Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On July 19, the CFPB announced it is suing a lease-to-own finance company that provides services that allows consumers, typically with limited access to traditional forms of credit for their financing, to finance merchandise or services over a 12-month period. According to the complaint, the Bureau claims that once a consumer falls behind on payments, the company’s purchase agreement essentially “lock[s] [consumers] into the 12-month schedule—even if they want to return or surrender their financed merchandise.” The alleged violations include:
- Misleading consumers. The company is accused of designing and implementing its financing program in a way that misleads consumers by using print advertisements featuring the phrase “100 Day Cash Payoff” without including details of the purchase agreement financing. The company is accused of misrepresenting that consumers could not terminate their agreement, that consumers could not return their merchandise, and that the “best” or “only” option for consumers who no longer want to finance their merchandise is to enter a “buy-back” agreement. The Bureau alleges that such conduct, among other things, violated the CFPA's prohibition on deceptive and abusive acts and practices.
- Unlawful conditioning of credit extension. The company is accused of violating the EFTA and its implementing Regulation E by allegedly improperly requiring consumers to repay credit through preauthorized automated clearing house debits.
- Failing to establish reasonable policies concerning consumer information. The Bureau alleges that the company violated the FCRA and its implementing Regulation V by not having adequate written policies and procedures to ensure the accuracy and integrity of consumer information that it furnished, considering the company’s “size, complexity, and scope.”
The Bureau seeks, among other things, injunctions to prevent future violations, rescission or reformation of the company's financing agreements, redress to consumers, and civil money penalties.
On June 27, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York granted final approval of a class action settlement, resulting in a defendant credit union paying approximately $5.2 million to settle allegations concerning illegal overdraft/non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees and inadequate disclosure practices. As described in plaintiffs’ unopposed motion for preliminary approval, the defendant was sued in 2020 for violating the EFTA (Regulation E) and New York General Business Law (NY GBL) § 349. According to plaintiffs, defendant charged overdraft fees and NSF fees that were not permitted under its contracts with its members or Regulation E. Plaintiffs’ Regulation E and NY GBL liability theories are premised on the argument that defendant’s “opt-in form did not inform members that these fees were charged under the ‘available balance’ metric, rather than the ‘actual’ or ‘ledger’ balance metric”—a violation of Regulation E and NY GBL § 349. The plaintiffs’ liability theory was that defendant’s “contracts did not authorize charging overdraft fees when the ledger or actual balance was positive.”
Under the terms of the settlement, defendant is required to pay $2 million, for which 25 percent of the settlement fund will be allocated to class members’ Regulation E overdraft fees, 62.5 percent will go to class members’ GBL overdraft fees, and 12.5 percent will be allocated to class members’ breach of contract overdraft fees. Defendant is also required to pay $948,812 in attorney’s fees, plus costs, and $10,000 service awards to the two named plaintiffs. Additionally, the defendant has agreed to change its disclosures and will “forgive and release any claims it may have to collect any at-issue fees which were assessed by [defendant] but not collected and subsequently charged-off, totaling approximately $2,300,000.”
On January 10, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concerning the scope of accounts covered under EFTA and Regulation E. (See also CFPB blog post here.) As previously covered by InfoBytes, last August the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed a putative class action alleging violations of EFTA and state privacy and consumer protection laws brought against the national bank on behalf of consumers who were issued prepaid debit cards providing pandemic unemployment benefits. The named plaintiff alleged that he lost nearly $15,000 when an unauthorized user fraudulently used a prepaid debit card containing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funds that were intended for him. However, the district court dismissed the class claims with respect to EFTA and Regulation E, finding that the PUA payments were “qualified disaster relief payments” and, as such, they were excluded from Regulation E’s definition of a “prepaid account.”
The Bureau disagreed. In its amicus brief, it argued that a prepaid debit card loaded with PUA funds is a “government benefit account” subject to EFTA and Regulation E and their error resolution requirements, which apply to alleged unauthorized transfers such as the one at issue in the case. Writing that the district court erred by applying “a regulatory exclusion to hold that prepaid accounts loaded with pandemic unemployment benefits were excluded from coverage,” the Bureau claimed that the holding is not supported by statutory and regulatory text and “undermines the primary purpose of EFTA to provide individual rights to consumers.” According to the Bureau, a “prepaid account” under Regulation E includes specific categories of accounts, including a “government benefit account,” which is not subject to the prepaid account exclusions.
On December 22, the CFPB announced a consent order against an international remittance company for multiple alleged violations of the requirements governing electronic money transfers. According to the Bureau, the company allegedly failed to comply with many requirements of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, including failing to provide refunds to customers after the company made money transfer errors. The Bureau also alleged that the company violated the Remittance Rule by failing to develop and maintain required written policies and procedures for error resolution, and claimed the company violated Regulation E by failing to retain evidence demonstrating compliance with the Remittance Rule’s error-resolution requirements. Under the terms of the consent order, the company is required to provide consumer redress of approximately $30,000 to harmed customers and pay a $700,000 civil money penalty to the Bureau. The company is also required to update disclosure and key transfer information that is provided to customers, as well as its error-resolution policies and procedures.
District Court stays action against remittance provider while Supreme Court weighs CFPB’s funding structure
On December 9, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York stayed an action brought by the CFPB and the New York attorney general against a defendant remittance provider until after the U.S. Supreme Court decides if it will review whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution. Last month the DOJ, on behalf of the CFPB, submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking Supreme Court review of the 5th Circuit’s decision during its current term. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The New York AG and the Bureau sued the defendant in April for allegedly violating the EFTA and its implementing Regulation E, the Remittance Rule, and the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), among various consumer financial protection laws, in its handling of remittance transfers. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The defendant argued that the district court should hold off on deciding on its motion to dismiss per the aforementioned argument, but should nonetheless rule on its pending motion to transfer. The Bureau opposed the defendant’s request for a stay, countering “that a stay would not promote efficiency” since the issue of the Bureau’s standing would not affect the claims brought in the current action. The Bureau further asserted “that the public and the parties’ interest weighs against a stay, as it would hinder Plaintiffs’ enforcement of the consumer protection laws and make obtaining evidence down the line more difficult.”
The district court disagreed, stating that the Supreme Court may address the broader issue of the Bureau’s standing to bring enforcement actions in its decision, and that, regardless, the agency’s claims in the current action “are inextricably linked to CFPB rules and regulations, which themselves may be implicated by a Supreme Court decision should it grant the petition.” The district court stayed the case in its entirety and said that it will wait to decide on both motions until after the Supreme Court decides on the Bureau’s filed petition for a writ of certiorari.
On November 22, the CFPB denied a petition by a cryptocurrency lender to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau last December. According to the Bureau, the lender (which states on its website that it is licensed by various state regulators to engage in consumer lending and money transmitting) and its affiliates market a range of products, including interest-accruing accounts and lines of credit. The CID informed the lender that a company representative was required to provide oral testimony at an investigational hearing into whether the lender's conduct is subject to federal consumer financial law, whether the lender had violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act and Regulation E, and whether an enforcement action would be in the public interest.
The lender petitioned the Bureau in March to modify or set aside the CID, arguing, among other things, that the Bureau lacks authority to investigate its Earn Interest Product because the SEC had previously made clear in a different matter (covered by InfoBytes here) that interest-bearing crypto lending products like the lender’s Earn Interest Product are securities. Accordingly, the lender contended that the Earn Interest Product fell outside of the Bureau’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, the lender asserted that in light of the SEC’s action, it stopped offering its Earn Interest Product to new U.S. customers and “began working to implement other changes by which current users would no longer earn interest on new funds in their Earn Interest Product accounts.”
In rejecting the lender’s arguments, the Bureau said that lender “is trying to avoid answering any of the Bureau’s questions about the Earn Interest Product (on the theory that the product is a security subject to SEC oversight) while at the same time preserving the argument that the product is not a security subject to SEC oversight. This attempt to have it both ways dooms [the lender’s] petition from the start.” The Bureau also emphasized that unresolved facts related to the lender’s Earn Interest Product make it impossible to determine whether any of the challenged conduct is subject to an exclusion from the Bureau’s authority under the CFPA or an exemption to Regulation E. The Bureau further noted that courts have established that the recipient of a CID cannot challenge an agency investigation by contesting facts that the agency might find, at least in situations “where the investigation is not patently outside the agency’s authority.”
On August 11, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed a putative class action alleging violations of the EFTA and state privacy and consumer protection laws brought against a national bank on behalf of consumers who were issued prepaid debit cards providing pandemic unemployment benefits. The named plaintiff—a self-employed individual who did not qualify for state unemployment insurance but who was eligible to receive temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits—alleged that he lost nearly $15,000 when an unauthorized user fraudulently used a prepaid debit card containing PUA funds that were intended for him. The court dismissed the class claims with respect to the EFTA and Regulation E, finding that the Covid-19 pandemic was a “qualified disaster” under applicable law and regulations (i.e. PUA payments were “qualified disaster relief payments”), and that as such, the payments satisfied the CFPB’s official interpretation of Regulation E and were excluded from the definition of a “prepaid account.” The court further explained that while relevant CFPB regulations define an “account” to include a prepaid account, Regulation E excludes “any ‘account that is directly or indirectly established through a third party and loaded only with qualified disaster relief payments.’” Because the prepaid debit card in question was established through a third party and was loaded only with PUA funds, it did not meet the definition of a “prepaid account” and therefore fell outside the EFTA’s definition of a covered account. The court also disagreed with the plaintiff’s contention that PUA payments were authorized by Congress in the CARES Act due to the public health emergency rather than a disaster.
On July 20, six Senate Democrats sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra urging the Bureau to hold banks that own instant digital payment networks accountable for facilitating fraudulent payments. In the letter, the senators noted that “consumers are often on the hook because existing rules do not reflect new technological developments.” The Senators further noted that the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E protect consumers “if they are tricked into handing over account information to a fraudster who then initiates a transfer.” However, the letter further explained, that consumers are not protected “if they are tricked into opening an application to transfer funds directly to the fraudster.” The senators believe consumers should be protected in both instances. In particular, the Senators suggested that the CFPB could issue guidance providing that a “fraudulently induced” transfer counts as an “unauthorized” transaction under the EFTA, which could “end up shifting liability from consumers to financial institutions.” The letter suggested, among other things, that the Bureau expand the definition of what counts as a payment “error” under the EFTA, to “clarify that, in certain circumstances, a payment is an 'error' when a consumer is defrauded into initiating a transfer to a scammer.” The letter further argued that expanding financial institutions’ potential liability for covering their customers’ losses to fraud would create “powerful incentives” for them to prevent scams on their payment platforms. The letter concludes with the senators urging the Bureau “to similarly protect banks’ customers against transfers with ‘fraudulent intent’ involving other consumers on payment services that banks themselves own, operate, and control.”
On July 14, the CFPB announced a consent order against a national bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in unfair and abusive acts or practices with respect to unemployment insurance benefit recipients who filed notices of error concerning alleged unauthorized electronic fund transfers (EFTs). The CFPB alleged that the bank violated the CFPA by, among other things: (i) determining that “no error had occurred and [by] freezing cardholder accounts based solely on the results of [the bank’s] automated Fraud Filter”; (ii) “retroactively applying its automated Fraud Filter to reverse permanent credits for unemployment insurance benefit prepaid debit cardholders whose notices of error [the bank] had previously investigated and paid”; and (iii) “impeding unemployment insurance benefit prepaid debit cardholders’ efforts to file notices of error and seek liability protection from unauthorized EFTs.” The CFPB also claimed that the bank violated the EFTA and Regulation E by “fail[ing] to conduct reasonable investigations” of cardholders’ notices of error. Under the terms of the Bureau’s consent order, the bank is required to provide redress to harmed consumers, review and reform its unemployment insurance benefit prepaid debit card program, and pay a $100 million civil penalty to the Bureau.
The same day, the OCC announced a consent order and a $125 million civil money penalty against the bank for alleged unsafe or unsound practices related to the same prepaid card program. According to the OCC, the bank, among other things: (i) “fail[ed] to establish effective risk management” over its unemployment card program”; and (ii) “beginning in 2020, denied or delayed many consumers’ access to unemployment benefits when consumers filed or attempted to file [unemployment insurance benefits] unauthorized transaction claims.” The OCC’s civil money penalty and remediation requirement is in addition to the CFPB’s civil money penalty.
On May 20, a global payments provider, which was recently sued by the New York attorney general and the CFPB, filed a pre-motion letter hinting that it will challenge the constitutionality of the Bureau’s funding structure. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint claimed the “repeat offender” defendant allegedly violated numerous federal and state consumer financial protection laws in its handling of remittance transfers. Earlier in the month, the defendant called the allegations “false, inflammatory and misleading,” and took issue with the Bureau’s suggestion that it had “uncovered widespread and systemic issues involving ‘substantial’ consumer harm.” According to the defendant, “data from the CFPB’s own consumer complaint portal strongly suggest otherwise.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The defendant raised several arguments, including that the “CFPB’s funding structure also violates the Appropriations Clause, requiring dismissal”—a nod to a recent en banc decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here), in which several dissenting judges argued that the case should be dismissed because the agency’s funding structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers and “is doubly removed from congressional review.” The defendant’s pre-motion letter also argued that the Bureau’s complaint should be moved to the Northern District of Texas where the company is headquartered and where the Bureau’s examinations were conducted.
In response, the Bureau and New York AG filed their own letter responding to the defendant’s proposed grounds for dismissal, countering, among other things, that the case is “adequately pled,” the claims are timely, and that the Bureau’s funding structure is constitutional. Challenging the defendant’s contention that the Bureau’s statutory method of funding violates the Constitution’s appropriations clause, the letter stressed that the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit have held that this clause “simply requires that federal spending be authorized by statute,” adding that “[b]oth the Bureau’s receipt of funds and its use of those funds are so authorized.”