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  • FCC ruling determines AI calls are subject to TCPA regulations

    Federal Issues

    On February 8, the FCC announced the unanimous adoption of a declaratory ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices are “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The declaratory ruling notes that the TCPA prohibits initiating “any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party” unless certain exceptions apply. The TCPA also prohibited “any non-emergency call made using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to certain specified categories of telephone numbers including emergency lines and wireless numbers.”

    The ruling, effective immediately, deemed voice cloning and similar AI technologies to be artificial voice messages under the TCPA, subject to its regulations. Therefore, prior express consent from the called party is required before making such calls. Additionally, callers using AI technology must provide identification and disclosure information and offer opt-out methods for telemarketing calls.

    This ruling provided State Attorneys General nationwide with additional resources to pursue perpetrators responsible for these robocalls. This action followed the Commission’s November proposed inquiry for how AI could impact unwanted robocalls and texts (announcement covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Artificial Intelligence FCC TCPA Consumer Protection

  • New York Fed Bank analyzes BNPL usage

    On February 14, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (NY Fed) published a blog post evaluating different households’ use of buy now pay later (BNPL) products, which it generally described as “loans that are payable in four or fewer installments and carry no finance charges.” To understand BNPL usage and its relationship with consumers’ financial situations, the NY Fed conducted a study which revealed distinct usage patterns between the financially fragile and the financially stable.

    The study revealed that financially fragile individuals, or individuals who have a credit score below 620, who have been declined for a credit application in the past year, or who have fallen 30 or more days delinquent on a loan in the past year, typically use BNPL to make frequent small purchases when compared to financial stable individuals. The study also found that using BNPL often leads to repeat transactions, indicating a potential trend towards repeat use of the product, particularly among those facing credit challenges.

    The study also found that consumers’ motivations for using BNPL differ. Financially stable individuals often cite zero interest as a key advantage, while the financially fragile prioritize ease of access and convenience. The NY Fed summarized that BNPL usage among financially fragile individuals resembles using a credit card for medium-size, out-of-budget purchases, while financially stable users tend to make fewer purchases with a focus of avoiding interest on high-priced items. The NY Fed noted, however, that there is evidence of misunderstanding among users, such as the belief that BNPL helps build credit, concluding that “those with this view may be better off using a credit card.” 

     

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Buy Now Pay Later Federal Reserve New York Consumer Finance

  • Fed, FDIC, and OCC release stress test scenarios for 2024

    On February 15, the Fed, OCC, and the FDIC released their annual stress test scenarios for 2024 to assist the agencies in evaluating their respective covered institution’s risk profile and capital adequacy. The Fed released its “2024 Stress Test Scenarios” to be used by banks and supervisors for the 2024 annual stress test. The scenarios include hypothetical sets of conditions to evaluate the banks under baseline and severely adverse scenarios. The OCC similarly released economic and financial market scenarios to be used by national banks and federal savings associations and include both baseline and severely adverse scenarios as mandated by the stress testing requirements under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The FDIC also released its stress test scenarios for certain state nonmember banks and state savings associations in conjunction with the OCC and the Fed.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Federal Reserve OCC Stress Test Bank Supervision

  • Fed finds CEO engaged in crypto “pig butchering” scam which led to bank failure

    On February 7, the Federal Reserve issued an evaluation report, as required by the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (where a loss to the deposit insurance fund is considered material), on a recently failed bank; the Fed concluded the bank failed due to alleged fraudulent activity by the bank’s CEO. In particular, the Fed found that the CEO initiated a series of wire transfers over the course of three months totaling about $47.1 million of the bank’s money as part of a cryptocurrency scam known as “pig butchering.” According to a FinCEN alert, “pig butchering” occurs when a scammer convinces its victims to invest in purportedly legitimate cryptocurrency investments but then steals the victim’s money.

    The Fed found that the bank’s employees neglected to follow proper internal controls and policies that could have “prevented or detected” the alleged fraudulent activity, attributing the failure to a reluctance to challenge the CEO given the CEO’s “dominant role in the bank and prominent role in the community.” Specifically, the employees did not comply with the bank’s BSA/AML policy or file suspicious activity reports as outlined under the policy. As a result, the Fed recommended (i) increasing the awareness among state member banks of cryptocurrency scams; and (ii) providing training to examiners on cryptocurrency scams.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Cryptocurrency FinCEN Federal Reserve Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering

  • OCC’s Hsu discusses appraisal bias

    On February 13, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu discussed eliminating appraisal bias in the financial industry at a public hearing held by the Appraisal Subcommittee of the FFIEC. In his remarks, Hsu highlighted the importance of addressing bias in the existing standards for appraisal reports to aid in the OCC’s efforts to expand access to homeownership. Hsu noted that the OCC is taking steps to increase access to homeownership by improving supervisory methods used to identify potential discrimination in lending and housing valuations and encouraging banks to expand affordable housing financing and access to credit.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues OCC Appraisal FFIEC

  • VA announces updates to loan repayment relief for borrowers affected by Covid-19

    Federal Issues

    On February 9, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a circular to consolidate updates related to VA’s disaster modification and loan deferment options. Effective February 9, the circular reiterates the options for disaster modifications and loan deferment and extends the options available for borrowers affected by Covid-19 through May 31, 2024. According to the circular, a servicer can provide a VA disaster modification without VA preapproval until May 31 regardless of the borrower’s enrollment in a Covid-19 forbearance plan, or Covid-19’s impact on the default. Additionally, the VA is allowing for disaster extend modifications to extend the loan’s original maturity date by up to 18 months, instead of the standard 12 months, if the loan is modified not later than May 31. Further, subject to certain requirements and restrictions, the circular also granted servicers flexibility to offer loan deferment when borrowers have missed payments due to the pandemic, regardless of CARES Act forbearance.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Servicer Covid-19 Forbearance

  • FTC, DFPI win MSJ against a fraudulent mortgage relief operation

    Federal Issues

    On February 13, the FTC and California Department of Financial Protection (DFPI) announced that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted their motion for summary judgment against several companies and owners that the agencies alleged were operating a fraudulent mortgage relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC and DFPI filed a joint complaint against the defendants in September 2022 alleging that the defendants violated the FTC Act, the FTC’s Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule (the MARS Rule or Regulation O), the Telemarking Sales Rule, the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act, and the California Consumer Financial Protection Law. In granting the motion for summary judgment, the court found the defendants violated all five laws. According to the motion, the defendants falsely represented that they could lower homeowners’ interest rates and reduce the principal balances, but, after taking the payment upfront, rarely delivered any agreed-upon services. The defendants also allegedly made misleading claims during telemarketing calls with homeowners regarding home foreclosure and mortgage payments, among other claims, including with homeowners with numbers on the national Do Not Call registry.

    The court ordered the defendants to pay approximately $16 million in restitution and $3 million in civil penalties. Further, the court ordered that the defendants are subject to a (i) permanent ban on advertising, promoting, offering for sale, or selling, or assisting others in those acts, any debt relief product or service and all telemarketing; and (ii) prohibition against making misrepresentations or unsubstantiated claims regarding products or services.

    Federal Issues FTC DFPI FTC Act Enforcement Telemarketing Sales Rule Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act California Consumer Financial Protection Law Civil Money Penalties

  • FFIEC releases statement on examination principles related to discrimination and bias in residential lending

    Federal Issues

    On February 12, the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council (FFIEC) released a statement on “Examination Principles Related to Valuation Discrimination and Bias in Residential Lending.” The statement outlined principles that examiners should use to evaluate an institution’s residential property appraisal and valuation practices to mitigate risks that stem from (i) discrimination “based on protected characteristics in the residential property valuation process, and (ii) bias, defined as “a preference or inclination that precludes an appraiser or other preparer of the valuation from reporting with impartiality, independence, or objectivity” as required by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Failure to have these internal controls to identify and address discrimination or bias can result in poor credit decisions, consumer harm, increased safety and soundness risk. The principles outlined by the statement are categorized into consumer compliance examination principles and safety and soundness principles. For consumer compliance, examiners should consider an institution’s (i) board and senior management oversight to determine if it is commensurate with the institution’s risk profile; and (ii) consumer compliance policies and procedures to identify and resolve potential discrimination. The principles during a safety and soundness examination should include reviewing the consumer protection issues, governance, collateral valuation program, third-party risk management, valuation review, credit risk review, and training programs. 

    Federal Issues FFIEC CFPB Consumer Finance Mortgages Discrimination

  • Yellen testifies on FSOC Annual Report, key areas of focus

    Federal Issues

    On February 8, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing titled “The Financial Stability Oversight Council Annual Report to Congress” with testimony provided by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Secretary Yellen discussed progress, and continued focus, related to five topics addressed in FSOC’s 2023 Annual Report (covered by InfoBytes here): capital risks posed by nonbank financial institutions; climate-related financial stability risks; cybersecurity risks; monitoring artificial intelligence (AI) use in financial services; and digital asset oversight. In response to questioning from Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV), Yellen discussed how FSOC highlighted that about 70 percent of single-family mortgages were originated by nonbank mortgage originators during the first half of 2023. When Secretary Yellen was asked if the shift from banks to nonbanks in the mortgage space poses a financial stability risk “due to non-banks’ lack of access to deposits,” she responded that FSOC is “very focused” on the issue since non-banks are reliant on short-term financing. In addition, Yellen spoke about AI and learning its impact on vulnerabilities and risk, as well as the Basel III proposal, urging regulators to “finalize these rules as quickly as possible.”

    Federal Issues FSOC Department of Treasury U.S. Senate Basel Mortgage Lenders

  • Senate Banking Committee hearing on P2P payment scams calls for updates to EFTA definitions

    On February 1, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on “Examining Scams and Fraud in the Banking System and Their Impact on Consumers,” and invited three panelists to testify, including an attorney from a consumer law center and two vice presidents from banking associations. Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) led the hearing by noting that peer-to-peer (P2) apps are a rising target among scammers, alongside a rise in check fraud. The Chairman noted a 2023 alert from FinCEN warning (as covered by InfoBytes here) of a surge in check fraud after a “drastic” rise in scams, and concluded with a statement that the P2P companies need “rules to make them” do better. Next, Ranking Member Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) called for the companies to spend more money developing security technologies to protect consumers from fraud. Sen. Scott then called for better education in financial literacy to learn about scams and methods. 

    At the hearing, Mr. John Breyault noted that reported losses from P2P payment platforms nearly doubled from $87 million in 2020 to $163 million in 2022. Mr. Breyault asked Congress to play a larger role in preventing fraud on P2P platforms and urged the passage of the Protecting Consumers from Payment Scams Act (which would expand EFTA’s definition of unauthorized electronic fund transfer to cover fraudulently induced payments). Ms. Carla Sanchez-Adams, in her testimony, asserted the entire burden of payment fraud should not fall on the customers and advocated for an updated Electronic Funds Transfer Act that protects consumers from fraudulently-induced transactions. She testified that receiving institutions should have more responsibility, and called for anti-fraud policies that protect consumers from having their accounts frozen, among others. Mr. Paul Benda testified to similar points: he called for an increase in consumer education and the closure of regulatory loopholes to stop impersonation scams. He testified in favor of improved information sharing and enhanced collaboration with law enforcement and regulators.  

    Bank Regulatory Peer-to-Peer Fraud Senate Banking Committee EFTA U.S. Senate Federal Issues

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