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On June 27, the FTC and the Florida attorney general filed a complaint against a Florida-based grant funding company and its owner (collectively, “defendants”) alleging that the defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act, the FTC Act, and the Florida Deceptive Unfair Trade Practices Act. According to the complaint, the defendants deceptively marketed grant writing and consulting services to minority-owned small businesses by, among other things, (i) promising grant funding that did not exist and/or was never awarded; (ii) misleading customers about the status of grant awards; and (iii) failing to honor a “money-back guarantee” and suppressing customer complaints. The complaint also alleged that the owner relied on funds that she acquired through the federal Paycheck Protection Program Covid-19 stimulus program to start the company. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a restraining order with asset freeze, appointment of a temporary receiver, and other equitable relief order against the defendants, which also prohibits them from engaging in grant funding business activities.
On June 23, the FHA announced FHA INFO 2022-64 to issue the following temporary partial waivers to its Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) policies for senior homeowners impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic who continue to experience significant financial difficulties. Specifically, the first temporary partial waiver concerns Mortgagee Letter 2015-11. The FHA notes that its waiver “allows mortgagees to offer repayment plans to HECM borrowers with unpaid property charges regardless of their total outstanding arrearage." The second waiver—concerning Mortgagee Letter 2016-07—“permits mortgagees to seek assignment of a HECM immediately after using their own funds to pay property taxes and insurance on or after March 1, 2020, by temporarily eliminating the three-year waiting period for such assignments.” Both waivers are effective through December 31.
On June 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Syria General License (GL) 21A, Venezuela GL 39A, and Iran GL N-1, “Authorizing Certain Activities to Respond to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.” Each GL authorizes certain Covid-19-related transactions through June 17, 2023. Additionally, OFAC updated Frequently Asked Questions regarding the purposes of the GLs and provided clarifying information.
On June 9, the CFPB released Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) informational flyers in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, and Arabic. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the HAF program was created to provide direct assistance to consumers for mortgage payments, property insurance, utilities, and other housing-related costs to help prevent delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures after January 21, 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mortgage servicers may voluntarily provide these flyers to their borrowers and are advised that the flyer is not required by regulation. Additional HAF program information is available in multiple languages on the Bureau’s website.
On June 7, the CFPB published a “Data Spotlight” report regarding financial well-being of consumers between 2017 and 2020. In September 2017, the CFPB published its first report on Financial Well-Being in America, which found a wide variation in how people feel about their financial well-being. The recently released report shows that Americans experienced an average increase in their financial well-being between 2017 and 2020, which was likely due to the government response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Using respondent-level public use data from the Fed’s November 2017 and November 2020 Survey of Household Economics and Decision-making, the Bureau’s report found that despite a national average increase, 36 percent of U.S. adults reported having lower financial well-being in 2020 than in 2017. In analyzing the specific characteristics, including income, education, gender, race/ethnicity, and age, nearly “40 percent of respondents that reported a decline in financial well-being were individuals with incomes of less than $25,000, individuals without a bachelor’s degree or greater, women, and Black/non-Hispanic adults.” The report also found that “five percent of adults with low and very low financial well-being reported moving out of their homes due to immediate or future foreclosure or eviction, compared to only one percent of the general population.” Additionally, the report noted that “between 2017 and 2020, U.S. adults of color, younger adults, and women had smaller increases in financial well-being than white adults, older adults, and men.”
On May 13, the U.S. Treasury Department issued the 2022 National Strategy for Combatting Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing (2022 Strategy). As required by federal law, the 2022 Strategy describes current U.S. government efforts to combat domestic and international illicit finance threats from terrorist financing, proliferation financing, and money laundering, and discusses potential risks, priorities and objectives, as well as areas for improvement. Among other things, the 2022 Strategy reflects challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing digitization of financial services, and rising levels of corruption and fraud. Specifically, Treasury noted that 2022 risk assessments highlights threats “posed by the abuse of legal entities, the complicity of professionals that misuse their positions or businesses, small-sum funding of domestic violent extremism networks, the effective use of front and shell companies in proliferation finance, and the exploitation of the digital economy.”
According to Treasury, the 2022 Strategy, along with the agency’s 2022 National Money Laundering Risk Assessment (covered by InfoBytes here), “will assist financial institutions in assessing the illicit finance risk exposure of their businesses and support the construction and maintenance of a risk-based approach to countering illicit finance for government agencies and policymakers.”
Specifically, to protect the U.S. financial system from corruption and other illicit finance threats, the 2022 Strategy outlined four priorities and 14 supporting actions to address these threats. These include:
- closing legal and regulatory gaps in the U.S. anti-money laundering/counter the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) framework that are used to anonymously access the U.S. financial system through shell companies and all-cash real estate purchases;
- increasing the efficiency of the U.S. AML/CFT regulatory framework “by providing clear compliance guidance, sharing information appropriately, and fully funding supervision and enforcement”;
- enhancing the operational effectiveness of law enforcement, other U.S. government agencies, and international partnerships to prevent illicit actors from accessing safe havens; and
- enabling technological innovation while mitigating risk to stay ahead of new avenues for abuse through virtual assets and other new financial products, services, and activities.
The same day the U.S. and Mexico announced their commitment to establish a working group on anti-corruption, which will primarily focus on high-level strategic responses to public corruption. The announcement follows a recent agreement between delegates from the two countries to continue expanding information-sharing efforts to improve bilateral efforts for countering illicit finance.
On May 16, the CFPB released a report examining data collected across 16 large mortgage servicers from May through December 2021 on the servicers’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau, there is significant variation in how servicers collected information on borrowers’ language preference, stating that “the substantial lack of information about borrowers’ language preference and varying data quality made it challenging to make any comparison between servicers.” However, the report also found that “the number of non-[limited English proficiency] borrowers who were delinquent without a loss mitigation option after forbearance declined over time, with the greatest decrease between October and November 2021, while the number of unknown and limited English proficiency (LEP) borrowers did not reflect the same decrease.” The report noted that servicer response to the Bureau’s requests for borrower demographics, including “a breakdown of the total loans they service by race, and race information for forbearances, delinquencies, and forbearance exits” was limited, precluding comparisons. The report encouraged "servicers to ensure that they are preventing discrimination in the provision of loss mitigation assistance.” Other key findings from the report included: (i) by the end of 2021, more than 330,000 borrowers’ loans remained delinquent – with no loss mitigation solution in place; (ii) the average hold times of more than ten minutes and call abandonment rates exceed 30 percent for certain servicers; (iii) the percentage of borrowers in delinquency and who had a non-English language preference increased during the reviewed period, but the percentage decreased for borrowers in delinquency and who identified English as their preferred language; (iv) more than half of the borrowers in the data received are categorized as race “unknown”; and (v) most borrowers exiting Covid forbearance exited with a loan modification (27 percent), while 15.2 percent exited in a state of delinquency.
On May 5, the SBA added question #70 to its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) frequently asked questions explaining that 501(c)(3) nonprofit lenders are eligible for PPP loan forgiveness provided they have complied with all applicable PPP rules aside from 13 CFR 120.110(b). 13 CFR 120.110(b) provides that non-profit businesses and other financial businesses that are “primarily engaged in the business of lending” are ineligible for SBA business loans. While the CARES Act specifically allowed nonprofit organizations to be eligible for PPP loans, it did not mention financial businesses/lenders, which SBA interpreted as “allowing nonprofits to overcome the 13 CFR 120.110 restriction, but not lenders.” Following a review of the agency’s PPP loan records, SBA found that 501(c)(3) nonprofit lenders were confused as to whether they were eligible for PPP loans. In order to provide clarity, SBA “determined that 501(c)(3) nonprofit lender borrowers reasonably relied on the CARES Act’s nonprofit authority regarding their eligibility for a PPP loan. In addition, enforcing the Forgiveness and Loan Review IFR (86 FR 8283) that provides for denial of forgiveness to 501(c)(3) nonprofit lenders due to application of the PPP eligibility rule incorporating 13 CFR 120.110(b) will negatively affect the remaining small number of 501(c)(3) nonprofit lenders that have not yet received forgiveness.” As such, the SBA administrator has elected to exercise broad discretion “to decline to enforce the Forgiveness and Loan Review IFR rule providing for denial of forgiveness to ineligible borrowers for 501(c)(3) nonprofit lenders” and will allow such lenders to be eligible for forgiveness of their PPP loans.
On May 6, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2021 to fulfill its fair lending mandate. Much of the Bureau’s work in 2021 focused on addressing racial injustice and long-term economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Bureau continued to prioritize promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, with a particular focus on fair lending supervision efforts in areas related to “mortgage origination and pricing, small business lending, student loan origination work, policies and procedures regarding geographic and other exclusions in underwriting, and  the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning models.” Fair Lending Director Patrice Alexander Ficklin said that while she is “encouraged by the possibility of utilizing vehicles like special purpose credit programs to expand access to credit,” she remains “skeptical of claims that advanced algorithms are the cure-all for bias in credit underwriting and pricing.” The report addressed enforcement and supervision work, highlighting four fair lending-related enforcement actions taken last year related to (i) illegal redlining practices; (ii) failure to provide accurate denial reasons on adverse-action notices; (iii) UDAAP violations related to the treatment of “gate money” for incarcerated individuals; and (iv) fees and payments associated with immigration bonds. The report also discussed initiatives concerning small business lending and data collection rulemaking, automated valuation models rulemaking, and a final rule amending certain provisions in Regulation X related to Covid-19 protections offered by mortgage servicers. Additionally, the report discussed an interpretive rule concerning ECOA’s prohibition on sex discrimination, stakeholder engagement on matters concerning fair lending compliance and policy decisions, HMDA reporting, and interagency engagement and reporting, among other topics. The report noted that going forward, the Bureau intends to sharpen its focus on digital redlining and algorithmic bias to identify emerging risks as more tech companies influence the financial services marketplace. According to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, “[w]hile technology holds great promise, it can also reinforce historical biases that have excluded too many Americans from opportunities.”
On May 5, the CFPB discussed examination findings related to private student loan servicers’ alleged failure to follow through with promised loan offers or modifications. The Bureau directed servicers found to have breached their commitments to make “significant remediation amounts” for failing to make promised payments to customers. The Bureau found some servicers offered financial incentives to recruit new customers, but then failed to make the promised payments. In certain instances, servicers’ systems failed to identify customers who earned incentives, and in others, payments were denied based on terms that were not included in the original deal, the Bureau claimed. The Bureau also found that while many servicers offered payment relief options to pause or reduce payments to customers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, at least one servicer failed to deliver promised refunds to customers who modified their agreements to allow them to backdate forbearance after making a payment. The Bureau documented two examples of servicers committing unfair acts or practices in this space in its recent spring Supervisory Highlights (covered by InfoBytes here) and warned servicers that it is “closely monitoring” companies that break the law.
- Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar