Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • CFPB warns lead generators, digital comparison-shopping tool operators of potential CFPA violations

    Federal Issues

    On February 29, the CFPB issued a circular to law enforcement agencies and regulators explaining how operators of digital comparison-shopping tools or lead generators can potentially violate the CFPA’s prohibition on abusive acts or practices by steering consumers towards options that best serve the operator or the lead generator. The circular further discussed “how law enforcement agencies and regulators can evaluate operators of comparison-shopping tools… to manipulate results” to appease consumer preferences.

    The Bureau explained that while consumers often use these tools to research, compare, and select financial products, some intermediaries also functioned as lead generators that sold consumer information to lenders. These intermediaries may have received compensation, the CFPB said, often termed as “bounties,” from financial providers for preferential treatment or lead generation. The circular recognized that operators of these tools may have engaged in commercial arrangements with financial providers and may have received compensation based on user actions or bids.

    The CFPB stated that both digital comparison-shopping tool operators and lead generators can qualify as “covered persons” under CFPA section 1031(d)(2)(C) which prohibits them from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, particularly those that “take unreasonable advantage” of consumers so they may act in the “covered person’s” best interests. The circular outlined elements of CFPA Section 1031(d)(2)(C) and applied the elements including reasonable reliance by consumers on covered entities to act in their interests, to an evaluation of the operator or lead generator activities. Notably, the circular warned that reasonable consumer reliance could be created based on the representations of the tool operator or lead generator, as well as implicit or explicit communications. Further, the Bureau added that steering consumers towards certain products or providers for the financial benefit of the operator or lead generator, rather than consumer interest, constituted unreasonable advantage-taking.

    Finally, the circular included a non-exhaustive list of examples of preferencing or steering arrangements and advised law enforcement agencies and regulators to scrutinize bounty or bidding schemes and decision-making processes to identify abusive conduct.

     

    Federal Issues CFPB Lead Generation CFPA Enforcement Consumer Protection Abusive Deceptive Unfair

  • Feds, states launch “Operation Stop Scam Calls”

    Federal Issues

    On July 18, the FTC, along with over 100 federal and state law enforcement partners nationwide, including the DOJ, FCC, and attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, announced a new initiative to combat illegal telemarketing calls, including robocalls. The joint initiative, “Operation Stop Scam Calls,” targets telemarketers and the companies that hire them, lead generators that provide consumers’ telephone numbers to robocallers and others who falsely represent that consumers consented to receive the calls. The initiative also targets Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers that facilitate illegal robocalls, many of which originate overseas.

    In connection with Operation Stop Scam Calls, the FTC has initiated five new cases against companies and individuals allegedly responsible for distributing or assisting in the distribution of illegal telemarketing calls to consumers across the country. According to the announcement, the actions reiterate the FTC’s position “that third-party lead generation for robocalls is illegal under the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and that the FTC and its partners are committed to stopping illegal calls by targeting anyone in the telemarketing ecosystem that assists and facilitates these calls, including VoIP service providers.” The announcement also states that more than 180 enforcement actions and other initiatives have been taken by 48 federal and 54 state agencies as part of Operation Stop Scam Calls.

    Among the new actions announced a part of Operation Stop Scam Calls is a complaint filed against a “consent farm” lead generator, which allegedly uses “dark patterns” to collect consumers’ broad agreement to provide their personal information and receive robocalls and other marketing solicitations through a single click of a button or checkbox via its websites. Under the terms of the proposed order, the defendant would be required to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and would be banned from engaging in, assisting, or facilitating robocalls. The defendant would also be required to implement measures to limit its lead generation practices, establish systems for monitoring its own advertising and that of its affiliates, comply with comprehensive disclosure requirements concerning the collection of consumers’ consent to the sale of their information, and delete all previously collected consumer information.

    Other actions were taken against a California-based telemarketing lead generator, a telemarketing company that provides soundboard calling services to clients who use robocalls to sell a range of products and services, a New Jersey-based telemarketing outfit that placed tens of millions of calls to consumers whose numbers are listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, and Florida-based defendants accused of assisting and facilitating the transmission of roughly 37.8 million illegal robocalls by providing VoIP services to over 11 foreign telemarketers.

    Federal Issues State Issues Courts FTC Enforcement Robocalls Consumer Protection State Attorney General TSR Telemarketing Lead Generation DOJ FCC

  • Pennsylvania sues lead generator for facilitating telemarketers’ robocalls

    State Issues

    On November 3, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced a lawsuit against a New York-based lead generation company that connects advertisers to potential new customers through the consumers’ personal data for allegedly causing hundreds of thousands of robocalls to be placed to consumers in the Commonwealth. The defendant, along with several of its subsidiaries, allegedly collected personal information, including phone numbers and personal information of consumers on Pennsylvania’s Do Not Call List, that was then sold to telemarketing companies. According to the complaint, the defendants allegedly engaged in deceptive and misleading business practices in connection with their lead-generation practices, by obtaining consumers’ information through various promotional opportunities without clearly disclosing that by providing their contact information, consumers were consenting to receiving telemarketing calls from hundreds of potential sellers. The complaint alleges that from 2018 to 2021, over 4.2 million Pennsylvania consumers registered their information on one of the defendants’ websites. “Under the [Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR)], a consumer’s express agreement to accept calls delivering a prerecorded message may not be obtained by a lead generator, who is not a seller or a telemarketer. The express agreement must be obtained directly by the seller or telemarketer from the consumer,” the complaint said. Moreover, even if the defendants were not directly making the telemarketing calls themselves, assisting and facilitating the calls is itself a violation of the rules, the complaint noted.

    The defendants are charged with violating several federal and state telemarketing laws, including the TSR, and Pennsylvania’s Telemarketer Registration Act (TRA) and Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The AG’s office seeks a declaration permanently enjoining the defendants from violating the telemarketing and consumer protection laws, along with civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and $3,000 per violation involving a victim age 60 or older. The suit also seeks disgorgement, costs, and a permanent bar on selling consumer data collected in violation of the TSR and TRA.

    State Issues State Attorney General Pennsylvania Telemarketing Robocalls Lead Generation Do Not Call Registry Telemarketing Sales Rule Enforcement

  • FTC charges healthcare company with fraud

    Federal Issues

    On August 8, the FTC announced it has taken action against a healthcare company, two subsidiaries, and the former CEO and former vice president of sales (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly misleading consumers about their health insurance plans and using deceptive lead generation websites. According to the complaint, the defendants, along with their third-party partners, allegedly engaged in deceptive sales practices in violation of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act (ROSCA). These practices included allegedly (i) lying to consumers about the nature of their healthcare plans; (ii) bundling and charging junk fees for unwanted products that were typically not clearly disclosed (consumers were often charged for these additional products after they cancelled their core healthcare plans); and (iii) making it difficult for consumers to cancel their plans. The FTC further alleged that the company (which sells association memberships and other healthcare-related products to consumers, often through telemarketing companies and lead generators), as well as the former CEO and former vice president of sales, were aware of the agents’ misconduct but allegedly “took steps to disguise and further the deception” instead of stopping the deceptive practices.

    The FTC stated that the company and two of its subsidiaries have agreed to a proposed court order, which requires the payment of $100 million in consumer redress. The proposed order also requires the company to contact current customers and allow them to cancel their enrollment. The company is also required to send refunds to consumers who cancel right after their order is entered. Additionally, the proposed order prohibits the company from misleading consumers about their products, requires the disclosure of total costs and limitations prior to purchase, and requires consumers to provide express informed consent before they are billed. The company must also provide a simple and easy-to-use cancellation method and closely monitor other companies that sell its products.

    The FTC also filed separate proposed court orders against the individual defendants (see here and here), which impose similar prohibitions and permanently bans them from playing any role in the sale or marketing of any healthcare-related product or service. The proposed orders also prohibit the former CEO from engaging in deceptive or abusive telemarketing practices, and bans the former vice president of sales from participating in any telemarketing whatsoever in the future.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Junk Fees Lead Generation Consumer Finance UDAP Deceptive Courts FTC Act TSR ROSCA

  • FTC alleges company misrepresented the quality, source of leads

    Federal Issues

    On March 11, the FTC issued an administrative complaint against a Colorado-based digital marketplace company (defendant) alleging it used deceptive and misleading practices in selling home improvement project leads to service providers. The complaint alleges that since 2014 the defendant has made false, misleading, or unsubstantiated claims regarding the quality and source of the leads it sells to service providers, such as general contractors and small lawn care businesses. The complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendant told service providers that its leads resulted in actual home improvement jobs at rates higher than its own data supported, and that the defendant misled service providers about the cost of an optional one-month subscription to a software platform that it sold with its leads and the cost of the optional one-month help desk subscription. The defendant’s actions allegedly resulted in service providers, many of whom operate in the gig economy, spending time following leads below the promised quality and seeking refunds for those leads. The FTC’s Director of Bureau of Consumer Protection stated, “Today’s administrative complaint against [the defendant] shows that the FTC will use every tool in its toolbox to combat dishonest commercial practices.”

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Lead Generation

  • FCC proposes record $45 million fine against robocaller

    Federal Issues

    On February 18, the FCC released a proposed $45 million fine against a lead generator accused of conducting an illegal robocall campaign that made false claims about the Covid-19 pandemic to induce consumers into purchasing health insurance. This is the FCC’s largest ever proposed robocall fine to date. According to the FCC, the lead generator violated the TCPA by placing 514,467 robocalls to cellphones and landlines without subscribers’ prior express consent or an emergency purpose. The Florida-based lead generator allegedly purchased lists of phone numbers from third-party vendors and acquired phone numbers from consumers seeking health insurance quotes online, “without clearly disclosing that, by providing contact information, the consumers would be subject to robocalls.” It then left prerecorded voice messages marketing insurance plans sold by companies that had hired the lead generator. Many of these robocalls, the FTC claimed, were also unlawfully made to consumers on the Do Not Call Registry. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued a statement announcing that, in addition to the record fine, the Commission also established a new partnership with 16 state attorneys general in order to share information and resources to mitigate robocalls.

    Federal Issues FCC Enforcement Robocalls TCPA Lead Generation State Attorney General State Issues

  • DFPI reports significant decline in payday lending during pandemic

    State Issues

    On July 22, DFPI reported that California payday lenders made fewer than 6.1 million loans during the Covid-19 pandemic—a 40 percent decline from 2019. Key findings in the 2020 Annual Report of Payday Lending Activity Under the California Deferred Deposit Transaction Law, include: (i) nearly 61.8 percent of licensees reported serving consumers who received government assistance; (ii) borrowers who take out subsequent loans accounted for 69 percent of payday loans in 2020; (iii) licensees collected $250.8 million in payday loan fees, of which 68 percent came from borrowers who made at least seven transactions during the year; (iii) 49 percent of borrowers had average annual incomes of $30,000 or less, and 30 percent had average annual incomes of $20,000 or less; (iv) online payday loans made up one-third of all payday loans (41 percent of borrowers took out payday loans over the internet); and (v) cash disbursement continued to decrease in 2020, while other forms of disbursement, such as wire transfers, bank cards, and debit cards increased. DFPI also noted that during this time period the number of payday loan borrowers referred by lead generators declined by 69 percent, and that the number of licensed payday lending locations also dropped by 27.7 percent. DFPI acting Commissioner Christopher S. Shultz commented that the decrease in payday loans during the pandemic may be attributable to several factors, “such as stimulus checks, loan forbearances, and growth in alternative financing options,” adding that DFPI continues to closely monitor financial products marketed to consumer in desperate financial need.

    State Issues State Regulators DFPI Payday Lending Covid-19 Lead Generation

  • CFPB takes action against student debt-relief operation

    Federal Issues

    On July 13, the CFPB filed a complaint in federal district court against a nationwide student loan debt-relief business—consisting of two companies, their owners, and four attorneys—for allegedly charging thousands of customers approximately $11.8 million in upfront fees in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the companies would market its debt-relief services to customers over the phone, encouraging those with private loans to sign up with an attorney to reduce or eliminate their student debt. The attorney agreement typically provided for “a fee, typically 40 [percent] of the outstanding debt, to be paid by monthly installments, along with a processing fee that costs an additional $10 per month.” The business allegedly charged the fees before the consumer had made at least one payment on the altered debts, in violation of the TSR’s prohibition on requesting or receiving advance fees for debt-relief service or, for certain defendants, the TSR’s prohibition on providing substantial assistance to someone charging the illegal fees.

    On August 17, the court approved stipulated final judgments with four of the defendants (one company owner and three of the attorneys, here, here, and here). The company owner is permanently banned from providing debt-relief services or engaging in telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service, and is required to pay $25,000 in partial satisfaction of a suspended $11.8 million in redress. Similarly, the three attorneys are each banned from providing debt-relief services and required to pay $5,000, $21,567, and $30,000 each in partial satisfaction of various redress amounts. Additionally, the judgments impose a civil money penalty of $1 against each defendant.

    Federal Issues CFPB Debt Relief Lead Generation Enforcement Courts Student Lending Consumer Finance TSR

  • FTC settles deceptive ranking charges with lead generator

    Federal Issues

    On February 3, the FTC announced a settlement with operators of a lead generator website (respondents) that compares and ranks consumer financial products such as student loans, personal loans, and credit cards. According to the FTC’s complaint, the respondents violated the FTC Act by allegedly making false representations to consumers that their rankings were objective, honest, accurate, and unbiased, when in fact, the defendants allegedly offered higher rankings to companies that paid for placement. In addition, the complaint alleges that certain highly ranked companies dropped placement spots after refusing to pay for their positions. The complaint further contends that the respondents allegedly claimed that customer reviews were impartial, but in reality most reviews were written by company employees or their family friends, or others associated with the company, or by fabricated consumers. Without admitting or denying the allegations, the respondents have agreed to pay $350,000 under the terms of the proposed settlement, and are prohibited from making future misrepresentations connected with the “advertising, promotion, offering for sale, or sale of any product or service.”

    Federal Issues FTC Lead Generation UDAP Deceptive Enforcement FTC Act

  • FTC settles with lead generator

    Federal Issues

    On August 27, the FTC announced a settlement with an Illinois-based educational services company and its subsidiaries (defendants) to resolve deceptive marketing allegations in violation of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. In the complaint, the FTC claimed the defendants used third-party lead generators that posed as military recruiters or job-finding services to encourage consumers to provide contact information via websites. The websites did not clearly inform the consumers that the personal information entered into online forms might be sold or used in training or educational programs. Rather, the FTC asserted that the lead generators falsely informed consumers that their information would not be shared. According to the FTC, the defendants then purchased these leads to call consumers in an attempt to enroll them in post-secondary schools, with many of these calls made to consumers on the National Do Not Call Registry. While the defendants did not carry out the deceptive practices to generate the leads, the FTC stated that the defendants established control over the marketing materials and reviewed telemarketing scripts that allegedly directed lead generators to falsely identify themselves as military recruiters. The FTC’s press release emphasized that “[t]his case demonstrates that the FTC will seek to hold advertisers liable for the deceptive or illegal practices of their affiliates, publishers, or other lead generators. We expect companies purchasing leads to implement strong vendor management programs and stay on the right side of the law.” Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are: (i) ordered to pay $30 million; (ii) required to implement a system to review any marketing materials used by lead generators; (iii), prohibited from calling numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry without obtaining written consent; and (iv) banned from falsely stating that they represent the military or prospective employers.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Lead Generation UDAP FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

Pages

Upcoming Events