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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB Takes Action Against Delaware Trusts, Debt Collector for Allegedly Filing Illegal Student Loan Debt Collection Lawsuits

Consumer Finance CFPB Student Lending Debt Collection Enforcement

Consumer Finance

On September 18, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware against a collection of 15 Delaware statutory trusts and their debt collector for, among other things, allegedly filing lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that they could not prove was owed or that was outside the applicable statute of limitations. According to the CFPB, between 2001 and 2007, the trusts bought and securitized more than 800,000 private student loans, while the trusts contracted with the debt collector to collect on delinquent and defaulted loans. The complaint alleges that the trusts and debt collector engaged in deceptive and unfair practices between November 2012 and the end of April 2016 by: (i) filing false and misleading affidavits, including more than 25,000 affidavits that were notarized by notaries who had not witnessed the documents being signed; (ii) filing at least 2,000 suits to collect loans without the necessary documentation to show that the trusts owned the loans or to prove that a debt was owed; (iii) filing at least 486 collection suits after the statute of limitations had expired; and (iv) in some instances, providing court testimony consistent with the false affidavit statements. As a result, the trusts and the debt collector allegedly obtained over $21.7 million in judgments against consumers and collected an estimated $3.5 million in payments in cases where they lacked the intent or ability to prove the claims, if contested.

According to the proposed consent judgment, which must be approved by a judge in the district court, the trusts are required to pay at least $3.5 million in restitution to more than 2,000 consumers who made payments resulting from the improper collection suits, to pay $7.8 million in disgorgement to the Treasury Department, and to pay an additional $7.8 million civil money penalty to the CFPB. In addition, the trusts must: (i) hire an independent auditor, subject to the Bureau’s approval, to audit all 800,000 student loans in the portfolio to determine if collection efforts must be stopped on additional accounts; (ii) cease collection attempts on loans that lack proper documentation or that are time-barred; and (iii) ensure false or misleading documents are not filed and that documents requiring notarization are handled properly.

A separate consent order issued against the debt collector orders the company to pay a $2.5 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

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