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On February 7, the DOJ announced a $750,000 settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company resolving allegations that the company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by foreclosing on homes owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between 2010 and 2012 the company foreclosed on six homes of SCRA-protected servicemembers. Under the SCRA, lenders must obtain a court order before foreclosing on a servicemember’s home during, or within one year after, active military service, provided that the mortgage originated before the servicemember’s period of military service. The settlement requires the company to, among other things, (i) pay $125,000 to each affected servicemember; (ii) provide staff training to prevent unlawful foreclosures in the future; and (iii) notify the DOJ of future SCRA complaints.
On January 4, NYDFS and the New York Attorney General announced a joint $9 million settlement with a national student loan servicer to resolve allegations that the servicer, among other things, deceived student loan borrowers about their repayment options and steered them into higher-cost repayment plans. According to a press release issued by the Attorney General’s office, the servicer “steered distressed borrowers away from available income-based repayment plans towards other, more expensive options, thus costing them money and increasing their risk of default.” Additionally, the consent order alleges that the servicer misinformed borrowers—including servicemembers—about their repayment options, such as telling borrowers they were not eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness plans when they may have qualified after consolidating their loans. Furthermore, the servicer allegedly (i) improperly processed applications for income-based repayment; (ii) allocated underpayment for certain borrowers to maximize late fees; (iii) improperly processed payments; (iv) failed to accurately report information to credit reporting agencies; (v) failed to “properly recalculate monthly payments for servicemembers when adjusting their interest rates under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act”; (vi) charged improper late fees; and (vii) did not provide borrowers notification of their eligibility for a co-signer release.
The servicer, while neither admitting nor denying the findings alleged by NYDFS and the Attorney General, has agreed to pay $8 million in restitution to New York borrowers and a $1 million fine. Moreover, the servicer has agreed to stop servicing private and federal loans—with the exception of Perkins Loans—over the next five years.
On December 14, Maxine Waters (D-CA) and 22 other House Democrats issued a letter urging the new CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger, to resume supervisory examinations of the Military Lending Act (MLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, according to reports citing “internal agency documents,” the Bureau ceased supervisory examinations of the MLA, contending the law does not authorize the Bureau to examine financial institutions for compliance with the MLA. In response, a bipartisan coalition of 33 state Attorneys General sent a letter to then acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, expressing concern over the decision (covered by InfoBytes here).
The letter from Waters, who is expected to be the next chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and the other 22 Democratic members of the Committee, argues that “there is no question the [CFPB] has the authority and the responsibility to supervise its regulated entities for compliance with the MLA.” As support, the letter cites to the Bureau’s authority to oversee a “wide range of regulated entities,” the establishment of the Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, and the 2013 amendments to the MLA, which gave the Bureau the authority to enforce the act. The letter also points to the Bureau’s work obtaining $130 million in relief for servicemembers, veterans, and their families through enforcement actions, as well as the 109 complaints the Bureau has received from military consumers since 2011.
On December 14, the FTC announced an updated Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to continue efforts to stop fraudulent and deceptive practices which target servicemembers, veterans, and their dependents who use military education benefits. The agreement is required by 38 U.S.C. § 3696(c) and enables the FTC to utilize, at its discretion, the resources available to investigate deceptive or unfair advertising, sales, or enrollment practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The agreement outlines the process for the VA to refer matters to the FTC for investigation and notes that the content of the information in the referral shall remain confidential. Additionally, the agreement requires the FTC, upon request, to provide the VA with a summary of the preliminary findings at the conclusion of the investigation. The VA or the FTC may respond to the preliminary findings by taking appropriate actions, including announcing the findings publicly.
On November 1, the FTC announced a proposed rule, which would implement the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act requirement for nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) to provide free electronic credit monitoring services for active duty servicemembers. The proposal defines the term “electronic credit monitoring service” as a service through which the CRAs provide, at a minimum, electronic notification of material additions or modifications to a consumer’s file and requires CRAs to notify servicemembers within 24 hours of any material change. The proposal notes that CRAs may require that servicemembers provide contact information, proof of identity, and proof of active duty status in order to use the free service and outlines how a servicemember may prove active duty status, such as with a copy of active duty orders. Additionally, the proposal prohibits CRAs from requiring servicemembers to purchase a product in order to obtain the free service or requiring the servicemember to agree to terms and conditions. Comments will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On October 29, the New York Attorney General announced the filing of a complaint against a national jewelry store, headquartered in New York, for allegedly engaging in fraudulent and deceptive conduct, deceptive credit repair services, and illegal lending in the financing of jewelry sales to active duty servicemembers. Specifically, the complaint alleges the company targets active duty servicemembers through a purported charitable program in which military-themed teddy bears are sold with a promise of a charitable donation by the company. The company also sells patriotic and military-themed jewelry and offers financing through a program exclusively available to servicemembers. The financing program is marketed as a credit repair or credit-establishing opportunity through a different entity, but according to the complaint, the separate entity is merely an “alter-ego” of the jewelry company, a relationship which is not disclosed to servicemembers. The company markets the financing program to active duty servicemembers as a way to build credit scores to purchase other consumer goods, such as a motor vehicle; however, once a servicemember agrees to the program, the Attorney General alleges the company’s employees are instructed to “’sell’ enough product to maximize the amount of credit [the company] is willing to advance.” The amount of credit is allegedly based on the amount of time the servicemember has left in active service, not on traditional underwriting standards such as credit history. Additionally, the complaint alleges the company marks up poor-quality jewelry between 600 and 1,000 percent over the wholesale price and advertises a “per payday” price on the merchandise, which bears “little resemblance to the total amount paid by a consumer at the end of the financing contract.” Of special interest to all creditors doing business in New York, the complaint appears to include in its civil and criminal usury claims the concept that the effective interest rate was higher because the good being purchased had “inflated retail prices.” The complaint seeks civil money penalties, restitution, and injunctive relief.
On September 27, the DOJ announced a settlement with a Washington state foreclosure services company resolving allegations that the company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by foreclosing on homes owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2017, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Western District of Washington alleging its investigation into the company’s practices uncovered at least 28 unlawful non-judicial foreclosures. The DOJ initiated the investigation following the same court’s dismissal of a private SCRA action brought by a veteran on the ground that it was time-barred.
Under the settlement, each affected servicemember may receive up to $125,000, with a total payout by the company of up to $750,000. The DOJ notes that the company ceased operations in December 2017 and was placed into receivership in March.
On September 19, the California governor signed AB 3212 that provides several benefits and protections to servicemembers under the state’s Military and Veterans Code. The legislation’s protections apply to members of the National Guard, State Military Reserve, and the Naval Militia called to full-time active state service or full-time active federal service, as well as other individuals called to full-time active duty for a period in excess of seven days in any 14-day period. Highlights of the amendments include:
- Extension of Interest Rate Protection. The legislation extends the prohibition on charging an interest rate in excess of six percent on any obligations bearing interest to 120 days after military service. The legislation also extends the six percent interest rate protection for student loans to one year after military service, which previously only applied to mortgage obligations.
- Written response for Good Faith Requests for Relief. The legislation requires that any person who receives a good faith request from a servicemember for relief and believes the servicemember is not entitled to the relief to provide, within 30 days of the request, a written response acknowledging the request. The written response must include (i) the basis for asserting that the request was incomplete or that the servicemember is not entitled to the relief; (ii) information/materials that are missing, if the servicemember’s request was deemed incomplete; and (iii) contact information. If the written response is not provided, the person waives any objection to the request, and the servicemember shall be entitled to the relief requested.
- Extension of the Default Judgment Protection. At any stage in any action or proceeding in which a servicemember is involved, the court may stay an action or proceeding during the period of military service or 120 days thereafter (previously 60 days).
- Inclusion of Motor Vehicles in the Lease Termination Protection. Existing state law allows for the termination of leases of premises that are occupied for dwelling, professional, business, agricultural, or similar purposes by the servicemember, upon entry into military service. The legislation now mirrors the federal Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections for motor vehicle lease termination. Specifically, it provides that a servicemember may terminate a motor vehicle lease after the servicemember’s entry into military service for a period of not less than 180 days. Additionally, it provides for cancelation of leases executed while in a period of military service if the servicemember receives military orders for a change of permanent station from a location in the continental U.S. to a location outside the continental U.S., or from a location in a state outside the continental U.S. to any location outside that state, or to deploy for a period not less than 180 days.
On September 11, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Nebraska apartment complex owner resolving allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by unlawfully charging lease termination fees for 65 servicemembers. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between January 2012 and June 2017, the apartment complex owner imposed early lease termination fees, ranging from $78 to almost $1,500, on servicemembers who sought termination due to qualifying military orders under the SCRA. The settlement requires the apartment complex owner, among other things, to (i) pay more than $76,000 in damages to the 65 identified servicemembers; (ii) pay a $20,000 civil money penalty, and (iii) develop policies and procedures related to SCRA lease terminations.
On September 11, the Washington state Attorney General announced the filing of a lawsuit against a towing company for allegedly auctioning off a servicemember’s car while he was deployed, in violation of the Washington Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (WSCRA). The complaint argues that the towing company impounded and unlawfully sold a deployed servicemember’s car without first determining the military status of the car’s owner and without obtaining a court order, as required by the WSCRA. The complaint rejects the towing company’s arguments that the responsibility fell on the servicemember’s creditor to redeem the vehicle as the legal owner because the law places the duty for determining military status on the party enforcing the lien. The complaint seeks restitution for the servicemember and a permanent injunction. Additionally, the complaint seeks civil penalties of up to $55,000 for a first offense and up to $110,000 for subsequent offenses, as allowed by the WSCRA.
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Dynamic customer due diligence and beneficial ownership from KYC to ongoing CDD and the new rule implementation" at the Puerto Rican Symposium of Anti-Money Laundering
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Preparing for servicing exams in the current regulatory environment" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory risks of convenience fees" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- APPROVED Webcast: NMLS Annual Conference & Ombudsman Meeting: Review and recap
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Servicing super session" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Law & compliance speedsmarts" at the American Financial Services Association Law & Compliance Symposium
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent high profile enforcement actions" at the Florida International Bankers Association AML Compliance Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to provide "Regulatory update – California and beyond" at the National Equipment Finance Association Summit
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Aaron C. Mahler to discuss "Regulation B/fair lending" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Heidi M. Bauer to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- 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