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On March 24, the SEC announced awards of over $570,000 to two whistleblowers for providing “significant information and assistance that helped the Commission bring multiple successful enforcement actions.” According to the formal order, the first whistleblower received an award of approximately $478,000, and the second whistleblower received an award of approximately $94,000. The SEC stated that the first whistleblower’s award was substantially higher because the information (i) helped the SEC bring antifraud charges related to conduct that was ongoing at the time the whistleblower reported the information to the SEC; (ii) played a critical role in the development of the case; and (iii) related to all the enforcement actions. In comparison, the second whistleblower’s information—while important—contributed to charges brought against only one of the respondents, the SEC stated.
Earlier on March 23, the SEC announced an award of over $1.6 million to a whistleblower in an enforcement action. According to the SEC’s press release, the whistleblower “provided helpful assistance early in the investigation, preserving Commission time and resources,” and “helped form part of the basis for charges brought in a successful enforcement action.” The formal order—which acknowledged that the allegations reported by the whistleblower “would have been hard to detect”—stated, however, that while the whistleblower “unreasonably delayed” reporting the allegations, the SEC chose not to factor in the delay as severely as it might have done had the delay occurred entirely after the Dodd-Frank Act established the whistleblower award program.
The SEC’s March 24 press release states that it has awarded 76 individuals a total of approximately $396 million in whistleblower awards since its initial award in 2012.
On March 26, the FTC Chairman issued a statement reiterating that the FTC is working closely with federal and state law enforcers and other stakeholders and is “devoting significant resources to tackling scammers and unfair and deceptive business practices” particularly with respect to the Covid-19 outbreak. The FTC notes that while it will remain flexible and reasonable in enforcing compliance requirements that may hinder the provision of important goods and services to customers, it will not “tolerate companies deceiving consumers, using tactics that violate well-established consumer protections, or taking unfair advantage of these uniquely challenging times.”
On March 22, the OCC announced the release of a short-term investment funds (STIF) interim final rule. The rule—which is effective immediately—revises the OCC’s STIF rule “for national banks acting in a fiduciary capacity” and “allows the OCC to authorize banks to temporarily extend maturity limits of these funds” for financial market disruptions that prevent banks from complying with required STIF maturity limits. Comments on the interim rule must be received by May 9.
Along with the interim final rule, the OCC issued OCC Bulletin 2020-22 regarding its March 21 order which temporarily extends maturity limits for STIFs that have been affected by financial market disruptions as a result of Covid-19. According to the order, a bank will be considered to be in compliance if (i) “the STIF maintains a dollar-weighted average portfolio maturity of 120 days or less”; (ii) the STIF maintains a dollar-weighted average portfolio life maturity of 180 days or less”; (iii) “the bank determines that using these temporary limits would be in the best interests of the STIF under applicable law”; and (iv) “the bank makes any necessary amendments to the written plan for the STIF to reflect these temporary changes.” The temporary limits will be in effect until July 20, unless extended by the OCC.
On March 6, the CFPB released seven updated FAQs to assist reporting institutions in complying with HMDA and Regulation C. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council’s issued the 2020 edition of the “Guide to HMDA Reporting: Getting It Right!” in February. The FAQs offer guidance for reporting the following data points: (i) universal loan identifier (ULI); (ii) legal entity identifier (LEI); (iii) ethnicity, race, and sex; (iv) discount points; and (v) construction and construction/permanent transactions. Highlights are listed below:
- Regulation C does not “require a financial institution to provide the ULI on loan documents.” It requires a financial institution to “collect, record, and report a ULI for applications for covered loans that is receives, covered loans that it originates, and covered loans that it purchases for each calendar year.”
- “For applications taken by telephone…a person collecting the race or ethnicity information [is required] to orally state the information in the collection form unless the information pertains uniquely to applications taken in writing, for example, the italicized language in the sample data collection form.”
- “[A] financial institution should not correct the race or ethnicity as reported by the applicant, even if the applicant has entered clearly incorrect or inappropriate information.”
- “Where a natural person applicant does not provide ethnicity, race, or sex information for a mail, internet, or telephone application, and a financial institution does not have an opportunity to collect this information during an in person meeting during the application process, the financial institution may report either that the information was not collected on the basis of visual observation or surname (code 2) or that the requirement to report this data field is not applicable (code 3).”
- “For construction and permanent loans where the construction loan is a separate transaction, the financial institution reports only the loan term of the permanent loan. Because the separate construction loan is designed to be replaced by permanent financing, it is excluded as temporary financing.”
On March 10, the FTC announced that it obtained default judgments of over $10.7 million against three defendants in a student loan debt relief operation that the FTC alleged violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Act. The defendants were alleged to have deceptively marketed services to reduce or eliminate student loan debt and to have tricked borrowers into paying illegal upfront fees for these services. In its order granting the default judgment, in addition to the monetary penalties, the court permanently enjoined the defendants from (i) participating in telemarketing; (ii) selling secured and unsecured debt relief products and services; and (iii) making misrepresentations related to financial products and services.
On March 9, the Massachusetts attorney general announced a consent judgment to resolve a 2017 lawsuit brought against an auto dealership and its in-house lender alleging that the dealership misled consumers into purchasing unfavorable sale packages in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleged that more than half of the auto dealer’s sales failed or ended in repossession due to misleading sales practices, predatory lending, and faulty underwriting. The consent judgment follows a January court decision awarding summary judgment in favor of the AG’s office. According to the AG’s press release, the auto dealer agreed to provide monetary and injunctive relief to resolve the entirety of the lawsuit’s allegations. The relief includes (i) paying $1.5 million, half of which will go towards reducing ongoing payments on active loans for consumers who purchased cars prior to 2018; (ii) providing eligible consumers who had their vehicles repossessed the option to cancel outstanding debts and repair their credit from the repossession; (iii) improving business practices to ensure provision of fair disclosures and enhanced repair services; and (iv) developing a structured process for handling consumer complaints received by the AG.
On March 9, the CFPB filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against a regional bank for alleged violations of TILA, the Truth in Savings Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act relating to the bank’s sales practices. According to the complaint, the bank had instituted a “cross-sell” sales strategy along with sales goals to increase sales to customers. The complaint alleges that, although the bank knew that sales employees “engag[ed] in misconduct in order to meet goals or earn additional compensation,” the bank purportedly “took insufficient steps to properly implement and monitor its program, detect and stop misconduct, and identify and remediate harmed consumers.” The complaint alleges two claims for “abusiveness” in violation of the CFPA, which are the first such allegations since the Bureau issued a policy statement in January regarding its “abusiveness” standard, covered in InfoBytes here. Among other things, the Bureau seeks injunctive relief, monetary relief, disgorgement, and a civil money penalty. After the complaint was filed, the regional bank issued a press release rejecting the charges in the CFPB’s complaint.
On March 9, the FTC filed a complaint against a Colorado-based credit repair company and its owner for allegedly making false representations to consumers regarding their ability to improve credit scores and increase access to mortgages, personal loans, and other credit products in violation of the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the FTC Act, and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants charged consumers illegal, upfront fees ranging from $325 to $4,000 per tradeline with the deceptive promise that they could “piggyback” on a stranger’s good credit, thereby artificially inflating their own credit score in the process. As the FTC explained, “piggybacking” occurs when a consumer pays to be registered as an “additional authorized user” on a credit card held by an unrelated account holder with positive payment histories. The FTC alleged that the defendants’ practices did not, in fact, significantly improve consumers’ credit scores as promised, and that while the defendants claimed on their website that their piggybacking services were legal, the FTC “has never determined that credit piggybacking is legal” and the practice does not fall within the protections of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants will be banned from selling access to another consumer’s credit as an authorized user and from collecting advance fees for credit repair services. The defendants will also be required to pay a $6.6 million monetary judgment, which be partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay.
CFPB announces advisory opinion program, updates business conduct bulletin, proposes whistleblower award legislation
On March 6, the CFPB announced three new measures it is undertaking to prevent customer harm, including (i) implementing an advisory opinion program; (ii) updating its bulletin regarding responsible business conduct; and (iii) advancing whistleblower award legislation through engagement with Congress. Details of each measure are as follows:
- Advisory Opinion Program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued three new innovation policies last September to reduce regulatory uncertainty and improve compliance. Similarly, the Bureau’s March 6 announcement states that the advisory opinion program should “provide clear guidance to assist companies in better understanding their legal and regulatory obligations.” The program directs that requests for advisory opinions should be submitted through the CFPB website. The opinions will then be published in the Federal Register and on its website.
- Responsible Business Conduct Bulletin. The amended bulletin, originally released in 2013, “clarif[ies] [the Bureau’s] approach to responsible business conduct” and emphasizes “the importance of such conduct.” The updated bulletin presents four categories of “responsible conduct” that entities are encouraged to adopt to improve the culture of compliance and that the CFPB will use to evaluate whether credit is warranted in an enforcement investigation or supervisory matter, including (i) self-assessment; (ii) self-reporting; (iii) remediation; and (iv) cooperation.
- Whistleblower Award Legislation. The proposed legislative language would amend Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act and authorize the Bureau to create a whistleblower award program. For individuals that volunteer information leading to a “successful enforcement action,” the program would enable the Bureau to provide a monetary award of between 10 to 30 percent of the collected penalty amount, up to $10 million.
On March 5, the OCC announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) and request for comment on proposed amendments that would update and clarify certain licensing policies and procedures and would revise its rules in 12 CFR part 5 to eliminate unnecessary requirements. Proposed changes include, among other things (i) allowing national and federal savings associations to “follow the procedures applicable to state banks or state savings associations…for certain business combinations”; (ii) expanding operating subsidiary notice and expedited review processes to include activities that are substantively the same as activities previously approved by the OCC; (iii) allowing “non-controlling investments and pass-through investments” in non-OCC supervised entities; (iv) creating procedures for citizenship and residency waivers for national bank directors; (v) redefining “troubled condition” in relation to director and senior executive officer changes; and (vi) adding chief risk officer to the list of positions for which a bank in troubled condition must provide notice when making a personnel change. Comments must be received by May 4.
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- Hank Asbill to discuss "What judges want from trial lawyers" at the American Bar Association Section of Litigation Anatomy of a Trial: Murder Trial of Ziang Sung Wan
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Understanding OFAC sanctions" at a NAFCU webinar
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "Key takeaways from proposed CRA modernization" at the New York Bankers Association Technology, Compliance & Risk Management Forum
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss "Navigating workplace culture in 2020" at the DC Bar Conference