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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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

Financial Crimes Consumer Finance Federal Issues CFPB Congress Debt Collection FDCPA FTC Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

Financial Crimes

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.”

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