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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • FinCEN director discusses gaming industry AML compliance

    Financial Crimes

    On August 13, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco delivered remarks at the 12th Annual Las Vegas Anti-Money Laundering Conference stressing the need for compliance within the gaming industry, particularly as new technologies emerge such as mobile gaming and the use of convertible virtual currencies (CVC) increases. With the U.S. Supreme Court issuing a decision in May holding that states can legalize sports gambling (previously covered by InfoBytes here), Blanco stated that casinos need to consider ways to integrate their sports betting programs—including mobile sports betting apps—into their existing anti-money laundering programs. These measures must include establishing and implementing procedures for detecting and reporting suspicious activities, Blanco noted, reminding the audience of FinCEN’s FAQs designed to assist financial institutions when reporting cyber indicators and cyber-enabled financial crime.

    Blanco also discussed FinCEN’s work with respect to cybersecurity and virtual payments, noting, among other things, that both online and physical casinos that accept CVC need to consider how they review transactions to determine the source of the currency and recognize indicators of suspicious activity. Blanco referred casinos to consolidated guidance issued by FinCEN in May (previously covered by InfoBytes here), and expressed a concern that “CVC-related SAR filings by casinos have not been as robust as expected since the May CVC guidance and advisory were published.” He further stressed the importance of information-sharing between casinos, and highlighted that sharing SARs can contribute to the identification of suspicious transactions as well as Bank Secrecy Act compliance responsibilities.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Sports Betting Virtual Currency Fintech SARs

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  • New York increases homeowner safeguards, closes loopholes to prevent deed fraud and mortgage scams

    State Issues

    On August 14, the New York governor signed a package of bills intended to increase consumer homeowner protections. According to a press release issued by the governor, the three measures enact homeowner safeguards and close loopholes to prevent deed fraud and mortgage scams.

    • A 92 imposes obligations on banks or financial institutions that sell or transfer a mortgage after a borrower has applied for a loan modification. Specifically, the law requires the original holder of the loan to provide the borrower with a list of all modification application documents provided to the buyer or transferee of the mortgage. The measure also requires the new mortgage servicer to honor the terms and conditions of a loan modification that was approved by the original servicer. The act takes effect in 90 days.
    • A 1800 requires servicers of vacant or abandoned residential properties to continue to pay homeowners’ association fees or cooperative fees on properties in the state to ensure they do not become dilapidated before a foreclosure is finalized. The act takes effect immediately.
    • A 5615 amends state law related to distressed home loans to extend consumer protections for homes in default and foreclosure by, among other things, (i) providing homeowners additional time to cancel a covered contract with a purchaser; (ii) preventing distressed property consultants from inducing the consumer to transfer the deed to the consultant or anyone else; and (iii) allowing consumers to void contracts, deeds, or other agreements material to the consumer’s property where an individual was convicted of or pled guilty to making false statements in connection with that agreement. The act takes effect immediately.

    State Issues State Legislation Mortgages Foreclosure

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  • FHA releases individual condo rule

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 14, the FHA issued a new condominium approval regulation, along with policy implementation guidance, which allows for certain individual condominium units to be eligible for FHA mortgage insurance even if the condominium project is not FHA approved. Among other things, the rule also: (i) extends the recertification requirement for approved condominium projects from two to three years; and (ii) allows more mixed-use projects to be eligible for FHA insurance. Under the new policy guidance in the FHA’s Single Family Handbook, an individual unit may be eligible for single-unit approval if the individual condominium unit is located in a completed project that is not approved and: (i) for projects with 10 or more units, no more than 10 percent of individual units can be FHA-insured; and (ii) for projects with less than 10 units, no more than two individual units can be FHA-insured. The new policy is effective October 15.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FHA Mortgages

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  • CFPB and Arkansas AG settle with pension-advance brokers

    Federal Issues

    On August 15, the CFPB and the Arkansas attorney general announced a proposed settlement with three loan brokerage companies, along with their owner and operator (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly misrepresenting the contracts offered to veterans and other consumers. According to the complaint, from 2011 through 2016, the defendants offered high-interest credit to consumers, deceptively marketed as purchases of future pension or disability payments. The contracts allegedly required veterans to instruct that their pension direct deposits or monthly allotments be routed to the bank account controlled by the defendants or pay the contracted amounts from other sources, including purchasing life-insurance policies, to ensure the contract amount would be paid. The defendants allegedly did not disclose to consumers the interest rates associated with the products, marketing the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. The defendants also allegedly did not disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits.

    Under the proposed settlement, the defendants are: (i) prohibited from brokering or participating in agreements that sell future pension rights; (ii) required to pay a civil money penalty of $1 to the Bureau; and (iii) required to pay $75,000 to the Arkansas AG’s Consumer Education and Enforcement Fund. Additionally, the settlement imposes a judgment of $2.7 million in redress, which is suspended upon the owner paying $200,000 in redress and making the payments to the Bureau and the Arkansas AG.

    Federal Issues CFPB Settlement State Issues State Attorney General Installment Loans

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  • District Court rejects stop-payment fee class action against bank

    Courts

    On August 13, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the majority of an EFTA class action against a national bank, allowing only one claim by the lead plaintiff to proceed. In this case, two customers filed a class action against the bank alleging that it violated the EFTA and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by charging a $30 stop-payment fee. The bank moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ third amended complaint arguing, among other things, that the plaintiffs lacked standing, the EFTA does not prohibit stop payment fees, and the California UCL claims are preempted by the National Banking Act. While the district court found that the lead plaintiff had standing to assert the claims against the bank, the court also held that the EFTA, its legislative history, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit precedent “unambiguously does not prohibit stop payment fees.” Moreover, the court noted that the EFTA and its legislative history say nothing about “how the reasonableness of any such fees should be determined.” The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ class action claims with prejudice.

    Courts EFTA Class Action Ninth Circuit Fees Appellate

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  • SEC obtains court order halting token offering

    Securities

    On August 12, the SEC announced it obtained a court order halting an alleged fraud involving the sale of digital securities which raised $14.8 million in 2017 and 2018. In addition, the court approved an emergency asset freeze to preserve at least $8 million of the funds raised, the SEC said in its press release. According to the complaint filed the same day in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, an individual and two entities he controlled allegedly violated the registration, antifraud, and manipulative trading provisions of the federal securities laws, by, among other things, knowingly (i) marketing and selling securities tokens by creating false investor demand through the use of material misrepresentations and omissions; and (ii) misleading investors by claiming to have product ready to generate revenue even when no such product existed. Additionally, the SEC alleged that the individual defendant engaged in manipulative trading on an unregistered digital asset platform, and transferred a “significant amount” of dissipated assets from investors into his personal account. Among other things, the SEC seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement of profits associated with the fraudulent activity, plus interest and penalties, a ban from offering digital securities, and an officer-and-director bar against the individual defendant.

    Securities SEC Courts Fintech

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  • 3rd Circuit: QR code on debt collection letter violates FDCPA

    Courts

    On August 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that an envelope containing an unencrypted “quick response” (QR) code that revealed a consumer’s account number when scanned violated the FDCPA. The plaintiff in this case received an envelope containing a collection letter with a printed QR code that, when scanned, revealed the internal reference number associated with the plaintiff’s account. The plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit, and the district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiff, finding that printing the QR code was no different than printing the account number on the envelope, which is a violation of the FDCPA. The defendant appealed, arguing, among other things, that (i) the plaintiff had not suffered a concrete injury; (ii) the QR code would have to be unlawfully scanned in order to obtain the account information; and (iii) the defendant’s conduct was covered under the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense, because it “erred by using industry standards for processing return mail.”

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. Specifically, the appellate court found that, with respect to injury, the plaintiff was not required to demonstrate that anyone actually intercepted the letter or scanned the QR code to determine that the contents related to debt collection—disclosure of the account number is itself the harm. The appellate court also rejected the defendant’s argument that someone needed to unlawfully scan the barcode, finding that there is no material difference between printing a QR code or printing an account number directly on an envelope because protected information was made available to the public. The appellate court also rejected the defendant’s bona fide effort defense, stating that the defendant misunderstood its FDCPA obligations and the printing of the QR code had not been the result of a clerical mistake or accident.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Class Action

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  • NYDFS proposes student loan servicers regulation

    On July 31, NYDFS published a notice of proposed rulemaking in the New York State Register. The proposed rule would implement legislation related to the supervision, regulation, and licensing of private student loan servicers passed in March as part of the state’s FY 2020 budget. As previously covered by InfoBytes, unless exempt from certain provisions, student loan servicers must comply with the requirements set forth in the amendments to the banking law and be licensed by NYDFS in order to service student loans owned by residents of New York. Entities exempt from the licensing requirements include servicers of federal student loans, banking organizations, foreign banking organizations, national banks, federal savings associations, federal credit unions, or any bank or credit union organized under the laws of any other state.

    Among other things, the proposed regulation outlines servicing standards, examination guidelines, cybersecurity compliance requirements, and definitions for the terms “unfair” and “abusive.” A list of prohibited practices is also provided, which includes: (i) employing schemes to defraud or mislead borrowers; (ii) engaging in unfair, deceptive, abusive, or predatory acts or practices; (iii) “misapplying payments to the outstanding balance of any student loan or to any related interest or fees”; (iv) making false statements or omissions connected to information provided to a government agency; (v) failing to promptly respond to communications received from NYDFS; and (vi) failing to provide responses to consumer complaints.

    Generally, the requirements will take effect October 9, with the exception of a phased-in transition period for certain cybersecurity provisions related to 23 NYCRR Part 500 that gives student loan servicers until April 9, 2020 to comply. Comments on the proposed regulation are due September 30.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Student Loan Servicer NYDFS Student Lending

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  • 3rd Circuit: FCA claims not barred by state’s equitable “entire controversy” doctrine

    Courts

    On August 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit vacated the dismissal of a relator’s qui tam action, concluding that the federal action was not barred by New Jersey’s equitable entire controversy doctrine. In the case, an employer brought a defamation and disparagement suit against a former employee, and while the suit was pending, the employee brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (FCA) against the employer on behalf of the United States and the state of New Jersey. The qui tam action remained under seal for over seven years while the government investigated the action. During this time, the employer’s state court action against the employee was dismissed after the parties entered into a settlement agreement. After the government chose not to intervene in the FCA action, and the district court unsealed the complaint, the employee chose to proceed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that New Jersey’s “entire controversy” doctrine requires claims arising from related facts or transactions to be adjudicated in one action.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit concluded that New Jersey’s entire controversy doctrine did not apply to the employee’s qui tam action because, in FCA cases, the U.S. is the real party in interest. The appellate court noted that concluding otherwise would essentially allow the employee to “unilaterally negotiate, settle, and dismiss the qui tam claims during the Government’s investigatory period.” Moreover, the appellate court found that application of the doctrine “would incentivize potential [FCA] defendants to ‘smoke out’ qui tam actions by suing potential relators and then quickly settling those private claims,” in order to bar a potential qui tam action.

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Appellate Third Circuit State Issues

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  • FHFA issues final rule on new credit score models

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 13, the FHFA announced its final rule on the validation and approval of third-party credit score model(s) that can be used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs), implementing Section 310 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. The final rule defines a four-phase process for a GSE to validate and approve credit score models: (i) solicitation of applications from credit score model developers; (ii) submission and review of applications; (iii) credit score assessment; and (iv) business assessment, which, among other things, evaluates the impact of using the credit score model on industry operations and mortgage market liquidity. Additionally, the final rule lays out timing and notices for GSE decisions under the process. After a GSE approves or disapproves of an application, within 45 days the FHFA must approve or disapprove of the GSE’s proposed determination. If any applications are approved, the credit score solicitation will be made publicly available. The rule will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FHFA Credit Scores Fannie Mae Freddie Mac EGRRCPA

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