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On January 9, the CFPB announced that it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a mortgage lender, a mortgage brokerage, and several student loan debt relief companies (collectively, “the defendants”), for allegedly violating the FCRA, TSR, and FDCPA. In the complaint, the CFPB alleges that the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products. The Bureau asserts that the reports of more than 7 million student loan borrowers were actually resold or provided to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services.
According to the complaint, “using or obtaining prescreened lists to send solicitations marketing debt-relief services is not a permissible purpose under FCRA.” The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees before first “renegotiat[ing], settl[ing], reduc[ing], or otherwise alter[ing] the terms of at least one debt pursuant to a settlement agreement, debt-management plan, or other such valid contractual agreement executed by the customer,” and prior to “the customer ma[king] at least one payment pursuant to that settlement agreement, debt management plan, or other valid contractual agreement between the customer and the creditor or debt collector.” The CFPB further alleges that the defendants violated the TSR and the CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education.
The Bureau is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the defendants from committing future violations of the FCRA, TSR, and CFPA, as well as an award of damages and other monetary relief, civil money penalties, and “disgorgement of ill-gotten funds.”
On November 25, the CFPB announced a settlement with two companies that originated and serviced travel-related loans for military servicemembers and their families. According to the consent order with the lender and its principal, the lender (i) charged fees to customers who obtained financing, at a higher rate than those customers who paid in full, but failed to include the fee in the finance charge or APR; (ii) falsely quoted low monthly interest rates to customers over the phone; and (iii) failed to provide the required information about the terms of credit and the total of payments in violation of TILA and the TSR. The consent order prohibits future lending targeted to military consumers and requires the lender and its principal to pay a civil money penalty of $1. The order also imposes a suspended judgment of almost $3.5 million, based on an inability to pay.
In its consent order against the servicer, the Bureau asserts the servicer engaged in deceptive practices by overcharging servicemembers for debt-cancellation products and, in violation of the FCRA’s implementing Regulation V, never established or maintained written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy of information furnished to credit reporting agencies. The consent order issues injunctive relief and requires the servicer to (i) pay a $25,000 civil money penalty; (ii) provide redress to consumers who were allegedly overcharged for the debt-cancellation product; (iii) pay over $54,000 in restitution to borrowers with no outstanding balance on their loans and issue additional account credits to borrowers with outstanding balances; and (iv) establish reasonable policies and procedures for accurate reporting to consumer reporting agencies.
On November 15, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered a stipulated final judgment and order to resolve allegations concerning one of the defendants cited in a 2015 action taken against an allegedly illegal debt collection operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB claimed that several individuals and the companies they formed attempted to collect debt that consumers did not owe or that the collectors were not authorized to collect. The complaint further alleged uses of harassing and deceptive techniques in violation of the CFPA and FDCPA, and named certain payment processors used by the collectors to process payments from consumers. While the claims against the payment processors were dismissed in 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here), the allegations against the outstanding defendants remained open. The November 15 stipulated final judgment and order is issued against one of the defendants who—as an officer and sole owner of the debt collection company that allegedly engaged in the prohibited conduct—was found liable in March for violations of the FDCPA, as well as deceptive and unfair practices and substantial assistance under CFPA.
Among other things, the defendant, who neither admitted nor denied the allegations except as stated in the order, is (i) banned from engaging in debt collection activities; (ii) permanently restrained and enjoined from making misrepresentations or engaging in unfair practices concerning consumer financial products or services; and (iii) prohibited from engaging in business ventures with the other defendants; using, disclosing or benefitting from certain consumer information; or allowing third parties to use merchant processing accounts owned or controlled by the defendant to collect consumer payments. The stipulated order requires the defendant to pay a $1 civil money penalty and more than $5.2 million in redress, although full payment of the judgment is suspended upon satisfaction of specified obligations and the defendant’s limited ability to pay.
On November 6, the CFPB filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals of Maryland in a case challenging a private class action settlement against a structured settlement company, which purports to “release the Bureau’s claims in a pending federal action, to enjoin class members from receiving benefits from the Bureau’s lawsuit, and to assign any benefits the Bureau might obtain for class members to the class-action defendants.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland allowed a UDAAP claim brought by the CFPB to move forward against the same structured settlement company, where the Bureau alleged the company employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. A similar action was also brought by the Maryland attorney general against the company. In addition to the state and federal enforcement actions, the plaintiffs filed a private class action against the company, and a trial court approved a settlement. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the lower court’s approval of the settlement, concluding that it “interferes with the [state’s] and Bureau’s enforcement authority.” The company appealed.
In its brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Bureau argues that the Court of Special Appeals decision should be affirmed because the settlement provisions “threaten to interfere with the Bureau’s authority under the [Consumer Financial Protection Act] in two significant ways.” Specifically, the Bureau argues that the settlement (i) could interfere with the Bureau’s statutory mandate to remediate consumers harmed through the Civil Penalty Fund; and (ii) would interfere with the Bureau’s authority to use restitution to remediate consumer harm. The Bureau states that “the risk of windfalls to such wrongdoers could force the Bureau to decline to award Fund payments to victims,” and would “threaten to offend basic principles of equity.”
On October 31, the Michigan attorney general announced it filed a lawsuit against an online lender alleging the lender violated the CFPA and Michigan law by allegedly offering usurious loans in an “unfair, deceptive, and abusive manner” with interest rates between 388 percent and 1,505 percent. The complaint alleges that the online lender is using its affiliation with a federally recognized Indian tribe located in California to circumvent Michigan’s interest rate cap, but, “is not an arm of the tribe and therefore is not entitled to assert tribal sovereign immunity from suit.” Moreover, the complaint argues that because the lender offers loans to Michigan residents, it is operating outside of tribal boundaries and, therefore, is subject to any and all applicable state and federal laws. In addition to usurious interest rates, the complaint alleges the lender misrepresented contract terms, including various rates and fees, and refused to let consumers pay off loans early. The attorney general is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the lender from “providing usurious loans in Michigan in the future.” Notably, this is Michigan’s first-ever lawsuit alleging violations of the CFPA.
On October 30, the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against a student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the complaint filed October 21 and unsealed on October 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015 the defendants have violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the Bureau and the states claim the defendants engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments. The defendants also allegedly failed to inform borrowers that they automatically requested that the loans be placed in forbearance and submitted false information to student loan servicers to qualify borrowers for lower payments. The complaint seeks injunctive relief, as well as damages, restitution, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
On November 15, the court entered a preliminary injunction enjoining the alleged violations of law in the complaint, contining the asset freeze, and appointing a receiver against the defendants.
On October 3, the New York attorney general announced an action filed against a national student loan servicer for allegedly failing to properly administer the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and mishandling income driven repayment (IDR) plans. In the complaint, the attorney general asserts that, in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and New York law, the servicer, among other things, (i) failed to accurately count borrower’s PSLF-qualifying payments; (ii) failed to provide timely explanations to borrowers for PSLF payment count determinations; (iii) failed to process IDR repayment plan paperwork accurately and timely; and (iv) lacked clear policies and procedures for addressing errors, resulting in inconsistent treatment of borrowers. As a result of the servicer’s alleged actions, the attorney general argues that borrowers’ loan balances increased, time was extended on repayment plans, and improper denials of PSLF were issued. The attorney general is seeking injunctive relief, restitution, and civil money penalties.
On October 1, the CFPB and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina against two companies and their owner, alleging that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and the South Carolina Consumer Protection Code (SCCPC) by offering high-interest loans to veterans and other consumers in exchange for the assignment of some of the consumers’ monthly pension or disability payments. The complaint alleges that the majority of the credit offers are brokered for veterans with disability pensions or retirement pensions. The defendants allegedly did not disclose to consumers the interest rates associated with the products, marketing the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. The defendants also allegedly did not disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits. The Bureau and South Carolina are seeking injunctive relief, restitution, damages, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
The Bureau’s announcement notes that this is the third action in 2019 related to the marketing or administration of high-interest credit to veterans. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January 2019, the Bureau settled with an online loan broker resolving allegations that the broker violated the CFPA by operating a website that connected veterans with companies offering high-interest loans in exchange for the assignment of some or all of their military pension payments. Additionally, in August 2019, the Bureau and the Arkansas attorney general announced a proposed settlement with three loan brokerage companies, along with their owner and operator, for allegedly misrepresenting high-interest credit offers to veterans and other consumers as purchases of future pension or disability payments (covered by Infobytes here).
On September 25, the CFPB filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland against a debt collection entity, its subsidiaries, and their owner (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). In the complaint, the Bureau alleges that the defendants violated the FCRA and its implementing Regulation V by, among other things, failing to (i) establish or implement reasonable written policies and procedures to ensure accurate reporting to consumer-reporting agencies; (ii) incorporate appropriate guidelines for the handling of indirect disputes in its policies and procedures; (iii) conduct reasonable investigations and review relevant information when handling indirect disputes; and (iv) furnishing information about accounts after receiving identity theft reports about such accounts without conducting an investigation into the accuracy of the information. The Bureau separately alleges that the violations of the FCRA and Regulation V constitute violations of the CFPA. Additionally, the Bureau alleges that the defendants violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect on debts without a reasonable basis to believe that consumers owed those debts. The Bureau is seeking an injunction, damages, redress to consumers, disgorgement, the imposition of a civil money penalty, and costs.
On September 18, the CFPB issued letters in pending litigation to inform the courts that it was changing its position regarding the constitutionality of the for-cause removal provision of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. The brief was filed in response to a petition for a writ of certiorari by a law firm contesting the May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that, among other things, the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional. The brief noted that, since the appellate opinion was issued, “the Director has reconsidered that position and now agrees that the removal restriction is unconstitutional.” The Bureau has now issued letters (available here and here) to the 9th Circuit in two cases noting that the Bureau will no longer defend the constitutionality of the for-cause removal restriction. The Bureau also submitted a similar letter with the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. In each letter, the Bureau argues that, while it now believes the for-cause removal provision is unconstitutional, this does not change its position with regard to the judgments made in any of the cases, noting that the provision should be severed from the rest of the CFPA.
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