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On June 30, the CFPB published its ninth Semi-Annual Report to Congress covering supervisory and enforcement actions, rulemaking activities, newly designed consumer tools, and published reports from October 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016. The Semi-Annual Report provides an overview of relevant topics addressed in previous CFPB reports and bulletins, including monthly Consumer Complaint reports, Supervisory Highlights, and the February 2016 compliance bulletin regarding Regulation V. The report outlines, among other things, the CFPB’s (i) efforts to monitor the effectiveness of the SAFE Act; (ii) fair lending activities, including its risk-based fair lending prioritization process and recent public enforcement actions; and (iii) ongoing efforts to define larger participants in markets for consumer financial services and products which are subject to the Bureau’s supervisory authority. According to the report, the Bureau’s supervisory actions during the six month period covered in the report provided over $44 million in compensation to over 177,000 consumers, while enforcement actions in the same time period resulted in “approximately $200 million in total relief for consumers who fell victim to various violations of consumer financial protection laws, along with over $70 million in civil money penalties.”
On June 29, the CFPB announced a joint action with the DOJ against a regional bank with operations in Memphis, Tennessee for allegedly engaging in discriminatory mortgage lending practices in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). According to the CFPB’s and the DOJ’s complaint, between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2015, the bank (i) engaged in redlining practices in the Memphis area by structuring its business to meet the credit needs of majority-White neighborhoods while ignoring the credit needs of individuals in majority-minority neighborhoods; (ii) discriminated against African American borrowers by allowing its employees to practice discretion in making credit decisions on mortgage loans, which ultimately resulted in African Americans being denied certain mortgages at significantly greater rates than similarly situated white applicants; (iii) charged African Americans, on average, 30 basis points more for first lien and 64 basis points more for second lien mortgage loans than similarly situated white borrowers; and (iv) implemented a policy under which loan officers were advised to deny minority applicants more quickly than other applicants and to deny credit assistance to “borderline” applicants. The complaint further alleges that a series of matched-pair tests at Memphis branches “revealed that the Bank treated African American testers less favorably than similarly situated white testers.”
Subject to approval, the proposed consent order would require the bank to take several remedial actions to improve its allegedly discriminatory mortgage lending practices, among which include: (i) allocating $4 million to a loan subsidy program that offers mortgage loans on a more affordable basis to applicants in majority-minority neighborhoods; (ii) spending at least $300,000 on a targeted advertising and outreach campaign that considers the results of a credit needs assessment performed by an independent third-party auditor, advertises the loan subsidy program, and generates mortgage loan applicants from qualified residents in majority-minority neighborhoods; (iii) spending $500,000 on local partnerships that provide education, credit repair, and other assistance in majority-minority neighborhoods; (iv) opening an additional branch or loan production office in a high-minority neighborhood; (v) extending credit offers to African American consumers who were denied mortgage loans as a result of the bank’s allegedly discriminatory underwriting policy; and (vi) implementing policies that ensure employees provide equal assistance to mortgage loan applicants, regardless of race or other prohibited characteristics. Under the proposed consent order, the bank would pay $2.78 million in consumer redress and a $3 million civil penalty. The CFPB’s proposed consent order notes that the bank has “recently taken a number of steps to improve its compliance management system, reduce its fair lending risk, and increase its lending in minority areas.”
CFPB Takes Action Against North Dakota Payment Processor for Alleged Unauthorized Withdrawal Practices
On June 6, the CFPB filed a complaint against a North Dakota-based third-party payment processor and two of its senior executives for alleged violations of the Dodd-Frank Act’s prohibition against unfair acts and practices. Acting on behalf of its clients, the payment processor transferred funds electronically through a network called the Automated Clearing House, and in the process, according to the CFPB, the payment processor “ignored numerous red flags about the transactions they were processing, including repeated consumer complaints, warnings about potential fraud or illegality raised by banks involved in the transactions, unusually high return rates, and state and federal law enforcement actions against their clients.” The CFPB contends that the defendants failed to: (i) heed warnings, including federal and state enforcement actions taken against the defendants’ clients, from banks and consumers regarding potential fraud or unauthorized debits; (ii) adequately monitor and respond to “enormously” high return rates; and (iii) investigate “red flags” throughout its clients’ application processes that “should have caused it to… perform enhanced due diligence prior to accepting a client for processing.” Regarding the individuals’ involvement in the allegedly unlawful activity, the CFPB’s complaint alleges that both engaged in unfair acts and practices by “actively ignoring” a number of red flags associated with the payment processor’s business activities. The CFPB’s complaint seeks monetary relief, injunctive relief, and penalties.
On June 6, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2015 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report covers the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with Regulation Z (TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act or CLA), and Regulation E (Electronic Fund Transfer Act or EFTA), as well as the FTC’s related activities in rulemaking, research, policy development, and consumer/business education related to TILA. According to the report, the FTC’s enforcement efforts in 2015 concerning TILA involved mortgage-related credit and non-mortgage credit, including automobile purchases and financing, car title loans, payday lending, and consumer electronics financing. Regarding mortgage-related credit activity, the report highlights continued litigation involving mortgage assistance relief services/forensic audit scams: “[i]n these scams, mortgage assistance relief providers offer, for a substantial fee, to review or audit the mortgage documents of distressed homeowners to identify violations of TILA, Regulation Z, and other federal laws.” The report further noted that under Regulation M and as part of the FTC’s Operation Ruse Control sweep on the auto industry, the FTC issued five final administrative consent orders and one consent agreement for public comment. Finally, regarding the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with the EFTA, the report states that four of the FTC’s seven cases involving the EFTA in 2015 arose in the context of “negative option” plans, where consumers agreed to a trial period in which they received certain goods or services for no additional charge or at a reduced price, but later incurred recurring charges due to failure to cancel before the trial period ended.
On June 2, California AG Kamala Harris sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education requesting that it revoke the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS) status as a recognized accreditor of for-profit schools. In the letter, AG Harris cited to state and federal enforcement actions taken against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (Corinthian) – a non-profit school accredited by ACICS – for engaging in allegedly predatory and deceptive marketing practices. According to AG Harris, “ACICS failed to uphold their commitment ‘to the importance of a quality education experience for all students’ when they continued to accredit Corinthian campuses in the face of regulatory and enforcement actions.” AG Harris joins 13 other state Attorneys General in opposition to ACICS’s application for renewal as an accreditor. In a letter submitted to the Department of Education in April of this year, those 13 other state Attorneys General discussed similar alleged failings by ACICS in their respective states.
AG Harris’s recent letter comes after a February 25, 2016 statement requesting that the Department of Education revise its proposed regulations relating to debt relief for students affected by for-profit schools’ allegedly deceitful practices, and also follows the AG’s $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian.
On June 3, the SEC announced that Stephen L. Cohen, Associate Director of the Enforcement Division, plans to leave the agency later this month. Cohen joined the SEC in 2004 as the Assistant Chief Litigation Counsel in the Enforcement Division, served as a senior advisor to former SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro from 2009 to 2011, and was appointed Associate Director of Enforcement in 2011. Under Cohen’s direction, the SEC brought enforcement actions addressing a variety of market participants’ alleged violations of federal securities laws.
CFPB Takes Action Against Former Loan Officer for "Fee-Shifting" Practices, Alleges RESPA Violations
On May 26, the CFPB announced a consent order against a former mortgage loan originator of a San Francisco-based bank for allegedly violating Section 8(a) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The CFPB alleges that, from at least November 2013 through February 2015, the loan officer and an escrow company in California “engaged in a scheme in which they manipulated escrow fees, at [the loan officer’s] direction, by shifting them among loans in order to structure no-cost mortgage transactions.” The CFPB further contends that the loan officer referred settlement-services business for federally related mortgages to the escrow company in exchange for allowing him to dictate the escrow fees. According to the CFPB, the arrangement between the loan officer and the escrow company constituted providing a “thing of value” – prohibited under RESPA – because it allowed the officer to consistently deliver “no closing cost” loans to his clients, which “ultimately increased the number of loans he was able to close and, as a result, the commissions he earned.” The CFPB’s consent order imposes an $85,000 civil penalty and prohibits the loan officer from participating in the mortgage industry for one year.
On April 6, the FTC released its 2015 Annual Highlights report, which is comprised of four key sections: (i) enforcement; (ii) policy; (iii) education; and (iv) stats and data. Regarding enforcement highlights in 2015, the report covers a range of administrative and court actions related to, among other things, technological innovations that pose fraud and security risks, the security of consumers’ personal identifiable information, and alleged payday loan scams. Significant actions summarized in the enforcement section include the FTC’s (i) December settlement with a leading U.S.-based hotel and resort chain resolving charges that its data security practices were unfair and deceptive; (ii) Operation Ruse Control, a nationwide cross-border crackdown designed to protect consumers from alleged fraud within the auto industry; and (iii) Operation Collection Protection, a federal, state, and local initiative implemented to combat alleged abusive and deceptive debt collection practices. The policy and education sections of the report separately highlight the agency’s efforts to provide guidance and recommendations to government bodies and lawmakers at the state and federal levels regarding best practices for implementing competition principals into proposed laws, regulations, or policies, as well as its education outreach program, such as Start with Security, a conference designed to provide companies with tips for implementing effective data security. Notably, according to the stats and data section of the report, the FTC received more than three million consumer complaints in 2015, with debt collection, “other,” and identity theft leading the numbers at 897,655, 512,022, and 490,220 complaints, respectively.
OFAC Issues Finding of Violation for Alleged Violations of the Reporting, Procedures, and Penalties Regulations
On March 16, OFAC issued a Finding of Violation to a New York-based international digital payments solutions and technology company for allegedly violating the Reporting, Procedures and Penalties Regulations (RPPR), 31 C.F.R. part 501. According to OFAC, the company failed to report that it held accounts – albeit dormant – in which two Iranian banks on OFAC’s SDN List had an interest. OFAC asserted that, while no company personnel appeared to have knowledge of the conduct that led to the violations, the company had reason to know that it maintained funds associated with the sanctioned Iranian banks because it is “a large and commercially sophisticated company that deals primarily with banks and other financial institutions.” OFAC also noted that the company’s failure to report the accounts resulted in OFAC’s reports to Congress being incomplete, that the failure to record interest on the accounts reduced the value of the blocked accounts, and that the company apparently did not have internal controls sufficient to prevent or identify the violations. On the other hand, OFAC acknowledged that there was no actual knowledge of the violations or a history of similar violations, that the funds did not reach the sanctioned parties, and that the company eventually disclosed the issue and then fully cooperated with the investigation.
Massachusetts AG Healey Continues Subprime Auto Loan Review; Lenders to Pay $7.4 Million in Consumer Relief
On March 16, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey announced that two national auto lenders, based in South Carolina and California respectively, agreed to collectively pay $7.4 million in relief to more than two thousand Massachusetts consumers to resolve allegations that they charged excessive interest rates on subprime auto loans. Under the terms of the assurance of discontinuance, the companies will eliminate the alleged excessive interest on certain loans resulting from add-on GAP insurance coverage, forgive outstanding interest on the loans, and reimburse consumers that already paid interest. The South Carolina-based lender will pay approximately $1.7 million in relief to consumers, while the California-based lender will pay the remaining $5.7 million. The settlement agreements further require the lenders to pay $225,000 for implementation of the agreements and to undergo additional auditing to determine if other loans are subject to refunds.
These settlements are part of AG Healey’s subprime loan review initiative. In November 2015, as part of this initiative, AG Healey announced a $5.4 million settlement with a national auto lender to resolve allegations similarly related to the practice of charging inflated interest rates because of add-on GAP insurance coverage.
- Jedd R. Bellman to provide an “Attorney exemption/medical debt update” at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association annual conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss “What should crypto regulation look like: Legislation, regulation and consumer issues” at WCL's First Annual Virtual Currency Law Institute
- Elizabeth E. McGinn to discuss “How to mitigate and manage third-party risks: Leveraging tools and best practices” at The Knowledge Group’s webcast
- James McGuire to join San Francisco Bank Attorneys Association panel: “Examining the past, present and future of overdraft fees and related charges”
- Elizabeth E. McGinn, Benjamin W. Hutten, and James C. Chou to discuss “The evolving regulatory landscape: Third-party and cyber risk management” at the 2022 mWISE Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Truth in lending” at ABA’s Consumer Financial Services Basics 2022 virtual conference
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss “For your eyes only: Privacy updates for 2022-2023” at CCFL’s Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- James T. Parkinson to present a “Global anti-corruption update” at IBA’s annual conference