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Louisiana Commissioner of Financial Institutions advises non-depository institutions on temporary closures
On March 18, Louisiana’s Commissioner of Financial Institutions released emergency advisories for non-depository institutions, specifically repossession agents and bond for deed escrow agents, check cashers, pawnbrokers, licensed consumer lenders/brokers, and residential mortgage lenders. The advisories authorized the temporary closure or relocations of licensed locations and waived the standard 30-day notice requirement for such closures. Licensees should notify the Office of Financial Institutions as soon as possible regarding any temporary closures or relocations and may submit requests for waiver of the standard change of location fee by email. Unless otherwise instructed, temporary location changes should not be submitted through NMLS. In addition, the advisory for residential mortgage lenders confirms that licensed MLOs may work from their homes.
On March 19, the Kentucky governor signed S.B. 145, which establishes separate licenses for check cashing and deferred deposit service businesses. In addition, S.B. 145 creates a new section that allows the Department of Financial Institutions commissioner to (i) require license applications and certain other regulatory filings to also be filed with the State Regulatory Registry (Registry); (ii) report violations, enforcement actions, and other relevant information to the Registry; and (iii) access the Registry as “an agent for requesting information from and distributing information to the [DOJ] or other governmental agencies.” The act takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the legislature.
On October 24, the Pennsylvania governor signed HB 2453, which amends the state’s Check Casher Licensing Act to make several changes in the licensing process for check-cashing entities. Specifically, the amendments (i) allow for check-cashing licenses to be issued for up to 14 months; (ii) require a licensee to demonstrate that it is conducting business in accordance with the law for annual renewal; and (iii) allow for the suspension or revocation of licenses for certain activities, including material misstatements in the application and engaging in dishonest, fraudulent, or illegal practices or conduct in connection with the check casher business. The amendments also, among other things, clarify that a licensee may not cash or advance any money on post-dated personal checks, but allow for the cashing of post-dated government checks if the check is dated no more than five days after it is presented to the licensee and the fee does not exceed the maximum permitted under the Act. Additionally, the amendments authorize fines of up to $10,000 for violations of the act. The amendments are effective on December 23, 2018.
On October 24, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Tennessee-based small dollar lender, resolving allegations that the lender violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). Specifically, as stated in the consent order, the CFPB alleges that the lender (i) deceptively threatened to sue consumers on time-barred debts; (ii) misled consumers that the lender would report late payments to credit reporting agencies when the lender did not; and (iii) abusively set-off previous loans by telling its employees not to tell check-cashing consumers that it would deduct previous amounts owed from the check proceeds. Consequently, the Bureau alleged that the lender took “unreasonable advantage of the consumers’ lack of understanding” that the lender would take a portion of the check they intended to cash and physically kept the check away from consumers until the transaction was complete, which “nullified” any written set-off disclosures when the consumer signed his or her agreement. In addition to the $200,000 civil money penalty, the consent order requires the lender to (i) pay approximately $32,000 in restitution to consumers, and (ii) establish a compliance plan with detailed steps and timelines for complying with applicable laws.
Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia upholds summary judgment for consumer against check cashing company
On May 11, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed summary judgment for a consumer who alleged a check cashing company and its debt collector violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act (WVCCPA) by contacting her multiple times after being notified of her Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. According to the opinion, the consumer filed a Chapter 7 petition for bankruptcy in February 2012 and the cash checking company was notified on or about March 6, 2012 of the filing. On March 9, the company, in response to the bankruptcy notice, sent a letter to the consumer notifying her collection efforts would be stayed but the company would be pursuing a criminal complaint against her. Additionally, a debt collection agency under contract with the company contacted the consumer five additional times in attempt to collect the debt. The trial court first granted the consumer’s motion for summary judgment in part, finding that the company violated the WVCCPA by not contacting the consumer’s attorney and by threatening criminal prosecution even though the company was aware of the bankruptcy filing. The court awarded the consumer over $19,000 in statutory damages. Subsequently, the trial court granted the consumer’s second motion for summary judgment, holding, among other things, that the company instructed the debt collector to contact the consumer despite having “actual knowledge” that an attorney represented the consumer. The court granted additional statutory damages in the amount of $18,000 and awarded attorney’s fees and costs.
Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals concluded that the check cashing company’s violations of the WVCCPA were deliberate and intentional, and therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by awarding the consumer over $37,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
New Mexico Enacts New Laws Affecting Payday Lenders, Check Cashing Service Providers, and the Enforcement of Service Contracts / Warranties
On April 6, New Mexico enacted H.B. 347, a bill amending the New Mexico Small Loan Act of 1955 (NMSLA) and Bank Installment Loan Act of 1959 (NMILA) to effectively eliminate “payday loans” in the state by requiring that loans of $5,000 or less be made pursuant to the NMSLA or NMILA. Specifically, the new law caps the annual percentage rate of such loans at 175% and requires lenders operating in New Mexico to provide loan terms of at least 120 days, and a minimum repayment schedule of four installments of substantially equal amounts. The new law also limits the fees and charges a lender may assess in connection with loans made under the NMSLA or NMILA as well as the number of times a lender may present a check or other debit for payment. Furthermore, lenders are prohibited from extending loans under the NMSLA or NMILA if the consumer has not repaid any loans previously obtained under these acts, and all lenders must report the terms of these loans to consumer reporting agencies. Notably, these new requirements do not apply to federally insured depository institutions. Moreover, H.B. 347—which takes effect on January 1, 2018—will be enforced exclusively by the state. Counties, municipalities, and other political subdivisions of the state are preempted from any regulation of terms and conditions regarding these loans whether by ordinance, resolution, or otherwise. A violation of either the NMSLA or the NMILA will constitute an unfair or deceptive trade practice under New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act.
Also on April 6, Governor Susana Martinez signed into law S.B. 220, a bill that amends the Service Contract Regulation Act by adding and amending definitions; providing for surety through insurance policies; and providing specific information to be included into contracts and warranties. Specifically, the amendments—which are scheduled to take effect on June 16—allow providers to obtain a reimbursement insurance policy in lieu of maintaining a deposit with the Superintendent of Insurance.
That same day, Governor Martinez also enacted H.B. 276, a bill that increased from $500 to $2,500 the revenue threshold within a 30-day period that triggers New Mexico’s Uniform Money Services Act licensing requirement for check cashing businesses. H.B. 276 is scheduled to take effect July 1.
On December 16, the CFPB announced that it had entered a stipulation and consent order assessing a $250,000 civil monetary penalty and other remediation against a financial-services company that offers payday loans and check-cashing services based on allegations that it misled consumers through deceptive online advertisements and collections letters and made unauthorized electronic transfers from consumers’ bank accounts. Among other things, the Bureau took particular issue with the fact that Bureau examiners had previously identified “significant compliance-management-system weaknesses that heightened the risk that violations w[ould] occur,” and that “[a]t the times the violations described in this order, the company had not adequately addressed these issues.”
According to the terms of the consent order, the company is required to: (i) end its deceptive practices and obtain authorization for any electronic-fund transfers; (ii) pay approximately $255,000 to redress harm caused to affected consumers; and (iii) pay a civil monetary penalty of $250,000. As explained by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “consumers were making decisions based on false and deceptive information, and today’s action will give the company’s customers the redress they are owed.”
CFPB Monthly Complaint Snapshot Spotlights Debt Settlement, Check Cashing, and Other Financial Services Complaints
On November 29, the CFPB released Volume 17 of its monthly complaint snapshot reports on consumer complaints stemming from financial services that fall outside of the Bureau’s major complaint categories. The “other financial services” covered in the report include debt settlement, check cashing, money orders, and credit repair. To date, the CFPB has handled approximately 1,035,200 complaints nationally across all products. As reported in the current snapshot: (i) Debt collection was the most-complained-about financial product or service in October; (ii) Student loan complaints showed the greatest increase—108 percent—of any product or service over the three-month period of August to October; and (iii) Alaska, New Mexico, and Missouri experienced the greatest year-to-year complaint volume increases from August to October 2016 period versus the same time period 12 months before. The current report also highlighted a trend in complaints coming from Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City metro area.
California Department of Business Oversight Issues Opinion Letter Declaring Foreign Check Clearing Services Not Subject to State's Money Transmission Act
On August 24, the California Department of Business Oversight issued a redacted opinion letter clarifying that foreign check clearing services are not considered money transmission subject to the Money Transmission Act. In order to fall under the state’s Financial Code’s definition of money transmission, a financial institution must receive money or monetary value for transmission within the United States. Emphasizing the domestic prerequisite outlined in the code, the DBO’s opinion indicates that if a bank establishes an exchange rate for an American financial institution that has received a check for deposit written against a foreign bank, the exchange rate service provided by the bank is considered a foreign check clearing service and not “receiving money or monetary value in the United States.” Accordingly, such check clearing activity does not fall under the California Financial Code’s definition of money transmission.
FinCEN Issues Geographic Targeting Order to Combat Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud in South Florida
On July 13, FinCEN issued a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) requiring check cashers in two South Florida counties to strengthen identification requirements for customers cashing certain Federal tax refund checks. According to FinCEN, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have become a haven for criminals who, using stolen identities, file fraudulent Federal tax returns and then cash the refund checks at a local check casher. Effective August 3 through January 30, 2016, the GTO will require check cashers located in those counties to obtain additional identifying information from customers seeking to cash Federal tax refund checks (including refund anticipation loan checks from third parties) that exceed $1,000. Issued in coordination with the IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the GTO will require customers to provide the following: (i) a valid government-issued identification; (ii) a digital photograph at the time of the transaction; (iii) a valid phone number; and (iv) a thumbprint. The GTO is intended to put a “roadblock in the path of those who would steal another person’s identity,” making it more difficult for the criminals to evade anti-money laundering controls and “reap the rewards of their actions.”
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- Garylene D. Javier to discuss "Navigating workplace culture in 2020" at the DC Bar Conference