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  • District Court denies certification and defendants’ motion for summary judgment in FDCPA class action

    Courts

    On January 26, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied a plaintiff’s motion for class certification and denied motions for summary judgment from defendants in an FDCPA case stemming from a consent order between one of the defendants and the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2017, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware against a collection of 15 Delaware statutory trusts and their debt collector for, among other things, allegedly filing lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that they could not prove was owed or that was outside the applicable statute of limitations. According to the consent judgment, the trusts were required to pay at least $3.5 million in restitution to more than 2,000 consumers who made payments resulting from the improper collection suits, to pay $7.8 million in disgorgement to the Treasury Department, and to pay an additional $7.8 million civil money penalty to the CFPB. In addition, the trusts were required to: (i) hire an independent auditor, subject to the Bureau’s approval, to audit all 800,000 student loans in the portfolio to determine if collection efforts must be stopped on additional accounts; (ii) cease collection attempts on loans that lack proper documentation or that are time-barred; and (iii) ensure false or misleading documents are not filed and that documents requiring notarization are handled properly. A separate consent order issued against the debt collector orders the company to pay a $2.5 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

    According to the district court’s order, the plaintiffs, who were sued by the defendants for failing to pay their student loans, alleged that the defendants filed fraudulent, deceptive, and misleading affidavits in order to obtain default judgments. The plaintiffs sought to include a class of those residing in Washington for which the defendants sought to collect a debt allegedly owned by one of the trusts. The district court, however, was “unconvinced” that any of the questions would generate common answers on a class-wide basis. For example, the question of whether the defendants’ employees filed false or misleading affidavits “cannot be resolved in one stroke,” the district court said, because the plaintiffs “cannot show by a preponderance of the evidence that the documents Defendants used in every debt collection action suffered from the same alleged deficiencies.” With respect to the defendants’ summary judgment motion, the district court determined there were genuine issues of material fact regarding the alleged violations of the FDCPA and state law in Washington. The district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting noted that “[a]ttempts to collect debts with false affidavits and without the necessary documentation to prove the claims is unfair or unconscionable and involves false, deceptive, and/or misleading representations in violation of the FDCPA.”

    Courts Class Action FDCPA CFPB CFPA

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  • District Court issues judgment against debt-collection law firm

    Federal Issues

    On January 11, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a proposed stipulated final judgment and order against a defendant New York debt-collection law firm. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau’s complaint alleged that between 2014 and 2016 the defendant initiated over 99,000 collection lawsuits in an attempt to collect debts by relying on “non-attorney support staff, automation, and both a cursory and deficient review of account files,” in violation of both the FDCPA and the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The Bureau alleged the lawsuits contained names and signatures of attorneys despite those attorneys “not being meaningfully involved in reviewing the merits of the lawsuits,” including not reviewing pertinent documentation related to the debts, such as account applications, billing statements, payment histories, and the terms and conditions governing an account. Moreover, the defendant allegedly did not perform reviews of the contracts related to debt sales, despite filing lawsuits on behalf of debt buyers that have been accused of unlawful debt collection practices.

    In order to continue with debt-collection litigation, for each collection suit, the settlement requires the defendant to possess documents with specific information about the debt, including the name of the original creditor, evidence that the consumer authorized the debt, the chain of assignment supporting any sale of the debt, and a break-down of how the debt amount was calculated. The defendant must also certify that the attorney whose name appears on the complaint reviewed the supporting documentation and ensure the complaint is consistent with that documentation. Any pending lawsuit in which the defendant does not certify its compliance with the specific information and meaningful attorney review requirements must be voluntarily dismissed. The also order requires the defendant to pay a $100,000 penalty to the Bureau.

    Federal Issues Courts CFPB Enforcement Debt Collection CFPA FDCPA Consumer Finance

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  • 9th Circuit affirms decision in FCRA, CFPA, and TSR suit

    Courts

    In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling holding an individual liable for violations of the FCRA, the TSR, and the CFPA after the defendant, who allegedly “played a central role” in the scheme — and other defendants — were sued by the CFPB for allegedly obtaining individuals’ credit reports illegally and charging advance fees for debt relief services. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 claiming 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. However, the Bureau alleged that the defendants instead resold or provided the reports to numerous companies, including companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services and violated both the TSR and CFPA by placing telemarketing sales calls and sending direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, while falsely representing that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and allow borrowers to change their servicer to the Department of Education. Settlements have already been reached with certain defendants (covered by InfoBytes herehere, and here). In August 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment against the individual defendant after determining that undisputed evidence showed that the individual defendant, among other things, “obtained and later used prescreened lists from [a consumer reporting agency] without a permissible purpose” in order to send direct mail solicitations from the businesses that he controlled to consumers on the lists as opposed to firm offers of credit or insurance. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    In September 2021, the district court entered judgment in favor of the Bureau against the individual defendant. While the individual defendant objected to the judgment, the district court ultimately determined that the Bureau is entitled to a judgment for monetary relief of over $19 million as redress for fees paid by affected consumers. This restitution is owed jointly and severally with the student loan debt relief company defendants in the amounts imposed in default judgments entered against each of them (covered by InfoBytes here). 

    On the appeal, the 9th Circuit cited “undisputed” evidence demonstrating how the individual defendant “violated” the FCRA, TSR, and CFPA. According to the appellate court, the defendant “is individually liable for corporate violations of the CFPA.” The appellate court further noted that the individual defendant “‘participated directly’ in these deceptive practices and ‘had the authority to control them,’” had a “central role” in these practices,” was “‘recklessly indifferent to the truth or falsity of the misrepresentations,’ and did not attempt to verify the truthfulness of statements” regarding the companies he controlled.

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit CFPB Consumer Finance CFPA TSR FCRA Enforcement

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  • CFPB and New York say auto lender misled consumers

    Federal Issues

    On January 4, the CFPB and New York attorney general filed a complaint against a Michigan-based auto finance company accused of allegedly misrepresenting the cost of credit and deceiving low-income consumers into taking out high-interest loans on used vehicles. (See also AG’s press release here.) The joint complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendant based the price of a loan (and then artificially inflated the principal amount) and the payment to the dealer on the projected amount that may be collected from the consumer during the life of the loan (without factoring in whether consumers could actually afford the loan).

    The Bureau and AG further argued that the true cost of credit is hidden in inflated principal balances in order to evade state interest rate caps. An investigation conducted by the AG found that while the defendant’s loan agreements in New York claimed an APR of 22.99 percent or 23.99 percent (just below the 25 percent usury cap), the defendant actually charged on average more than 38 percent (and on many occasions charged an APR in excess of 100 percent). These high-interest loans, the AG claimed, often caused consumers to accrue additional fees and become delinquent on their loans.

    The complaint also alleged the defendant failed to consider consumers’ ability to repay their loans in full, engaged in aggressive debt collection tactics, and created financial incentives for dealers to add on extra products, such as vehicle service contracts. Add-on products generated roughly $250 million in revenue for the defendant in 2020, the complaint said, adding that these alleged deceptive lending practices lowered consumers’ credit scores and cost borrowers millions of dollars. The complaint further maintained that the defendant packaged the consumer loans into securities that were sold to investors on the premise that the underlying loans complied with applicable law. These alleged false representations, the complaint said, constituted securities fraud under New York’s Martin Act.

    The complaint — which also alleges violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition against deceptive and abusive acts or practices, New York usury limits, and other state consumer and investor protection laws — seeks, among other things, injunctive relief, monetary relief, disgorgement, and civil money penalties of $1,000,000 for each day of violations.

    The defendant was previously targeted for violating consumer protection laws in 2021 by the Massachusetts attorney general, who announced a $27.2 million settlement to resolve allegations of predatory lending and deceptive debt collection practices. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    Federal Issues State Issues CFPB New York State Attorney General Enforcement Auto Finance Consumer Finance Deceptive Abusive CFPA UDAAP

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  • CFPB fines bank over auto loan, mortgage, and deposit account allegations

    Federal Issues

    On December 20, the CFPB announced a consent order against a national bank for allegedly mismanaging auto loans, mortgages, and deposit accounts. According to the Bureau, the bank allegedly engaged in deceptive or unfair acts or practices in violation of the CFPA by, among other things: (i) incorrectly processing auto-loan payments; (ii) assessing borrowers erroneous fees and interest due to technology, audit, and compliance failures; (iii) incorrectly denying mortgage loan modification applications; (iv) failing to ensure that unearned Guaranteed Asset Protection fees were refunded to borrowers who paid off their loans; (v) incorrectly denying mortgage loan modification applications and miscalculated fees; and (vi) charging “surprise” overdraft fees on debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals because, according to the Bureau, consumers “believed that if they had enough money to cover the relevant transaction when it was authorized they would not incur an [o]verdraft fee.”

    Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to pay redress totaling more than $2 billion to allegedly harmed customers. Specifically, the bank is ordered to pay approximately: (i) $1.3 billion in consumer redress for affected auto lending accounts; (ii) $500 million in consumer redress for affected deposit accounts, including $205 million for illegal surprise overdraft fees; and (iii) nearly $200 million in consumer redress for affected mortgage servicing accounts. Among other things, the bank is prohibited from charging overdraft fees for deposit accounts when the consumer had available funds at the time of a purchase or other debit transaction, but then subsequently had a negative balance once the transaction settled. The bank is also ordered to pay a $1.7 billion civil penalty to the Bureau. CFPB Director Rohit Chopra released a statement following the announcement saying the order does not provide immunity for any individuals nor does it release claims for any ongoing illegal acts or practices.

    The bank issued a press release stating that “[c]urrent leadership has made significant progress to transform the bank,” and noting that “the CFPB recognized that since 2020, the company has accelerated corrective actions and remediation, including to address the matters covered by today’s settlement.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement CFPA GAP Fees Auto Finance Mortgages Overdraft Consumer Finance Deposits

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  • CFPB to issue $95 million in redress to victims of student loan debt relief operation

    Federal Issues

    On December 13, the CFPB announced that it will distribute more than $95 million in redress to over 87,000 consumers harmed by a student loan debt relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the defendants for allegedly deceiving thousands of student loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the complaint filed October 21, 2019, and unsealed on October 29, 2019 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 CFPA, the TSR, 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. The CFPB also claimed that the defendants automatically put loans in forbearance and submitted false information to loan servicers to qualify customers for lower monthly payments.

    Federal Issues State Issues State Attorney General CFPB Consumer Redress Consumer Finance Enforcement Student Lending CFPA TSR Minnesota North Carolina

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  • District Court stays action against remittance provider while Supreme Court weighs CFPB’s funding structure

    Courts

    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.

    Courts State Issues CFPB Enforcement New York State Attorney General Consumer Finance CFPA Remittance Rule Regulation E EFTA U.S. Supreme Court Repeat Offender Appellate Fifth Circuit Constitution

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  • CFPB proposes registry of nonbank repeat offenders

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On December 12, the CFPB announced a proposed rule seeking to identify repeat financial law offenders by establishing a database of enforcement actions taken against certain nonbank covered entities. Specifically, the Bureau proposes to enhance market monitoring and risk-based supervision efforts by including all final public written orders and judgments (including any consent and stipulated orders and judgments) obtained or issued by any federal, state, or local government agency for violation of certain consumer protection laws related to unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in the database. Additionally, pursuant to Section 1024(b)(7) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Bureau is also proposing that larger supervised nonbanks be required to submit annual written statements regarding compliance with each underlying order that is signed by an attesting executive with “knowledge of the entity’s relevant systems and procedures for achieving compliance and control over the entity’s compliance efforts.” Excluded from the registry will be insured depository institutions and credit unions, related persons, states, natural persons, and certain other entities.

    Explaining that protecting American consumers is a shared effort spanning local, state, and federal authorities, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra stated that currently “readily accessible information is lacking about the identity of orders issued against nonbanks subject either to the CFPB’s market monitoring authority or to its supervisory authority across the various markets for consumer financial products and services.” The creation of a central repository of enforcement actions around the country for use in tracking and mitigating risks posed by repeat offenders and monitoring entities subject to agency and court orders will help the Bureau, the law enforcement community, and the public “limit the harms from repeat offenders,” the Bureau said in its announcement. The Bureau noted that it plans to share the database with other regulators and law enforcement agencies by making the registry public.

    Comments on the proposal are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The Bureau said the proposed registry would launch “no earlier than January 2024.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Repeat Offender Nonbank Enforcement CFPA UDAAP State Issues

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  • CFPB denies crypto lender’s petition to set aside CID

    Federal Issues

    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.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement CID Digital Assets Cryptocurrency CFPA Regulation E

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  • District Court issues judgment against company for marketing fake high-yield CDs

    Federal Issues

    On December 9, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a final stipulated final judgment and order against a Delaware financial-services company operating in Florida and New York along with its owner (collectively, “defendants”) for engaging in deceptive acts under the Consumer Financial Protection Act related to its misleading marketing representations when advertising high-yield healthcare savings CD accounts. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau’s 2020 complaint alleged that defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices by: (i) falsely representing that consumers’ deposits into the high yield CD accounts would be used to originate loans for healthcare professionals, when in fact, the company never used the deposits to originate loans for healthcare professionals, never sold a loan to a bank or secondary-market investor, and never entered into a contract with a buyer or investor to purchase a loan; (ii) concealing the company’s true business model by falsely representing that the consumers’ deposits, when not being used to originate healthcare loans, would be held in an FDIC- or Lloyd’s of London-insured account or a “cash alternative” or “cash equivalent” account, when in reality, consumers’ deposits were, among other things, invested in securities; (iii) misleading consumers into believing that the accounts their funds were being deposited into functioned like traditional savings accounts when in fact, consumers’ deposits were actively traded in the stock market or used in securities-backed investments; and (iv) falsely representing that past high yield CD accounts allegedly paid interest at rates between 5 percent and 6.25 percent prior to 2019 when in fact, the company did not offer CDs until August 2019, and “consumers’ principals was neither guaranteed nor insured.” The complaint noted that since August 2019, the company took more than $15 million from at least 400 consumers.

    The settlement provides for a comprehensive consumer redress plan that would require defendants to refund approximately $19 million to approximately 400 depositors. Further, pursuant to the order, the defendants are required to return the money that each affected consumer deposited into a certain account in a manner consistent with the advertised terms of the product, namely, the principal along with an average per year interest rate of about 6 percent. The proposed order also permanently bans the defendants from engaging or assisting others in any deposit taking activities and requires defendants to pay a civil money penalty to the Bureau in the amount of $391,530.

    Federal Issues Courts CFPB CFPA UDAAP Deceptive Enforcement Consumer Finance

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