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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Court enters judgments against multiple defendants in CFPB debt-relief action

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

Courts

On December 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered final judgment against two defendants (defendants) and a default judgment against another defendant (defaulting defendant) in an action brought by the CFPB alleging the defendants (and others not subject to these judgments) 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 defendants, one other company, its two owners, 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 one of the owners of the other company and three of the attorneys. In December, the court entered a default judgment against the other company and another owner (previous InfoBytes coverage available here).

The final judgment permanently bans the defendants from engaging in any debt-relief service or telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service. Additionally, the court entered a suspended judgment of over $11 million in redress, which will be satisfied by a payment of $5,000 (due to an inability to pay) and each defendant is required to pay a civil money penalty of $1 to the Bureau. Liability for nearly $5 million was entered by default judgment against the defaulting defendant and a civil monetary penalty in the amount of $5 million. 

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