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  • Broker-dealer settles with SEC for failing to files SARs

    Securities

    On May 12, the SEC announced a settlement with a broker-dealer for allegedly violating the Securities and Exchange Act by failing to consistently implement its anti-money laundering (AML) program and file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) despite knowing individuals were attempting to gain unauthorized access to retirement accounts. According to the SEC’s order, from September 2015 through October 2018, the broker-dealer allegedly knew that individuals were attempting to gain access, or had gained access, to plan participants’ retirement accounts through the use of improperly obtained personal identifying information. The SEC alleged that, despite this knowledge, the broker-dealer failed to file approximately 130 SARs in cases where it had detected the suspicious activity and, in the roughly 297 SARs that it did file, failed to include certain required information linked to the bad actors, such as URL addresses, IP addresses, and other electronic identifying information. The order requires the broker-dealer, who has neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s allegations, to cease and desist from future violations and pay a $1.5 million penalty. The SEC acknowledged the broker-dealer’s significant cooperation in the investigation and subsequent remedial efforts.

    Securities Enforcement SARs Financial Crimes Anti-Money Laundering Securities Exchange Act

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  • SEC issues more than $25.6 million in whistleblower awards

    Securities

    On May 12, the SEC announced a whistleblower award totaling around $3.6 million in connection with a successful enforcement action. According to the redacted order, the whistleblower provided new information that lead to the initial charges as well as “ongoing assistance as the Commission’s investigation progressed.”

    Earlier on May 10, the SEC also announced whistleblower awards totaling approximately $22 million in connection with a successful enforcement action. According to the redacted order, the SEC awarded a whistleblower approximately $18 million for providing (i) information that led to the opening of the investigation brought against a financial services firm, and (ii) ongoing assistance during the investigation. The second whistleblower received a $4 million award for submitting information after the investigation began. The SEC noted that both whistleblowers provided information and cooperation that “allowed the Commission to better understand complex transactions related to the matters under investigation.”

    The SEC has awarded approximately $842 million to 157 individuals since issuing its first award in 2012.

    Securities Whistleblower Securities and Exchange Commission Enforcement

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  • OFAC sanctions Mexican cartel members and facilitator

    Financial Crimes

    On May 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act against a commander and his organization responsible for facilitating drug trafficking between Mexico and the U.S. OFAC also designated six other individuals and one entity as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Kingpin Act for their connections to the organization. Director of OFAC Andrea Gacki noted that the sanctioned organization “help[s] fuel our nation’s opioid epidemic” and that “Treasury and our U.S. government partners, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, will continue to use every available resource to dismantle these criminal networks.” As a result of the sanctions, all property belonging to the sanctioned persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property of blocked or designated persons.

    These sanctions against the drug trafficking cartel are the most recent efforts taken by OFAC pursuant to the Kingpin Act (covered in InfoBytes, here and here).

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury SDN List Of Interest to Non-US Persons Mexico Sanctions OFAC Designations Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration Department of Homeland Security

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  • OFAC sanctions Mexican cartel members and facilitator

    Financial Crimes

    On May 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act against a commander and his organization responsible for facilitating drug trafficking between Mexico and the U.S. OFAC also designated six other individuals and one entity as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Kingpin Act for their connections to the organization. Director of OFAC Andrea Gacki noted that the sanctioned organization “help[s] fuel our nation’s opioid epidemic” and that “Treasury and our U.S. government partners, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, will continue to use every available resource to dismantle these criminal networks.” As a result of the sanctions, all property belonging to the sanctioned persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property of blocked or designated persons.

    These sanctions against the drug trafficking cartel are the most recent efforts taken by OFAC pursuant to the Kingpin Act (covered in InfoBytes, here and here).

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury SDN List Of Interest to Non-US Persons Mexico Sanctions OFAC Designations Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration Department of Homeland Security

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  • FDIC chairman addresses the importance of innovation

    Fintech

    On May 11, FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams spoke at the Federalist Society Conference about the Dodd-Frank Act in a post Covid-19 environment and the future of financial regulation. Among other topics, McWilliams emphasized the importance of promoting innovation through inclusion, resilience, amplification, and protecting the future of the banking sector. McWilliams pointed out that “alternative data and AI can be especially important for small businesses, such as sole proprietorships and smaller companies owned by women and minorities, which often do not have a long credit history” and that “these novel measures of creditworthiness, like income streams, can provide critical access to capital” that otherwise may not be possible to access.  McWilliams also discussed an interagency request for information announced by the FDIC and other regulators in March (covered by InfoBytes here), which seeks input on financial institutions’ use of AI and asks whether additional regulatory clarity may be helpful. McWilliams also added that rapid prototyping helps initiate effective reporting of more granular data for banks. Additionally, McWilliams addressed agency’s efforts to expand fintech partnerships through several initiatives intended to facilitate cooperation between fintech groups and banks to promote accessibility to new customers and offer new products. Concerning the ability to confront the direct cost of developing and deploying technology at any one institution, McWilliams added that “there are things that we can do to foster innovation across all banks and to reduce the regulatory cost of innovation.”

    Fintech FDIC Covid-19 Dodd-Frank Artificial Intelligence

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  • DFPI: Bitcoin ATM kiosk not subject to MTA licensure

    Last month, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a new opinion letter covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs) and kiosks. The letter explains that the sale and purchase of bitcoin through an ATM kiosk as described by the inquiring company is not subject to licensure under the MTA because it does not meet California’s definition of “money transmission.” In each instance, the transaction would only be between the consumer/bitcoin purchaser using the ATM kiosk and the company. DFPI reminded the company, however, that its determination is limited to the activities specified in the letter and does not extend to any other activities that the company may engage in. Moreover, the letter does not relieve the company from any FinCEN, federal, or state regulatory obligations.

    Licensing State Issues State Regulators DFPI California Money Transmission Act Virtual Currency

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  • NYDFS, insurance company reach $1.8 million cyber breach settlement

    State Issues

    On May 13, NYDFS announced a settlement with an insurance company to resolve allegations that the broker violated the state’s cybersecurity regulation (23 NYCRR Part 500) by failing to implement multi-factor authentication or reasonably equivalent or more secure access controls. Under Part 500.12(b), covered entities are required to implement such protocols (see FAQs here). NYDFS’s investigation also revealed that the insurance company falsely certified its compliance with the cybersecurity regulation for 2018. Under the terms of the consent order, the company will pay a $1.8 million civil monetary penalty and will undertake improvements to strengthen its existing cybersecurity program to ensure compliance with 23 NYCRR Part 500. NYDFS acknowledged the broker’s “commendable” cooperation throughout the examination and investigation and stated that the broker had demonstrated its commitment to remediation.

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  • 6th Circuit affirms dismissal of FACTA credit card receipt suit

    Courts

    On May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a putative class action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that while a merchant technically violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) by including 10 credit card digits on a customer’s receipt, the customer failed to allege any concrete harm sufficient to establish standing. According to the opinion, the named plaintiff filed a class action against the merchant alleging the first six and last four digits of her credit card number were printed on her receipt—a violation of FACTA’s truncation requirement, which only permits the last five digits to be printed on a receipt. The plaintiff argued that this presented “a significant risk of the exact harm that Congress intended to prevent—the display of card information that could be exploited by an identity thief,” and further claimed she did not need to allege any harm beyond the violation of the statute to establish standing. The district court disagreed, ruling that the plaintiff “lacked standing because she alleged merely a threat of future harm that was not certainly impending” and that the merchant’s technical violation demonstrated no material risk of identity theft.

    In agreeing with the district court, the 6th Circuit concluded that a “violation of the statute does not automatically create a concrete injury of increased risk of real harm even if Congress designed it so.” Moreover, the appellate court reasoned that the “factual allegations in this complaint do not establish an increased risk of identity theft either because they do not show how, even if [p]laintiff’s receipt fell into the wrong hands, criminals would have a gateway to consumers’ personal and financial data.” The appellate court further concluded, “statutory-injury-for-injury’s sake does not satisfy Article III’s injury in fact requirement” and the court must exercise its constitutional duty to ensure a plaintiff has standing.

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit FACTA Credit Cards Class Action Standing Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Consumer Finance

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  • 2nd Circuit affirms borrower standing in mortgage recordation delay suit

    Courts

    On May 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that class members have constitutional standing to sue a national bank for allegedly violating New York’s mortgage-satisfaction-recording statutes, which require lenders to record borrowers’ repayments within 30 days. The plaintiffs filed a class action suit alleging the bank’s recordation delay harmed their financial reputations, impaired their credit, and limited their borrowing capacity. The district court agreed, ruling that the plaintiffs had Article III standing to sue because the bank’s alleged violation of the mortgage-satisfaction-recording statutes created a “material risk of harm” to them.

    On appeal, the majority opinion first determined, among other things, that “state legislatures may create legally protected interests whose violation supports Article III standing, subject to certain federal limitations.” The alleged state law violations in this matter, the majority wrote, constitute a concrete and particularized harm to the plaintiffs in the form of both reputational injury and limitations in borrowing capacity during the recordation delay period. Moreover, the majority concluded that the bank’s alleged failure to report the plaintiffs’ mortgage discharge “posed a real risk of material harm” because the public record reflected an outstanding debt of over $50,000, which could “reasonably be inferred to have substantially restricted” the plaintiffs’ borrowing capacity. The dissenting judge argued, however, that the plaintiffs “never suffered a cloud on title prohibiting them from selling their property, or adverse effects on their credit, or an inability to finance another property, or even a risk of these harms,” and that the “trivial nature of a recordation delay is reflected in the 30-day delay that is tolerated without penalty, and by the small penalty exacted even after 90 days.”

    The 2nd Circuit joined the Third, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth circuits in holding that state legislatures have the power to “create ‘legally protected interests’” that, when violated, satisfy Article III injury-in-fact requirement, noting that it is “aware of no Circuit holding to the contrary.”

    Courts Appellate Second Circuit Mortgages State Issues Consumer Finance

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  • 9th Circuit: Federal Foreclosure Bar preempts Nevada HOA law, maintaining Fannie Deed of Trust

    Courts

    On May 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a mortgage servicer in an action asserting claims arising from a homeowners’ association’s (HOA) nonjudicial foreclosure on real property in Nevada. According to the opinion, Fannie Mae originally purchased the loan on the property (secured by a Deed of Trust), which was eventually assigned to the mortgage servicer. Following the homeowners’ failure to pay their HOA dues, a foreclosure sale was held, and the property was conveyed to a limited liability company. The mortgage servicer filed a quiet title suit against the company, and the district court granted summary judgment in its favor on the basis that the Federal Foreclosure Bar (which prohibits the foreclosure of FHFA property without FHFA’s consent) “prevented the extinguishment of Fannie Mae’s Deed.”

    In agreeing with the district court, the 9th Circuit first rejected two threshold challenges raised by the company, holding that the mortgage servicer “properly and timely” raised its claims under the Federal Foreclosure Bar. Specifically, the appellate court determined that the mortgage servicer “presented ample evidence of its servicing relationship with Fannie Mae,” and that this relationship, along with authority delegated to Fannie Mae loan servicers to protect its mortgage loans, “was more than sufficient to establish” that the mortgage servicer was Fannie Mae’s loan servicer and, therefore “had the authority to assert the Federal Foreclosure Bar” in quiet title action. The 9th Circuit also concluded that the mortgage servicer filed the action within the applicable six-year statute of limitations. In holding that the Federal Foreclosure Bar preempted Nevada’s HOA law and prevented the extinguishment of Fannie Mae’s Deed of Trust, the appellate court noted, among other things, that the mortgage servicer demonstrated that Fannie Mae retained an enforceable interest in the loan at the time of the HOA foreclosure sale. The 9th Circuit rejected the company’s argument that the mortgage servicer “failed to produce a ‘signed writing’ evincing such interest as required by the Nevada statute of frauds.” According to the appellate court, given that the company “was not a party to the underlying loan agreement pursuant to which Fannie Mae acquired the loan,” the company could not raise the statute of frauds.

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Fannie Mae FHFA Mortgages

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