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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court files temporary restraining order to stop scammers in FTC suit

Federal Issues Courts Enforcement FTC Department of Education Student Lending Consumer Protection FTC Act TCPA Gramm-Leach-Bliley Deceptive

Federal Issues

On August 21, the FTC announced it has stopped California-based scammers (defendants) who allegedly preyed on students seeking debt relief by pretending to be affiliated with the Department of Education. According to the August 14 complaint, since at least 2019, the defendants allegedly targeted students and illegally collected $8.8 million in advance fees in exchange for student loan debt relief services that did not exist. The defendants allegedly misled consumers by charging them for services that are free through the Department of Education, claiming consumers needed to pay fees or make payments to access federal student loan forgiveness, using names like "Biden Loan Forgiveness," that does not correspond to any actual government program. For instance, one consumer was asked to pay $375 for a processing fee to have up to $20,000 in loans forgiven because of a Pell Grant. Another was told they would get a $10,000 reduction in their loan balance and a new repayment plan with six $250 monthly payments under the “student loan forgiveness program.” The FTC alleges violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits deceptive acts or practices, TCPA, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The complaint also alleges that the defendants used such misrepresentations to illegally obtain consumers’ banking information, and typically collected hundreds of dollars in unlawful advance fees—sometimes through remotely created checks in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The U.S. District Court of the Central District of California filed a temporary restraining order, resulting in an asset freeze, among other things. The FTC seeks preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief, monetary relief, and other relief.