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  • CFPB sues online lending platform for alleged CFPA, FCRA violations

    Federal Issues

    On May 17, the CFPB announced a lawsuit against an online lending platform through which consumers could obtain small-dollar, short-term loans through a brokering arrangement with lenders. The CFPB alleged the platform violated the CFPA through its deceptive advertisements to consumers on the platform’s alleged promotion of financing terms which included “no interest,” “0% APR,” or “0% interest” but instead invited consumers to provide “tips” and “donations” to lenders, which, would increase the likelihood of a loan being funded. The CFPB further alleged that while the platform marketed zero-interest loans, the platform did not provide users an option for a $0 donation fee or to skip the fee altogether. The Bureau claimed, “almost all of [the platform’s] loans carry an equivalent annual percentage rate of over 36% APR, and many loans carry an APR in excess of 300%, with some over 1,000%.” The Bureau also claimed the platform violated the CFPA by providing misleading TILA disclosures that did not contain the cost of the additional fees and tips in the quoted total payments.

    The complaint alleged further violations of the CFPA where the platform (i) obscured whether and how borrowers can select the option for no donation or tip; (ii) stated or implied through its practices that consumers were obligated to repay loan amounts although the loans violated the applicable states’ lender-licensing or usury laws that declared such loans void ab initio or limited consumers’ obligation to repay; (iii) requested to collect and collects on void loans consumers were not obligated to repay for the aforementioned reason; (iv) misleadingly implied that it will furnish negative information to the credit bureaus unless the consumer makes a payment, without actually intending to do so; and (v) violated the FCRA.

    The CFPB’s complaint stated that because the platform was a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA and therefore would be required to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates.” The CFPB will seek, among other things, injunctions against the platform to prevent future violations, monetary relief for borrowers, forfeiture of ill-gotten gains, and a civil money penalty.

    Federal Issues Peer-to-Peer Enforcement CFPB Consumer Finance CFPA FCRA

  • HUD and mortgage lender reach agreement on Montana fair lending complaint

    Federal Issues

    On May 13, HUD announced an agreement with a mortgage lender to resolve allegations of Fair Housing Act violations. According to the redacted agreement, a complaint was filed with HUD last August accusing the mortgage company of engaging in housing discrimination based on race, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The complainants claim they faced discriminatory housing terms, were denied housing, and were subject to racially discriminatory notices and advertisements. The mortgage company denied all allegations of discrimination, asserted its commitment to fair housing and equal opportunity, and agreed to a Conciliation Agreement to resolve the matter without admitting any wrongdoing or liability.

    The mortgage company agreed to a $65,000 settlement and will commit to upholding its fair lending policies, ensuring applicants on Native American reservations are able to obtain residential mortgage loans without fear of discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Respondent will also contribute at least $30,000 towards initiatives designed to enhance housing conditions, financial literacy, and homeownership education for Native Americans near reservations. During the three-year term of the agreement, HUD may review compliance and conduct fair housing tests, among other oversight methods. The terms of the agreement also required the mortgage company to submit a training curriculum on its fair lending training courses for new employees and perform annual trainings with current employees; additionally, the mortgage company must submit an annual report on the mortgage company’s progress and performance in complying with the public interest provisions of the agreement. The agreement has been approved by the regional director of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

    Federal Issues HUD Enforcement Settlement Montana Consumer Finance Fair Lending Mortgages

  • Maryland enacts new powers for regulators to examine third parties

    State Issues

    On May 9, the Governor of Maryland approved HB 250 (the “Act”) which will authorize the Commissioner of Financial Regulation to examine third parties that service entities under the supervision of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). Such licensed entities include both depository and non-depository financial institutions. Currently, the OFR lacks the authority to examine third parties until the Act goes into effect. The Act will define third-party service providers as a “person who performs activities relating to financial services on behalf of a regulated entity for that regulated entity’s customers,” and include data processing centers, activities that support financial services, and internet-related services. On enforcement, the Act will authorize the OFR to enforce the law against any third party that refuses to submit to an examination, refuses to pay a fee, or engages in “unsafe or unsound” behaviors as determined by the OFR. The Act will outline several authorities of the OFR, including notifying the licensed person, which information the OFR can access, and levying fees. Following a notice and hearing, the Commissioner may issue a cease-and-desist order, suspend or revoke a violator’s license, or issue a penalty of up to $10,000 for the first violation and up to $25,000 for each subsequent violation. The Act takes effect on October 1.

    State Issues State Legislation Maryland Enforcement Fees

  • District Court denies mortgage lender’s motion to dismiss against CFPB

    Courts

    On May 2, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied a mortgage lender’s motion to dismiss. The CFPB sued the lender in October 2023 for violating HMDA and Regulation C by intentionally misreporting data regarding borrower race, ethnicity, and sex pursuant to a data reporting requirement from a prior consent order. In a sample of the defendant’s data reporting submission, the CFPB allegedly found 51 data errors across seven data fields. The court sided with the CFPB on all four grounds raised in the lender’s motion to dismiss. First, the court found that the CFPB pleaded a plausible violation of the HMDA, sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Second, the court rejected the lender’s arguments that HMDA and Regulation C are “unconstitutionally vague” because they established a standard for covered loan data that meets a constitutional standard. Third, the court sided again with the CFPB in finding that the injunctive relief at issue did not qualify as an “obey the law” injunction since it provided reasonable clarity of what was required of the lender. And fourth, the court upheld the funding structure of the CFPB as constitutional, therein following guidance from the Second Circuit in upholding the structure as constitutional.

    Courts CFPB HDMA Regulation C Enforcement

  • Student loan servicer and trust could pay more than $5M in enforcement action with CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On May 6, the CFPB filed a complaint against a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicer and 15 student loan trusts for alleged failure to properly respond to various borrower requests in violation of the CFPA. The complaint alleged thousands of borrower requests went unanswered from 2015 to 2021. Many of these requests allegedly sought forms of payment relief including: (i) co-signer release; (ii) extension of forbearance or deferment; (iii) loan settlement or forgiveness; (iv) Servicemember Civil Relief Act benefits; and (v) other forms of payment or interest rate reduction.

    The CFPB also released two proposed stipulated final judgment orders for the trusts and the servicer to resolve the claims. If agreed upon by the court, the trusts and servicer will have to pay civil money penalties of $400,000 and $1.75 million, respectively, in addition to providing close to $3 million in compensation to impacted consumers. Additionally, the orders required non-monetary relief, such as the approval of outstanding borrower applications, the rectification of credit reports, the suspension of debt collection efforts, and the implementation of a functional process.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Student Lending Enforcement

  • DFPI annual report highlights consumer protection efforts and upcoming regulations

    State Issues

    On April 25, the California DFPI released its Annual Report of Activity under the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL), highlighting investigations, public actions, and consumer outreach efforts under the CCFPL. According to the report, the DFPI (i) experienced a 70 percent increase in CCFPL complaints, which predominantly involved crypto assets and debt collectors; (ii) opened 734 CCFPL-related investigations and issued 181 public CCFPL actions; (iii) launched the Crypto Scam Tracker and a new consumer complaints portal; and (iv) advanced two rules, including unlawful, unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UUDAAP) protections for small businesses and new registration requirements (pending final approval by the Office of Administrative Law) for earned wage access, debt settlement services, debt relief services, and private postsecondary education financing products.

    The report emphasized that the new regulations specified that optional payments, such as tips, collected by California Financing Law (CFL)-licensed lenders would be considered charges under the law. According to the DFPI, these updates will reinforce the CFL by blocking potential loopholes and ensuring compliance among CFL-licensed lenders. Once these regulations would be approved, DFPI will oversee these financial service providers. Upon adoption, DFPI says it will be a pioneer in defining “earned wage access” as loans and regulating income advance services and the treatment of tips as charges, all through regulatory measures rather than statutory enactment.

    State Issues DFPI Enforcement California Consumer Protection Consumer Finance Digital Assets Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

  • FTC alleges ROSCA, GLBA and FTC Act violations against bill payment platform

    Federal Issues

    On April 25, the FTC announced an enforcement action against a third-party bill payment platform and two of its co-founders (defendants) for allegedly running misleading advertisements that intercepted consumers attempting to reach their billers, using “dark patterns” to manipulate the consumers into using the platform under the false belief that they have reached the biller’s official payment site, charging “junk fees” in connection with the processing of payments, and in some cases sending untimely payments to billers. According to the FTC’s complaint, the company allegedly violated the FTC Act by making false or misleading representations that it was an official payment channel for the consumers’ billers. The FTC also claimed defendants violated the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act by charging consumers for goods or services before clearly and conspicuously disclosing to consumers all material terms of the transaction and obtaining the consumers’ informed consent to be charged, and enrolling consumers into a paid subscription service by automatically ticking a box without warning when consumers clicked on a “User Terms of Service” hyperlink. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the company caused consumers to incur late fees and other inconveniences by failing to make timely payment to consumers’ billers, despite having received timely payment from the consumer. The FTC’s complaint also alleged that defendants used fraudulent statements or representations to obtain consumer information such as bank account numbers, routing numbers, credit card numbers, and debit card numbers in violation of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

    The FTC claimed that defendants received tens of thousands of consumer complaints, inquiries from two state attorney’s general offices, and temporarily lost access to a credit card company’s network due to the complaints, among other warnings regarding its practices. The FTC will seek a permanent injunction, monetary relief, and other relief.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement ROSCA GLBA Junk Fees FTC Act Consumer Protection Third-Party

  • OCC releases enforcement actions for April 2024

    On April 18, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals affiliated with such entities (defined as institution-affiliated parties, or IAPs). The actions against banks include two formal agreements and one cease and desist order against three individual banks. In each instance, the OCC alleged that the banks engaged in unsafe or unsound practices related to some combination of board oversight, liquidity management, capital requirements, or credit risk. With respect to IAPs, the announcement included four enforcement actions against IAPs to “deter, encourage correction, or prevent violations, unsafe or unsound practices, or breaches of fiduciary duty,” The OCC issued prohibition orders, which prohibit the IAP from any participation in affairs of a bank or other institution), for all four IAPs and assessed civil money penalties ranging from $40,000 to $400,000 against three of them. The announcement also included two more prohibition orders against two additional IAPs for criminal activities. More information on the OCC’s enforcement action types can be found here.

    Bank Regulatory Enforcement OCC Cease and Desist

  • Fed releases enforcement action against Wyoming-based bank holding company

    On April 4, the Federal Reserve released an enforcement action against a Wyoming-based bank holding company as part of a September 2023 inspection that found alleged deficiencies related to the “fintech business strategy, board oversight, capital, earnings, liquidity, risk management, and compliance.” The consent order with the bank holding company requires the holding company to: (i) serve as a source of strength to its bank subsidiary; (ii) submit a written plan to strengthen board oversight, including a staffing assessment and succession plan; (iii) submit a written plan to strengthen its risk management program, including adopting written policies and procedures to manage compliance and fraud risks; (iv) submit an enhanced liquidity risk management program, a capital plan, and a written business plan to improve earnings; and (v) ensure compliance with regulations governing affiliate transactions. The consent order additionally placed limits on the holding company’s fintech activities and required the holding company to submit a wind-down plan for fintech-related business. According to the consent order, following the September 2023 inspection, the holding company had voluntarily stopped pursuing its fintech business strategy and had been winding down all related activities.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Reserve Enforcement Wyoming Liquidity

  • District Court grants full remedies to CFPB, State AGs

    Courts

    On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia entered an order granting the plaintiff state attorneys general and CFPB’s requested remedies in full against a defendant accused of violating consumer protection laws in administering “immigration bonds” for indigent consumers facing deportation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2021 the CFPB, and the Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia State Attorneys General filed a 17-count complaint against the defendant, a subsidiary of a bond service for non-English speaking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees.  The complaint accused the defendant of misrepresenting the cost of immigration bond services and deceiving migrants into continuing to pay monthly fees by making false threats of deportation for failure to pay. Last May, the court entered default judgment against defendants (covered by InfoBytes here). In the court’s most recent order, it granted the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief, stating that the CFPB met the standard for injunctive relief under the CFPA, and it would “undoubtedly serve the public interest.” The court also noted that the plaintiffs’ claims supported injunctive relief under state laws as well. The order also included (i) $230.9 million in restitution to the CFPB; (ii) a $111 million civil money penalty to the CFPB; (iii) a $7.1 million civil money penalty to Virginia; (iv) a $3.4 million civil money penalty to Massachusetts; and (v) a $13.89 million civil money penalty to New York.  

    Courts State Issues CFPB Enforcement State Attorney General CFPA Deceptive Abusive

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