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On January 14, NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell announced that former Deputy Director of the CFPB, Leandra English, will serve as Special Policy Advisor to the Department. In her role, English will report directly to Lacewell and will manage and develop NYDFS’ policy initiatives involving consumers, financial services, and other issues. English will also be responsible for spearheading NYDFS’ policy development and analysis process, and assisting in the identification of common regulatory trends and risks across industries.
On January 13, the New Jersey governor signed S 2998, which amends the state’s collateral protection insurance (CPI) disclosure requirements. The amendments provide that when CPI is required and provided by the creditor, the creditor must disclose to the consumer debtors that they will be responsible for interest on the CPI cost “at the same rate that is applied pursuant to [the debtor’s] credit agreement.” The creditor must also provide a “good faith estimate” of what the CPI coverage will cost the debtor. Additionally, the creditor must instruct the debtors how to provide evidence of the required insurance, so that in those instances where the debtor obtains CPI, the creditor-purchased CPI can be cancelled and the costs and interest fees can be recovered. The amendments take effect on April 12.
On January 9, NYDFS announced the creation of the Consumer Protection Task Force, which will help the department implement the “extensive consumer protections proposals” outlined in the governor’s recent proposal to expand state oversight and enforcement of the financial services industry. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the governor’s proposal here.) Specifically, the task force will work on measures designed to enhance (i) regulatory oversight of debt collectors; (ii) protections against elder financial abuse; (iii) access to affordable banking services; and (iv) consumer protection laws to defend state residents against unfair, deceptive and abusive practices. Individuals named to the task force were chosen “based on their extensive experience and expertise in the areas of economic justice, housing, health and debt collection, and advocacy on behalf of communities throughout New York.”
On January 9, the Minnesota attorney general announced that an internet service provider (ISP) agreed to pay nearly $9 million in order to resolve allegations that it overcharged customers for phone, internet and cable services. In a separate action, on December 10, the Washington attorney general’s office announced that it entered into a $6.1 million consent decree with the same ISP to resolve similar claims of deceptive acts and practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the ISP entered into settlements over the same alleged actions with the states of Colorado on December 19, and Oregon on December 31.
On January 8, the New York governor released a proposal that would, among other things, expand the entities subject to NYDFS’ enforcement authority and harmonize state regulator authority to bring actions against entities engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices with federal authority. Proposed within the 2020 State of the State agenda are several initiatives designed to increase the state’s oversight and enforcement of the financial services industry. Key measures include:
- Abusiveness claims. The proposal would make New York consumer protection law consistent with federal law by aligning the state’s UDAAP powers with those of the CFPB, thereby empowering state authorities to bring abusiveness claims under state law.
- Eliminate certain exemptions. The proposal would end exemptions from state oversight for certain, unspecified consumer financial products and services. “With the current federal administration reducing the number and breadth of enforcement actions brought by the CFPB, it is crucial that state consumer protection laws apply to all the same consumer products and services subject to Dodd-Frank,” the proposal states.
- Closing loopholes and creating a level playing field. Under the proposal, state-licensed cryptocurrency companies would be required to pay assessment fees similar to other financial services companies. Currently, only supervised entities licensed under the state’s insurance law or banking law are required to pay assessments to NYDFS to cover examination and oversight costs.
- Fines. In order to effectively deter illegal conduct, the proposal would amend the state’s insurance law to increase fines. Additionally, instead of the current Financial Services Law (FSL) penalty of $5,000 per violation, the governor proposes “capping penalties at the greater of $5,000, or two times the damages, or the economic gain attributed to the violation,” while also updating the FSL to provide “explicit authority for [NYDFS] to collect restitution and damages.”
- Debt collection. Debt collectors under the proposal would be required to be licensed by NYDFS, thus allowing the department to examine and investigate suspected abuses. Additionally, NYDFS’ new oversight authority would allow it to bring punitive administrative actions against debt collectors, which may result in significant fines or the loss of a license. The proposal would also codify the FTC’s rule prohibiting confessions of judgment in consumer loans.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the proposal would also, among other things, expand access to safe and affordable financial services through a collaborative initiative between the state’s Community Development Financial Institutions, NYDFS, and other state agencies designed to improve outreach and financial literacy education to the unbanked and underserved communities.
California governor proposes strengthening state consumer protection authority and increasing financial innovation
On January 10, the California governor submitted his proposal for California’s 2020-2021 state budget, which would, among other things, include the creation and administration of the California Consumer Protection Law (Law). The governor’s budget summary indicates that “[t]he federal government’s rollback of the CFPB leaves Californians vulnerable to predatory businesses and leaves companies without the clarity they need to innovate.” The proposed Law is intended to provide “consumers with more protection against unfair and deceptive practices when accessing financial services and products.” To create and administer the Law, the proposed budget contemplates the expansion of the Department of Business of Oversight’s (DBO) authority to “protect consumers” and “foster the responsible development of new financial products.” In light of the expanded role, the governor also proposed renaming the DBO to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. The governor’s budget includes an allocation to the DBO of a $10.2 million Financial Protection Fund and 44 positions in 2020-2021, which would increase to $19.3 million and 90 positions in 2022-2023 for creating and implementing the Law.
According to the DBO’s website, the DBO currently “provides protection to consumers and services to businesses engaged in financial transactions” and “oversees the operations of state-licensed financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, money transmitters, issuers of payment instruments and travelers checks, and premium finance companies.” Under the governor’s budget proposal summary, in addition to the DBO’s current functions, the DBO will have greater authority to “pursue unlicensed financial service providers not currently subject to regulatory oversight such as debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, and financial technology (fintech) companies, among others.”
The budget proposal summary provides that the DBO’s new activities will include:
- Offering services to educate consumers (e.g., older Americans, students, military service members, and recent immigrants).
- Licensing and examining industries that are currently under-regulated.
- Analyzing market patterns and developments for evidence-based policies and enforcement.
- Enforcing against unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.
- Establishing a new Financial Technology Innovation Office, which will be tasked with proactively promoting “responsible development of new consumer financial products.”
- Providing legal support for the administration of the Law.
- Expanding administrative and IT staff to support the DBO’s increased authority.
The details of the Governor’s budget proposal have not yet been published.
On January 6, the California attorney general issued an advisory explaining consumers’ rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which took effect January 1. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the CCPA here.) These rights include (i) the right to request from businesses what personal information they collect, use, share, or sell; (ii) the right to request that businesses and their service providers delete one’s personal information; (iii) the right to opt out of businesses’ disclosure of one’s personal information via “Do Not Sell” links on businesses’ websites and mobile apps; (iv) the right of children younger than 16 to have businesses disclose their personal information only after receiving the child’s opt-in consent (though parents or guardians may consent for children under 13); and (v) the right to non-discrimination should a consumer exercise his or her privacy rights under the CCPA.
In addition to enumerating these consumer rights, the advisory specifies the types of businesses subject to the CCPA, provides information on the state’s data broker registry, and describes consumers’ private right of action in the event of a data breach.
On January 2, the Missouri attorney general filed a petition for preliminary and permanent injunction in Missouri Circuit Court against a nonprofit trust and its registered agent (the defendants) alleging the defendants deceived thousands of state residents by marketing memberships in the trust with the promise that the pooled resources would fund “to-be-completed homes.” The AG alleges that the defendants solicited consumers to attend meetings, purchase memberships, and pay monthly dues, and also asked members to provide additional funds to go towards appliances and other fixtures for the homes. However, the agent defendant allegedly admitted that none of the promised homes were constructed or otherwise provided to the members.
The AG further contends that “none of the solicited funds were ever used or invested towards providing a home to any of the members,” and were instead used to cover the trust’s operating expenses. According to the AG, the defendants’ actions violate state law and constitute false promises, omissions of material fact, and deception. The AG seeks injunctive relief “up to and including prohibiting and enjoining [d]efendants . . . from owning or operating organizations that sell or manage real estate that solicit upfront payments for goods or services, or that solicit charitable contributions.” The AG also seeks restitution for member losses, a fine equal to 10 percent of the restitution amount, a $1,000 fine per violation, and compensation for the state’s costs in pursuing the case.
On January 4, the New York governor unveiled a proposal to expand access to safe and affordable financial services as part of the 2020 State of the State agenda. Included is a proposal to create the “Excelsior Banking Network” (Network), which is intended to “expand financial inclusion and access to affordable bank accounts and credit products” by providing $25 million in seed funding for the state’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund. The Network—formed through a collaborative initiative between CDFIs, NYDFS, and other state agencies—will, among other things, engage in outreach and financial literacy education to the unbanked and expand available microcredit. “CDFIs are local financial service providers with locations throughout New York State, and often are the sole provider of banking and other financial services in low-income communities that are not served by traditional banks and financial institutions,” the announcement stated. Funding will be leveraged by participating CDFIs through targeted investments in underserved communities.
The governor also proposed the creation of a statewide Office of Financial Inclusion and Empowerment (Office), which is intended to meet the financial services needs of low- and middle-income New York consumers. The Office will be based at NYDFS, and “will maintain a centralized list of financial services counseling providers—across housing, student loan, debt, and general financial literacy—throughout the [s]tate and coordinate state and local services aimed at expanding access to credit and enhancing financial empowerment.” According to the announcement, the Office will also “incubate new programs to expand access to safe and affordable banking services, credit and financial education; coordinate public-private partnerships; and foster provision of high-quality, low-cost financial products statewide.”
On January 4, NYDFS issued an Industry Letter warning regulated entities about the “heightened risk” of cyberattacks by hackers affiliated with the Iranian government following the killing of Iranian official Qasem Soleimani, and strongly encouraging entities to undertake preparations to ensure quick responses to any suspected cyber incidents. Specifically, NYDFS recommends that regulated entities (i) patch/remediate all vulnerabilities (especially publicly disclosed vulnerabilities); (ii) ensure employees are adequately able to handle phishing attacks; (iii) “fully implement multi-factor authentication”; (iv) “review and update disaster recovery plans”; (v) and quickly respond to further alerts from the government or other reliable sources, even outside regular business hours. The letter notes that NYDFS’ cyber regulation 23 NYCRR 500.17 (previously covered by InfoBytes here), requires regulated entities to notify NYDFS “‘as promptly as possible but in no event later than 72 hours’ after a material cybersecurity event.”
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