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 or 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.
The CFPB simultaneously released Compliance Bulletin 2015-07, warning creditors, debt buyers, and third-party collectors of potentially unlawful in-person debt collection practices. Specifically, the bulletin reminds the financial services industry of debt collection practices prohibited by the Dodd-Frank Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, including (i) engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices; (ii) communicating with a consumer at any place or time that the debt collector knows, or should know, to be inconvenient to the consumer; (iii) communicating with persons other than the consumer (and other identified parties, except in certain circumstances) for purposes other than acquiring location information; (iv) “‘us[ing] unfair or unconscionable means to collect, or attempt to collect, debt’”; and (v) “‘engag[ing] in any conduct the consequences of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse a person in connection with collecting a debt.’”