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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Court enters $41 million default judgment against student debt-relief operators

Courts CFPB Enforcement Telemarketing Sales Rule Civil Money Penalties Student Lending Debt Relief

Courts

On December 3, the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California entered a default judgment against a student debt-relief company and one of its owners (collectively, “defaulting defendants”) in an action brought by the CFPB alleging the defaulting defendants (and others not subject to the judgment) charged thousands of customers approximately $11.8 million in upfront fees in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July, the CFPB filed a complaint against the defaulting defendants, one other company, its owner, and four attorneys, alleging the companies would market its debt-relief services to customers over the phone, encouraging those with private loans to sign up with an attorney to reduce or eliminate their student debt. The businesses allegedly charged the fees before the customer had made at least one payment on the altered debts, in violation of the TSR’s prohibition on requesting or receiving advance fees for debt-relief service or, for certain defendants, the TSR’s prohibition on providing substantial assistance to someone charging the illegal fees. In August, the court approved stipulated final judgments with the other company owner (available here) and three of the attorneys (available here, here, and here).

The court entered into a default judgment against the defendants after they failed to file an answer or otherwise respond to the Bureau’s complaint. The judgment requires the defaulting defendants to pay over $11 million in consumer redress with separate $15 million civil money penalties entered against the company and the owner. Additionally, the defaulting defendants are permanently banned from providing debt-relief services or engaging in telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service.

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