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On October 21, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently or formerly affiliated with such entities. Included is a civil money penalty order against a Seattle-based bank, which requires the bank to pay $2.5 million for, among other things, allegedly failing to adopt and implement a Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering compliance program.
On October 20, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered a default judgment and order against five participants in an allegedly illegal debt collection scheme involving certain payment processors and a telephone broadcast service provider (collectively, “default defendants”) for their role in the operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed claims brought by the CFPB against the default defendants. (See additional InfoBytes coverage here.) According to a complaint filed in 2015, the defendants “knew, or should have known” that the debt collectors were contacting millions of consumers in an attempt to collect debt that consumers did not owe or that the collectors were not authorized to collect by using threats, intimidation, and deceptive techniques in violation of the CFPA and the FDCPA.
The court entered a $5.1 million judgment against the default defendants, who are jointly and severally liable with the non-default defendants. The default defendants must pay civil monetary penalties ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 to the Bureau. The judgment also, among other things, permanently bans the default defendants from attempting collections on any consumer financial product or service and from selling any debt-relief service.
On October 20, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved a settlement with two non-parties in an action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, alleging a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint asserted that the defendants violated the CFPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws. Amended complaints (see here and here) also added new defendants and included claims for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under the FDCPA and California’s Uniform Voidable Transactions Act, among other things. A stipulated final judgment and order was entered against the named defendant in July (covered by InfoBytes here), which required the payment of more than $35 million in redress to affected consumers, a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau, and $5,000 in civil money penalties to each of the three states. The court also previously entered final judgments against several of the defendants, as well as a default judgment and order against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, here, and here). The most recent settlement resolves a dispute between a court-appointed receiver and the two non-parties. The settlement requires the non-parties to pay $675,000 to the receiver.
On October 19, multiple agencies—the DOJ, SEC and UK’s FCA—announced a coordinated resolution with a European bank related to debt offerings for entities in Mozambique. (See here and here.) In total, fines to U.S. and U.K. authorities reached almost $475 million, and the institution also agreed to forgive $200 million of the debt.
In a related action, a London-based subsidiary of a Russian bank (bank) separately agreed to pay over $6 million to settle SEC charges related to its role in a second 2016 bond offering. According to the SEC’s order, the second offering as structured by the bank and reespondent permitted investors “to exchange their loan participation notes (LPNs) for a direct sovereign bond issued by the Republic of Mozambique” in an earlier bond offering. However, the SEC alleged that the offering materials distributed and marketed by the respondent and bank “failed to disclose the full nature of Mozambique’s indebtedness and, relatedly, its risk of default on the notes.” Furthermore, the SEC alleged that proceeds from the financing from the respondent and bank were supposed to be used exclusively for maritime projects, but in reality, without the bank’s knowledge, only a portion of the loan proceeds was applied towards maritime projects while the rest was diverted to pay kickbacks and make improper payments to Mozambican government officials. Mozambique later defaulted on the financings after the full extent of “secret” debt was revealed.
On October 19, the CFPB issued its first enforcement action under newly-appointed Director Rohit Chopra. The consent order, issued against a provider of financial services to prisons and jails, stated that the company engaged in unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices in violation of the CFPA by charging consumers fees to access their own funds on prepaid debit cards that they were required to use. The CFPB also claimed the company violated the EFTA and implementing Regulation E by requiring consumers to sign up for its debit card as a condition of receiving gate money (i.e. “money provided under state law to help people meet their essential needs as they are released from incarceration”). According to the CFPB, the company provided approximately 1.2 million debit release cards to consumers, which replaced cash or check options previously offered by state departments of correction. In addition to forcing consumers to use the debit cards to access their funds, the company also allegedly charged consumers fees that were not authorized by the cardholder agreement and misrepresented the fees that it charged. Pursuant to the consent order, the company—which neither admitted nor denied the allegations—may only charge “a reasonable inactivity fee” if a debit card is not used for 90 days. The company is also required to pay $4 million in consumer redress and a $2 million civil money penalty.
Chopra released a separate statement, saying the “case illustrates some of the market failures and harms that occur when the disbursement of government benefits is outsourced to third-party financial services companies that fail to adhere to the law.” He warned that the CFPB “will continue to scrutinize these companies, particularly when law violations and abuses of dominance undermine the intent of such government benefits, and where the harms fall heavily on people who are struggling financially.”
On October 18, the New York attorney general ordered two unregistered cryptocurrency lending platforms to immediately cease their activities in the state and directed three additional platforms to provide information about their activities and products. The AG clarified that most virtual currency lending products “fall squarely within any of several categories of ‘security’ under the Martin Act,” and therefore platforms must comply with the Martin Act’s registration requirements unless exempt. According to the AG, the virtual currency lending products identified in these actions “promise a fixed or variable rate of return to investors, and claim to deliver those returns by, among other things, trading with, or further lending those virtual assets.” As such, the products are securities under the Martin Act, particularly those that accept virtual currencies in exchange for a rate of return. The press release provided a redacted version of a cease letter sent to one of the two unregistered platforms, which stated that platforms engaging in unregistered activity have committed a fraudulent practice under the Martin Act and may face civil remedies. The platform is ordered to cease the alleged activity within 10 days or explain why the AG should not take further action. A different redacted letter requested information about the recipient’s products, where it operates, how the platform uses deposited virtual currency, whether U.S. dollars can be deposited or withdrawn from the platform, all financial institutions that are used, and whether the companies accept tethers, among other things. The letter also requested examples of agreements, contracts, and risk disclosures, as well as due diligence policies and procedures. These letters follow other actions taken recently by the AG against cryptocurrency trading platforms and token issuers (see e.g. InfoBytes here and here).
On October 14, the CFTC announced a $500,000 settlement with a non-U.S. provisionally registered swap dealer to resolve claims that it failed to comply with certain swap dealer recordkeeping requirements. Among other things, the institution allegedly failed to retain certain audio recordings for the time required under CFTC regulations. In addition to the civil monetary penalty, the institution must cease and desist from further violations of the CFTC regulations and must continue its remediation efforts.
On October 18, the FTC issued its annual report to Congress on protecting older adults. Among other things, the report, Protecting Older Consumers, 2020-2021, A Report of the Federal Trade Commission, evaluates fraud trends impacting older adults and provides details on enforcement actions and efforts to combat scams related to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, there were more than 334,000 fraud reports filed by consumers age 60 or older totaling more than $600 million in losses. While the FTC found that older adults were the least likely of any age group to report fraud monetary losses, older adults tended to report losing substantially more money than younger age groups. Older adults were also more likely to report financial losses related to tech support scams, prize, lottery or sweepstake scams, friend or family impersonation, and romance scams. Additionally, as online shopping has increased, the report noted that losses attributed to online shopping fraud among older adults rose sharply during the second quarter of 2020 and remained far higher than pre-pandemic levels in early 2021. The report also discussed significant FTC enforcement actions taken to protect older adults, as well as outreach and education efforts focusing on fraud prevention.
On October 15, the SEC announced awards totaling approximately $40 million to two whistleblowers who provided information and assistance leading to a successful SEC enforcement action. According to the redacted order, the SEC paid one of the whistleblowers roughly $32 million for providing substantial assistance to enforcement staff, identifying witnesses, and helping staff understand complex fact patterns. The SEC noted that the whistleblower’s tip was the initial source of the underlying investigation, and that without the individual’s information, the abuses would have been difficult to detect. The second whistleblower—who delayed reporting to the SEC for several years—provided helpful information during the course of the investigation that gave enforcement staff a more complete picture of events, and was awarded approximately $8 million.
The SEC has awarded approximately $1.1 billion to 218 individuals since issuing its first award in 2012.
On October 15, the FTC released a staff report, Serving Communities of Color, that discusses the Commission’s enforcement and outreach efforts related to the impact of fraud on majority Black and Latino communities. The report details various studies and research. For example, one FTC study examined disparities related to payment methods received from consumers who live in communities of color compared to consumers who live in majority White communities. According to the study, consumers in communities of color more often reported a larger share of losing money when using payment methods that offer few legal protections—e.g. cash, cryptocurrency, money orders, and debit cards. In contrast, consumers living in majority White areas filed the largest share of reports about credit cards, which offer more robust fraud protection. Another study revealed that “different demographic populations reported different types of concerns at different rates,” with consumers living in majority Black communities filing a higher number of reports than consumers living in majority White communities related to credit bureaus, banks and lenders, used auto issues, and debt collection. According to FTC findings, consumers living in majority Latino communities also filed a larger share of reports about credit bureaus, banks and lenders, debt collection, auto issues and business opportunities. The report discusses, among other things, more than 25 enforcement actions where the FTC identified that the unlawful conduct either targeted or disproportionately affected communities of color. Examples include auto buying cases, for-profit colleges, student loan debt relief programs, prepaid card scams, fake Covid-19 products and services, business “opportunities” and pyramid schemes, payday lending, and credit and consumer reporting accuracy. The report also shares information about FTC outreach programs to consumers in these communities.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting