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Maryland files charges against title company for allegedly making unlicensed, usurious consumer loans
On April 11, the Maryland Attorney General announced an administrative proceeding taken against a title company, its owner, and related businesses for allegedly making unlicensed and usurious title loans secured by consumers’ motor vehicles. According to the AG’s charges, the defendants, among other things, allegedly engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices by offering consumers high-interest, short-term title loans with typical annual interest rates of 360 percent. The AG contends that the loans offered by the defendants qualify as consumer loans under Maryland law and therefore are subject to state interest rate caps. Furthermore, the AG alleges that the defendants were never licensed by the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation to make consumer loans in the state. The AG seeks an order compelling the defendants “to permanently cease and desist from making unlicensed and usurious consumer loans in Maryland, to pay restitution to all affected consumers, and to pay civil penalties.”
On April 16, the Maryland Attorney General announced a settlement with a reverse mortgage servicer for allegedly charging homeowners illegal inspection fees. According to the Attorney General, from 2010 through 2016, the servicer passed the cost of inspecting properties in default on to homeowners, which Maryland law does not allow. In 2013, the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation put the servicer on notice that it was charging prohibited inspection fees, but the servicer did not cease the activity until January 1, 2017. The servicer has since refunded or reversed nearly $44,000 in property inspection fees charged to consumers. The settlement agreement requires the servicer to (i) refund inspection fees that have not yet been refunded; (ii) provide notice to any sub-servicer that the inspection fees should be refunded or not collected; (iii) pay $5,000 to the state for costs associated with the investigation; and (iv) pay $50,000 in civil money penalties.
On April 15, the California Attorney General announced a $4.6 million settlement with a rental car company and affiliate resolving a joint investigation with the district attorneys into the company’s violation of state consumer protection laws. According to the AG, the companies, among other things, overcharged customers for rental vehicle repairs and failed to disclose material damage to the rental cars at the time of sale or disposal. Under state law, rental car companies are prohibited from charging customers more than the actual cost of repair, which includes any discounts the company receives according to the complaint. However, the companies frequently billed customers charges that were higher than the actual cost of the repair through the use of third-party repair estimates. Under the terms of the stipulated judgment, which also include comprehensive injunctive terms to prevent future misconduct, the companies—which did not admit liability—have agreed to comply with California laws and are required to pay (i) $1 million in restitution to affected customers; (ii) $3.3 million in civil penalties; and (iii) $300,000 in investigative costs.
On April 4, the Arkansas governor signed SB 514, which establishes a process for state regulation of telecommunications service providers and third-party spoofing providers, and stiffens criminal penalties for persons who engage in illegal robocalling and spoofing practices. The act reclassifies “spoofing”—defined in the act as “displaying fictitious or misleading names or telephone numbers—and illegal robocalls as Class D felonies. Arkansas law previously classified these actions as misdemeanors. The act requires telecommunications providers to report, on an annual basis, to the Arkansas Public Service Commission, implemented measures for identifying and combating the illegal calls.
The Arkansas Attorney General issued a press release in which she noted that the legislation “reinforces how determined Arkansans are to stop these illegal calls and creates a path for enforcement to hold the bad actors accountable.” The act takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the legislature.
On April 1, the Arizona governor signed HB 2177, which modifies the state’s Regulatory Sandbox Program (RSP). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in March 2018, Arizona became the first state to create a regulatory sandbox for companies to test innovative financial products or services without certain regulatory requirements. The bill clarifies the RSP to allow participants to temporarily test an innovation “with respect to providing a financial product or service or a substantial component of a financial product or service,” as opposed to, an “innovative financial product or service.” Among other things, the bill also (i) removes the Arizona consumer residency requirement when participants test innovative money transmitter products, requiring only that the consumer have physical presence in the state at the time of the transaction; (ii) removes record keeping requirements for participants testing investment management products; and (iii) provides sole enforcement authority of state regulatory laws applicable to RSP participants to the state Attorney General. The bill is effective 91 days after the state’s legislative session ends.
On March 18, the Virginia governor signed HB 2396, which amends the Code of Virginia and requires an individual or entity owning or licensing computerized data that includes personal information to disclose all data breaches without “unreasonable delay” to the Virginia Attorney General and any affected Commonwealth residents. Under HB 2396, “personal information” is defined as “the first name or first initial and last name in combination with and linked to any one or more of the following data elements that relate to a resident of the Commonwealth, when the data elements are neither encrypted nor redacted.” The list of data elements was amended to add passport numbers and military identification numbers to the previous list, which included social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and financial account numbers or credit/debit card numbers combined with codes or passwords that would grant access to a consumer’s financial account. The amendment is effective July 1.
On March 15, the CFPB and the New York Attorney General (NYAG) filed opening briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in their appeal of the Southern District of New York’s (i) June 2018 ruling that the CFPB’s organizational structure, as defined by Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act, is unconstitutional; and (ii) the September 2018 order dismissing the NYAG’s claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau and the NYAG filed a lawsuit in February 2017, alleging that a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants) engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans by mischaracterizing loans as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. After the defendants moved to dismiss the actions, the district court allowed the NYAG’s claims to proceed under the CFPA, even though it had dismissed the Bureau’s claims, but then reversed course. Specifically, in September 2018, the court concluded that the remedy for Title X’s constitutional defect (referring to the Bureau’s single-director structure, with a for-cause removal provision) is to invalidate Title X in its entirety, which therefore invalidates the NYAG’s statutory basis for bringing claims under the CFPA. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its opening brief to the 2nd Circuit, the Bureau argues that the district court erred when it held that the for-cause removal provision of the single-director structure is unconstitutional. According to the Bureau, the single director “does not undermine the President’s oversight. If anything, the Bureau’s single-director structure enhances the President’s ‘ability to execute the laws…’” because the President can still remove the director for cause, which allows the director to be held responsible for her conduct. In the alternative, the CFPB argued that should the court find the for-cause removal provision unconstitutional, the proper remedy is to sever the provision from Title X in accordance with the statute’s severability clause and not hold the entire CFPA invalid.
In a separate brief, the NYAG makes similar constitutional and severability arguments as the Bureau, but also argues that even if the entirety of Title X were to be held invalid, the state law claims should survive under the federal Anti-Assignment Act.
On March 18, a coalition of 25 Democratic state Attorneys General urged the CFPB not to delay the August 19, 2019 compliance date for any aspect of the Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans rule (Rule) and warned that they would consider taking legal action if the Bureau does so. (CFPB’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which announced the proposed delay in the effective date, was covered by InfoBytes here.) The AGs assert that the Bureau did not provide enough legal justification for delaying the underwriting provisions until November 2020 because the 2017 Rule already provided affected lenders ample time to comply. Moreover, the AGs emphasize that the Bureau cannot use the related proposal of future rescission of the underwriting requirements as a justification for the compliance delay; the delay “must be justified on its own merits.” As for the merits of the Bureau’s justification, among other things, the AGs reject the Bureau’s conclusion that “it should not assign the weight that it did in the 2017 [Rule] to ‘the interest of enacting protections for consumers as soon as possible,’” arguing that diminishing the weight assigned to consumer protection is in opposition to the Bureau’s statutory mandate. The AGs also raise concern about the ambiguity in the compliance date for the payment-related provisions of the Rule and stress that the August 19, 2019 date should stay in effect because “lenders will have had 21 months to prepare.” The AGs conclude that they “will closely examine whether to take action to address any unlawful action by CFPB” should the proposed delay be finalized.
On March 5, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office and Division of Consumer Affairs filed a lawsuit against two auto dealerships and their owner for allegedly targeting financially vulnerable consumers through the use of predatory sales and loan practices. According to a March 7 press release issued by the New Jersey AG, the defendants allegedly targeted consumers who were unable to qualify for credit at more traditional auto dealerships by offering in-house loans on used vehicles with inflated prices, high interest rates, and terms that presented a high risk of default. When the consumers were unable to make the required payments, the defendants allegedly reclaimed the vehicles and restarted the “sell, finance, and repossess” churning cycle. The AG claims that the defendants’ practices violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the Used Car Lemon Law, and the state’s motor vehicle advertising regulations. The complaint asks the court to permanently shut down the defendants’ operations and permanently enjoin the owner from owning, managing, and/or operating any business that advertises and/or sells motor vehicles in the state. The complaint also seeks restitution, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees.
On March 7, the FTC announced a new legal action and a final settlement issued against individuals and their operations for allegedly engaging in schemes that exploit elderly Americans. The actions are part of an enforcement sweep spearheaded by the DOJ in conjunction with, among others, the FBI, the FTC, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and the Louisiana Attorney General, which—according to a press release issued the same day by the DOJ—is the largest-ever coordinated nationwide elder fraud sweep, involving multiple cases, over 260 defendants, and more than two million allegedly victimized U.S. Citizens, most of whom are elderly.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the company used deceptive tactics to convince consumers, the majority of whom were older, that their computers were infected with viruses in order to sell expensive and unnecessary computer repair services in violation of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act. Specifically, the company allegedly used internet ads to target consumers looking for email password assistance and once they contacted the consumers, the telemarketers would run phony “diagnostic” tests that falsely showed the consumer’s computer was in danger and needed software and services to be fixed. On February 27, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Utah, granted a temporary restraining order against the company and its founder.
The FTC also announced a proposed settlement with a sweepstake operation that allegedly bilked consumers out of tens of millions of dollars through personalized mailers that falsely implied that the recipients had won or were likely to win a cash prize if they paid a fee. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC announced the charges against the company in February 2018, alleging that consumers, most of whom were elderly, paid more than $110 million towards the scheme. The final settlement not only requires the operation to turn over $30 million in assets and cash to provide redress to the victims, but also permanently bans the operators from similar prize promotions in the future. The proposed settlement has not yet been approved by the court.
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- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
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- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Buckley Webcast: Amendments to the CFPB's proposed debt collection
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
- John C. Redding to discuss "TCPA compliance in the era of mobile" at the Auto Finance Risk Summit
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium