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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • FTC permanently bans payment processor

    Federal Issues

    On April 11, the FTC announced that a payment processing company and its owner agreed to a $1.8 million settlement resolving allegations that the company repeatedly violated a 2009 court order. That order found that the payment processer knowingly or consciously avoided knowing that debit card transactions it processed, on behalf of an allegedly fraudulent enterprise, were not authorized by the consumers. The FTC alleged that the company violated the 2009 order by, among other things, (i) failing to engage in a reasonable investigation of prospective clients before processing payments on their behalf; (ii) failing to monitor clients’ transactions to ensure that clients were not engaged in illegal behavior; and (iii) failing to adhere to administrative requirements of the order, including submitting a written compliance report to the agency. In addition to the monetary penalty, the new settlement permanently bans the company from working as a payment processor and subjects the company to reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Federal Issues FTC Payment Processors Settlement UDAP FTC Act Enforcement

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  • New Mexico amends provisions related to installment and small dollar loans

    State Issues

    On April 3, the New Mexico governor signed HB 150, which amends the New Mexico Bank Installment Loan Act of 1959 and the New Mexico Small Loan Act of 1955 to, among other things, change provisions relating to financial institutions and (i) clarify that unfair or deceptive trade practices, or unconscionable trade practices, are considered violations of the Unfair Practices Act; (ii) expand annual lender reporting requirements, including identifying secured and unsecured loan products, fees and interests paid by the borrowers, loan terms, and default rates; (iii) clarify allowable loan insurance, including provisions related to licensing requirements for lenders; and (iv) expand state and federal disclosure requirements. The amendments also limit interest and other charges (permitted finance charges cannot exceed the lesser of $200 or 10 percent of the principal with outlined exceptions); grant rights of rescission within specified time frames to allow borrowers to return the full amount of funds advanced by the lender without being charged fees; and provide for penalties for lenders who willfully violate any of the provisions. Specifically, the act applies to installment loans covered by the Installment Loan Act and the Small Loan Act, and does not apply to federally insured depository institutions. The act takes effect January 1, 2020, and is applicable to loans subject to the aforementioned acts that are executed on or after the effective date.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Lending UDAP Installment Loans Small Dollar Lending

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  • FTC obtains $50.1 million judgment against publisher; settles deceptive marketing matter

    Federal Issues

    On April 3, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered a publisher and conference organizer and his three companies (defendants) to pay more than $50.1 million to resolve allegations that the defendants made deceptive claims about the nature of their scientific conferences and online journals, and failed to adequately disclose publication fees in violation of the FTC Act. Among other things, the FTC alleged, and the court agreed, that the defendants misrepresented that their online academic journals underwent rigorous peer reviews but defendants did not conduct or follow the scholarly journal industry’s standard review practices and often provided no edits to submitted materials. The court determined that the defendants also failed to disclose material fees for publishing authors work when soliciting authors and often did not disclose fees until the work had been accepted for publication. The court also found that the defendants falsely advertised the attendance and participation of various prominent academics and researchers at conferences without their permission or actual affiliation.

    In addition to the monetary judgment, the final order grants injunctive relief and (i) prohibits the defendants from making misrepresentations regarding their publications and conferences; (ii) requires that the defendants clearly and conspicuously disclose all costs associated with publication in their journals; and (iii) requires the defendants to obtain express written consent from any individual the defendants represent as affiliated with their products or services.

    On the same day, the FTC also announced a settlement with a subscription box snack service to resolve allegations that the company violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting customer reviews as independent and failing to adequately disclose key terms of its “free trial” programs. Specifically, the FTC alleged that the company provided customers with free products and other incentives in exchange for posting positive online reviews and misrepresented that independent customers made the reviews or posts. The company also allegedly offered “free trial” snack boxes without adequately disclosing key terms of the offer, including the stipulation that if the trial was not canceled on time, the customer would be automatically enrolled as a subscriber and charged the “total amount owed for six months of snack box shipments.” The proposed order, among other things, prohibits the specified behavior and requires the company to pay $100,000 in consumer redress.

    Federal Issues FTC UDAP Deceptive FTC Act Advertisement Courts Settlement Consumer Protection

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  • FTC and FDA warn companies on CBD advertising

    Federal Issues

    On April 2, the FTC announced that it joined the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in sending letters to three supplement companies warning them that making allegedly unsupported health and efficacy claims in their advertising may violate the FTC Act. According to the letters (available here, here, and here), the three companies advertise supplements they say contain cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD), and, allegedly, among other things, effectively treat diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, and neuropsychiatric disorders. The letters emphasize that it is unlawful under the FTC Act “to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless you possess competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made.” The letters also note that the products constitute “new drugs” and cannot be introduced or delivered into interstate commerce without prior FDA approval. The letters appear related to the FTC’s initiative to target advertisers who make deceptive claims about their products. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FTC Chairman, Joseph Simons, spoke about this initiative at a recent conference, and cited several of the agency’s enforcement actions, including challenges to dietary supplement health benefit claims and deceptive environmental claims. Additionally, he stated the agency is prepared to “proceed in federal court as warranted.”

    Federal Issues FTC Consumer Protection UDAP Deceptive

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  • Superior Court denies student loan servicer’s motion to dismiss Massachusetts Attorney General’s lawsuit

    Lending

    On February 28, a Suffolk County Superior Court denied a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicing agency’s (defendant) motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General, which alleged the defendant overcharged borrowers and improperly processed claims for public service loan forgiveness. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the court, the loan servicer’s argument that it is “an arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and therefore entitled to sovereign immunity from lawsuits was not convincing; it noted that not only had the defendant failed to qualify as a state entity but it demonstrated “substantial financial and operational independence” from the state.

    Furthermore, the court also rejected the defendant’s arguments that the action was not permitted because the Department of Education is an indispensable party to the suit and that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s claims “are preempted ‘to the extent’ that they ‘conflict with the requirements of federal law.’” The judge opined that the Department of Education is not an indispensable party even though some of the injunctive relief sought may conflict with the Department of Education’s rights under its loan servicing contract or regulatory requirements. 

    Lending State Attorney General Department of Education Student Lending UDAP

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