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On November 25, the Governor of New York signed S2302, a measure which prohibits entities that are “licensed lenders” in New York, as well as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), from including a consumer’s social network information in credit decisions. S2302 amends New York’s general business law and the banking law to prohibit licensed lenders and CRAs from considering “the credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity of members of the consumer’s social network” or “the average credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity of members of the consumer’s social network or any group score that is not the [consumer’s] own credit” information. Specifically, the amendment prohibits licensed lenders and CRAs from collecting, evaluating, reporting, or maintaining the information in a file. Additionally, the consumer’s internet viewing history also may not be factored into the licensed lender’s or agency’s “credit scoring formulas.”
On November 19, the New York attorney general’s office announced the launch of a Civil Rights Bureau investigation into allegations that Long Island real estate agents have engaged in discriminatory practices. The announcement follows a newspaper’s recent publication of findings based on a three-year examination of residential brokering firms, where, according to the report, several agents allegedly (i) “steered undercover testers to neighborhoods whose composition matched their own race or ethnicity”; (ii) directed white testers to neighborhoods with the highest white representations, whereas minority testers were sent to more integrated areas; and (iii) subjected minority testers to financial bars that were not imposed on white testers, such as requiring mortgage preapproval in order to view properties. The AGs office encourages Long Island residents to report any instances of housing discrimination.
On November 14, NYDFS announced a proposed regulation, which would allow regulated entities to share confidential supervisory information with legal counsel or with independent auditors without obtaining prior written approval from the agency. Currently, entities are required to receive prior written approval for each instance in which they want to share confidential supervisory information with hired legal counsel or independent auditors. The proposal would allow a regulated entity to share this information without prior written approval from NYDFS as long as there is a written agreement between the parties, in which the hired legal counsel or independent auditor agrees to, among other things, (i) only use the information for the purposes of legal representation or auditing services; (ii) not to disclose the information to its employees except on a “need to know” basis; (iii) promptly notify NYDFS of any requests for the information; and (iv) maintain records for all information disclosed pursuant to the regulation. Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the state register on November 27.
AG coalition calls on Department of Education to discharge loans for students who attended closed for-profit school
On November 13, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general led by the Massachusetts attorney general sent a letter to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer to determine whether the Department has complied with federal regulations that allow student borrowers to qualify for automatic discharge relief if they attended a school within 120 days of its closure date and have not continued their education elsewhere. The letter referred to an estimate provided by the Department in May, which stated that approximately 52,000 former students of a now-closed for-profit college qualified for automatic closed-school discharge relief. The letter notes, however, that recent information obtained from Congress indicates that only 7,000 student borrowers have been granted automatic discharges. Among other things, the AGs ask the Department to clarify whether all eligible students are now receiving automatic discharges, and request that the 120-day window be expanded “due to the deeply compromised nature of the school and its offerings in the months before its national collapse.” In addition, the letter requests details about the number of students with discharged loans and the methodology the Department is using to implement the automatic closed-school discharge.
On November 13, the Washington attorney general announced an office supply company has agreed to pay $900,000 to resolve an investigation into deceptive computer repair services. According to the AG’s office, the company allegedly used a software program, called “PC Health Check” or similar names, to facilitate the sale of diagnostic and repair services to retail customers that cost up to $200, regardless of whether their computer was actually infected with viruses or malware. The company claimed that the program, which allegedly detected malware symptoms on consumers’ computers, actually based the results on answers to four questions consumers were asked by a company employee at the beginning of the service, including whether the computer had slowed down, had issues with frequent pop-up ads, received virus warnings, or crashed often. After the questions were asked, the responses were entered into the program and a simple scan of the computer was run. The AG’s office claims that the scan had no connection to the malware symptoms results because an affirmative answer by the consumer to any of the four questions always led to the report of actual or potential malware symptoms. The release also states that in 2012, a company employee informed management that “the software reported malware symptoms on a computer that ‘didn’t have anything wrong with it,’” but that the company continued to sell the repair services until 2016 to an estimated 14,000 Washington consumers. According to the AG’s release, Washington is the only state to reach an agreement with the company over the alleged practices in addition to the $35 million national settlement the company and its software vendor reached with the FTC in March for similar conduct. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On November 11, the Massachusetts attorney general announced a $4 million settlement with a Virginia-based debt collection company to resolve allegations that it engaged in deceptive and unfair debt collection practices. The AG’s release stated that an assurance of discontinuance filed in the Suffolk Superior Court alleges that the company “aggressively” collected on purchased defaulted loans, credit card accounts, car loans, and other consumer debts by using a network of in-house collectors who contacted consumers through multiple letters and phone calls, and used law firms to take consumers to court. An investigation revealed that the company “routinely pursued consumers with only exempt sources of income such as social security, social security disability, and supplemental security income,” and that consumers who informed the company of their reliance on such income “were pressured by the company to pay money they should have been entitled to keep.” Among other things, the AG’s office claimed that the company also (i) collected on debts it could not substantiate; (ii) failed to verify whether the consumer information it reported to credit reporting agencies was accurate; (iii) ignored the statute of limitations when collecting debt; and (iv) failed to notify consumers of their rights to request proof of a debt and to provide proof of a debt upon request. In addition to the $4 million payment, the company has agreed to stop collecting from consumers using only exempt income, will obtain documentation that debts are valid before collecting, will inform consumers when debt is beyond the statute of limitations, and will refrain from calling consumers more than twice in a seven-day period. The company also agreed to stop reporting debts it cannot substantiate to credit reporting agencies and to investigate consumer credit report accuracy disputes.
On October 31, the Michigan attorney general announced it filed a lawsuit against an online lender alleging the lender violated the CFPA and Michigan law by allegedly offering usurious loans in an “unfair, deceptive, and abusive manner” with interest rates between 388 percent and 1,505 percent. The complaint alleges that the online lender is using its affiliation with a federally recognized Indian tribe located in California to circumvent Michigan’s interest rate cap, but, “is not an arm of the tribe and therefore is not entitled to assert tribal sovereign immunity from suit.” Moreover, the complaint argues that because the lender offers loans to Michigan residents, it is operating outside of tribal boundaries and, therefore, is subject to any and all applicable state and federal laws. In addition to usurious interest rates, the complaint alleges the lender misrepresented contract terms, including various rates and fees, and refused to let consumers pay off loans early. The attorney general is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the lender from “providing usurious loans in Michigan in the future.” Notably, this is Michigan’s first-ever lawsuit alleging violations of the CFPA.
On October 25, NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell announced that the state regulator has joined the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN). The GFIN was created by the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority in 2018 and is an international network of 50 organizations, including most recently the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, FDIC, OCC, and SEC. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to NYDFS, participation will provide opportunities to engage with international partners to support financial innovation, increase financial market resiliency, and create “better uses of technology for overseeing supervised marketplaces” by, among other things, facilitating cross-border testing of new products and services. NYDFS also reiterated the recent establishment of its new Research and Innovation Division (previous InfoBytes coverage here) as a demonstration of its commitment to innovation.
On October 22, the New York governor directed NYDFS to investigate instances of alleged mortgage deed fraud and deceptive practices targeting homeowners in Brooklyn. In addition to the investigation, the governor also directed NYDFS to “dispatch the Department's Foreclosure Relief Unit to provide assistance to homeowners who believe they may have been a victim of deed fraud or unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices in regard to the sale or attempted purchase of their home.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the governor recently signed a package of bills intended to increase consumer homeowner protections. Specifically, A 5615 amended state law related to distressed home loans to extend consumer protections for homes in default and foreclosure by, among other things, (i) providing homeowners additional time to cancel a covered contract with a purchaser; (ii) preventing distressed property consultants from inducing the consumer to transfer the deed to the consultant or anyone else; and (iii) allowing consumers to void contracts, deeds, or other agreements material to the consumer’s property where an individual was convicted of or pled guilty to making false statements in connection with that agreement.
On October 15, a coalition of 13 state attorneys general submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last May seeking information on the costs and benefits of reporting certain data points under HMDA. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) In the comment letter, the AGs argue, among other things, that the proposed rule would reduce transparency and “undermine the ability of local public officials to investigate unfair and discriminatory mortgage lending practices.” The AGs assert that the Bureau’s proposal to limit the data financial institutions are required to report to the CFPB under HMDA will open the door for financial institutions to engage in discriminatory lending, pointing to the 2018 national HMDA loan-level data released on August 30 (InfoBytes coverage here), which, according to the AGs, show “disturbing trends” that demonstrate the additional data fields are helping to achieve HMDA’s objectives. Specifically, the AGs cite to (i) disparities in manufactured home lending; (ii) racial and ethnic data that points to potential disparities in lending; (iii) the importance of collecting all data on denial reasons; (iv) loan pricing data as an indicator of fair lending; and (v) the importance of collecting debt-to-income and combined loan-to-value ratios.
The New York AG’s office also sent a second letter the same day in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued last May by the Bureau that would permanently raise coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under the HMDA rules. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The AG’s office argues that increasing the reporting threshold “would exempt thousands of lenders from reporting data” and would “inhibit the ability of communities and state and local law enforcement to ensure fair mortgage lending in New York and elsewhere, and violate the Administrative Procedure Act” since it fails to consider the full cost of the proposed rule on the states. Specifically, the AG’s office contends that the NPRM will (i) exempt a large number of depository institutions leading to significance loss of data on a local level; (ii) leave discriminatory lending in the rural and multifamily lending markets unchecked; and (iii) guarantee predatory lending if the threshold for open-end reporting is permanently set at 200 loans.
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at an American Bar Association webinar
- Kari K. Hall and Christopher M. Walczyszyn to speak on the "Understanding updates to Regulation CC to ensure effective check processing" at a National Association of Federal Credit Unions webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "ACAMS Moneylaundering.com Year-End Compliance Review and 2020 Outlook" at an ACAMS webinar
- APPROVED Webcast: Periodic reporting made easier
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference