to credit reporting agencies. ‘Buy-here, pay-here’ auto dealers typically do not assign their retail installment sale contracts (RISCs) to unaffiliated finance companies or banks, and therefore are subject to the CFPB’s enforcement authority. Consistent with the position it staked out in CFPB Bulletin 2013-07, in this enforcement action the CFPB appears to have applied specific requirements of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to the dealer in its capacity as a creditor based on the CFPB’s broader authority over unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts practices.
The CFPB charges that the auto dealer violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. §§ 5531, 5536, which prohibits unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, by (i) repeatedly calling customers at work, despite being asked to stop; (ii) repeatedly calling the references of customers, despite being asked to stop; and (iii) making excessive, repeated calls to wrong numbers in efforts to reach customers who fell behind on their auto loan payments. Specifically, the CFPB alleges that the auto dealer used a third-party database to “skip trace” for new phone numbers of its customers. As a result, numerous wrong parties were contacted who asked to stop receiving calls. Despite their requests, the auto dealer allegedly failed to prevent calls to these wrong parties or did not remove their contact information from its system.
In addition, the CFPB alleges that the auto dealer violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by (i) providing inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies; (ii) improperly handling consumer disputes regarding furnished information; and (iii) not establishing and implementing “reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information relating to [customers] that it furnishes to a consumer reporting agency.” Specifically, the CFPB alleges that, since 2010, the auto dealer did not review or update its written furnishing policies, despite knowing that conversion to its third-party servicing platform had led to widespread inaccuracies in furnished information. Also, the consent order alleges that the auto dealer received more than 22,000 credit disputes per year, including disputes regarding the timing of repossessions and dates of first delinquency for charged-off accounts, but nevertheless furnished inaccurate information. Read more…
On October 28, the CFPB released the fifth edition of its Supervisory Highlights report. The report highlighted the CFPB’s recent supervisory findings of regulatory violations and UDAAP violations relating to consumer reporting, debt collection, deposits, mortgage servicing and student loan servicing. The report also provided updated supervisory guidance regarding HMDA reporting relating to HMDA data resubmission standards. With respect to consumer reporting, the report identified a variety of violations of FCRA Section 611 regarding dispute resolution. The report noted findings of several FDCPA and UDAAP violations in connection with debt collection, including: (i) unlawful imposition of convenience fees; (ii) false threats of litigation; (iii) improper disclosures to third parties; and (iv) unfair practices with respect to debt sales. For deposits, the report identified several Regulation E violations found, including: (i) error resolution violations; (ii) liability for unauthorized transfers; and (iii) notice deficiencies. The report outlines four main compliance issues identified in the mortgage servicing industry: (i) new mortgage servicing rules regarding oversight of service providers; (ii) delays in finalizing permanent loan modifications; (iii) misleading borrowers about the status of permanent loan modifications; and (iv) inaccurate communications regarding short sales. Finally, the report outlines six practices at student loan servicers that could constitute UDAAP violations: (i) allocating the payments borrowers make to each loan, which results in minimum late fees on all loans and inevitable delinquent statuses; (ii) inflating the minimum payment due on periodic and online account statements; (iii) charging late fees when payments were received during the grace period; (iv) failing to give borrowers accurate information needed to deduct loan interest payments on tax filings; (v) providing false information regarding the “dischargeable” status of a loan in bankruptcy; and (vi) making debt collection calls to borrowers outside appropriate hours.
BuckleySandler LLP is pleased to announce the availability of the 2015 edition of the “Consumer Financial Services Answer Book,” published by the Practising Law Institute. Twenty-one BuckleySandler attorneys contributed to 12 chapters in this leading desk reference, which uses an easy question and answer format to address matters involving consumer financial services law. BuckleySandler Partner Richard Gottlieb also served as lead editor, a role he has held since publication of the first annual edition in 2011.
The 2015 edition of this publication continues to provide practitioners with a core understanding of the laws governing consumer financial services, addressing the latest developments in Consumer Financial Services Bureau (CFPB) enforcement activities, regulations and guidelines, fair lending, auto lending, the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), among others.
New chapters in the 2015 edition address:
- Credit Cards
- Electronic Records and eSignatures
- Short-Term Lending
- Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices (UDAAP)
- Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
- Telemarketing and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
From compliance counseling to enforcement, BuckleySandler has been handling precedent-setting CFPB matters since the Bureau was established in 2011 — experiences which enabled its attorneys to contribute the added insight and advice on current and emerging CFPB developments, trends, and expectations for the Answer Book.
The Consumer Financial Services Answer Book is for sale in hard copy format by the Practising Law Institute at www.pli.edu.
On September 22, the FFIEC announced an update to its online database for analyzing HMDA data and the CFPB announced updates to the agency’s corresponding HMDA tools. Originally launched in September 2013, the tool focuses on the number of mortgage applications and originations, in addition to loan purposes and loan types, and allows the public to see nationwide summaries or employ interactive features to isolate the information for metropolitan areas. The updated database includes 2013 data of approximately 17 million records from 7,190 financial institutions. In both Director Cordray’s 2013 remarks and blog post, the CFPB appeared to indicate that HMDA data may be used to identify institutions that may be discriminating against protected classes of borrowers. On Monday, the Bureau encouraged the public to view the introductory video, maps and charts, data, and share their ideas and findings through its Twitter account.
On September 16, the CFPB filed a civil action against a for-profit college for allegedly engaging in an “illegal predatory lending scheme.” Specifically, the CFPB alleges that the school engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by: (i) inducing enrollment through false and misleading representations about job placement and career opportunities; (ii) inflating tuition to require students to obtain private loans in addition to Title IV aid; (iii) persuading students to incur significant debt through private loans that had substantially high interest rates (as compared to federal loans) and required repayment while students attended school; (iv) misleading students to believe that the school did not have an interest in the private loans offered; and (v) knowing its students were likely to default on the private loans made. In addition, the CFPB alleges that the school violated the FDCPA by taking aggressive and unfair action, including pulling students out of class, blocking computer access, preventing class registration, and withholding participation in graduation, to collect payments on the private loans as soon as they became past due. The CFPB is seeking to permanently enjoin the school from engaging in the alleged activity, restitution and damages to consumers, disgorgement, rescission of all private loans originated since July 21, 2011, civil money penalties, and costs and other monetary relief. Read more…
On September 3, the CFPB published Bulletin 2014-02 warning credit card issuers of the risk of engaging in deceptive or abusive acts and practices in connection with solicitations offering a promotional annual percentage rate (APR). In particular, the bulletin discusses the risk associated with balance transfer solicitations that fail to clearly disclose all material costs of the promotional APR offer, including the failure to disclose that consumers will lose their interest-free grace periods on new purchases if the entire statement balance—including the transferred balance—is not paid in full. The bulletin warns that, depending on the facts and circumstances, card issuers’ solicitations may be considered deceptive and/or abusive if they do not disclose that transferring an outstanding balance may result in additional interest charges for new purchases until a consumer’s grace period is restored by paying in in full. Furthermore, the bulletin notes that while Regulation Z does not require marketing materials to include additional disclosures alerting consumers to the potential effect of accepting a promotional APR offer, some offers may risk being deceptive or abusive even if Regulation Z is not violated. In a press release regarding the bulletin, Director Cordray stated, “[W]e are putting credit card companies on notice that we expect them to clearly disclose how these promotional offers apply to consumers so that they can make informed choices about their credit card use.” Finally, the bulletin states that the CFPB expects card issuers to incorporate adequate measures into their compliance management systems in order to prevent violation of Federal consumer financial laws, including the prohibition on deceptive, unfair, or abusive practices. These measures should include steps to ensure that all marketing materials clearly, prominently, and accurately describe the effect of promotional APR offers on the grace period for new purchases.
On September 2, the NY AG sued a regional bank claiming the bank engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices by intentionally avoiding offering mortgage loan products to predominately African-American neighborhoods in Buffalo. People of the State of New York v. Evans Bancorp, Inc. et al., No. 14-cv-00726 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 2, 2014). In the complaint, the NY AG asserts that by creating a map of its lending area in Buffalo that included most of the city and its surroundings, but excluded certain African-American neighborhoods on the city’s east side, the bank engaged in redlining in violation of the Fair Housing Act, New York state human rights law, and city code. The suit also alleges that the bank did not market its loan products to minority customers and located bank branches and ATMs outside of minority neighborhoods. The NY AG further claims that the bank’s rates of lending and receiving applications from African-American borrowers allegedly lags behind comparable banks and that these purported discriminatory effects are due to the bank’s alleged redlining practices. The NY AG seeks injunctive relief, damages, civil penalties, punitive damages, fees and costs. In its release announcing the lawsuit, the NY AG stated that the suit is part of ongoing investigations by the AG into potential mortgage redlining across the state.
On August 12, the CFPB announced a consent order with a nonbank mortgage lender, its affiliated appraisal management company (AMC), and the individual owner of both companies to resolve allegations that the lender deceptively advertised mortgage rates to consumers, improperly charged fees before providing consumers with Good Faith Estimates (GFE), and failed to disclose its affiliation with the AMC while allowing the AMC to charge inflated fees.
As explained in the consent order, the lender primarily conducts business online through its own website, and also advertises its mortgages through display ads on independent websites and the website of an unaffiliated third-party rate publisher. The CFPB asserts that, over a roughly two-year period, a “systemic problem” caused the lender to list on the rate publisher’s website lower rates for certain mortgages than the lender was willing to honor, and that the lender supplied other rates to the rate publisher that were unlikely to be locked for the majority of the lender’s borrowers. The CFPB claims that the lender failed to perform systematic due diligence or quality control to ensure the accuracy of listed rates, even though the lender was made aware through consumer complaints that certain rates were inaccurate. Read more…
On July 29, the CFPB and 13 state AGs announced a consent order that requires a consumer lender currently in Chapter 7 bankruptcy to provide $92 million in debt relief for about 17,000 U.S. servicemembers and other consumers harmed by the company’s alleged predatory lending scheme. The lender offered credit to consumers purchasing computers, videogame consoles, televisions, or other products, which typically were purchased at mall kiosks near military bases. In some cases the lender was the initial creditor, and in other cases, the lender provided indirect financing by agreeing to buy the financing contracts from merchants who sold the goods. Read more…
On July 23, the CFPB, the FTC, and 15 state authorities coordinated to take action against foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals alleged to have employed deceptive marketing tactics to obtain business from distressed borrowers. The CFPB filed three suits, the FTC filed six, and the state authorities collectively initiated 32 actions. For example, the CFPB claims the defendants (i) collected fees before obtaining a loan modification; (ii) inflated success rates and likelihood of obtaining a modification; (iii) led borrowers to believe they would receive legal representation; and (iv) made false promises about loan modifications to consumers. The CFPB and FTC allege that the defendants violated Regulation O, formerly known as the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, and that some of the defendants also violated the Dodd-Frank Act’s UDAAP provisions and Section 5 of the FTC Act, respectively. The state authorities are pursuing similar claims under state law. For example, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he served a notice of intent to bring litigation against two companies and an individual for operating a fraudulent mortgage rescue and loan modification scheme that induced consumers into paying large upfront fees but failed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
On July 14, the CFPB sued a Georgia-based law firm and its three principal partners for allegedly using high-volume litigation tactics to collect millions of dollars from consumers who may not actually have owed the debts or may not have owed the debts in the amounts claimed. The suit relates to the firm’s attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, consumer credit-card debts on behalf of both credit-card issuers and debt buyers that purchase portfolios of defaulted credit-card debts. The CFPB alleges the defendants violated the FDCPA and engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by: (i) serving consumers with deceptive court filings generated by automated processes and the work of non-attorney staff, without any meaningful involvement of attorneys; and (ii) introducing faulty or unsubstantiated evidence through sworn statements even though some signers could not have known the details they were attesting to. The CFPB is seeking to permanently enjoin the firm from engaging in the alleged activity, restitution to borrowers, disgorgement, civil money penalties, and damages and other monetary relief.