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On July 7, a settlement was reached with another of the defendants in an action taken by the CFPB against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “the defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California 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, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to 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. The CFPB further alleged that defendants violated the TSR and 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. An $18 million settlement was reached with several of the defendants in May (covered by InfoBytes here).
The settlement reached with the chief operating officer/part-owner of one of the defendant companies requires the defendant to pay $25,000 of a $7 million settlement—of which the full payment will be suspended provided several obligations are fulfilled. The defendant, who neither admits nor denies the allegations, is permanently banned from providing debt relief services and from accessing, using, or obtaining “prescreened consumer reports” for any purpose. The defendant is also prohibited from using or obtaining consumer reports for any business purposes aside from “underwriting or otherwise evaluating mortgage loans.” The defendant is further required to, among other things, (i) pay a $1 civil money penalty; (ii) comply with reporting requirements; and (iii) fully cooperate with any other investigations.
On June 25, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order to resolve allegations concerning an allegedly fraudulent and deceptive student loan debt relief scheme. According to the New York attorney general, the defendants allegedly sold debt-relief services to student loan borrowers that violated several New York laws, including the state’s usury, banking, credit repair, and telemarketing laws, as well as the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and TILA. The order imposes a $5.5 million judgment against the majority of the defendants, which will be partially suspended after certain defendants pay $250,000. The AG’s case against one of the defendants, however, will continue. The order also prohibits the defendants from engaging in unlawful acts or deceptive practices such as false advertising, and, among other things, imposes compliance and reporting requirements and permanently bans the defendants from offering, providing, or selling any debt relief products and services or collecting payments from consumers related to these products and services.
On June 23, the New York attorney general announced a $3.6 million proposed settlement with a debt relief operation for allegedly making exaggerated advertisements in violation of a 2011 consent order with the state. According to the press release, the 2011 consent order was based on allegations that the company engaged in “illegal, fraudulent, and deceptive practices” related to advertising. The 2011 consent order permitted the company to advertise certain savings if those savings were achieved by a defined group of New York consumers and if the company “clearly disclosed which consumers were in that group and what approximate percentage of the whole group of New York consumers the defined group represented.” However, the attorney general alleges the company failed to follow this requirement and continued to advertise consumer savings without disclosing the details of the group who achieved the savings, noting that “the majority of New York consumers achieved less than half of the savings [the company] advertised.”
In addition to the $3.6 million in restitution for the New York consumers, the proposed settlement reinforces the 2011 consent order’s injunctive provisions and requires the company to (i) acknowledge that certain high savings numbers are not typical by “[e]xpressly stating the percentage of consumers who achieve the high end range of savings claims”; and (ii) ensure that future savings claims are based on consumers’ total debt with the company’s program.
On May 22, the New York attorney general (NYAG) announced a proposed settlement with three student loan debt relief companies and two of the companies’ executive officers (collectively, “defendants”), resolving allegations that the defendants participated in a broader scheme that fraudulently, deceptively, and illegally marketed, sold, and financed student debt relief services to consumers nationwide. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the September 2018 complaint alleged that a total of nine student loan debt relief companies, along with their financing company, and the two individuals violated several federal and state consumer protection statutes, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule, New York General Business Law, the state’s usury cap on interest rates, disclosure requirements under TILA, and the Federal Credit Repair Organization Act. Specifically, the NYAG asserted, among other things, that the defendants (i) sent direct mail solicitations to consumers that deceptively appeared to be from a governmental agency or an entity affiliated with a government agency; (ii) charged consumers over $1,000 for services that were available for free; (iii) requested upfront payments in violation of federal and state credit repair and debt relief laws; and (iv) charged usurious interest rates.
If approved by the court, the proposed consent judgment would require the five defendants to pay $250,000 of a $5.5 million total judgment, due to their inability to pay. Additionally, the defendants are also permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief product or service—or from assisting others in doing the same. Additionally, the defendants must request that any credit reporting agency to which the defendants reported consumer information in connection with the student loan debt relief services remove the information from those consumers’ credit files. The defendants also agreed not to sell, transfer, or benefit from the personal information collected from borrowers.
The NYAG previously settled with two other defendants in February, covered by InfoBytes here.
On May 14, the CFPB filed a proposed stipulated final judgment and order in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January 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, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to 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. The CFPB further alleged that defendants violated the TSR and 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.
If approved by the Court, the Bureau’s proposed settlement would (i) impose an $18 million redress judgment against the mortgage lender, of which all but $200,000 would be suspended due to the lender’s limited ability to pay; (ii) require one of the individuals and his company to disgorge $403,750 in profits to provide redress; (iii) impose a $406,150 judgement against a second individual and his company, which will be suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay; (iv) impose a total $450,001 civil money penalty against the defendants; (v) permanently ban the defendants from the debt-relief industry and from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports; and (vi) prohibit the defendants from on using or obtaining consumer reports for “any business purpose other than underwriting or otherwise evaluating mortgage loans.”
On April 9, the CFPB released updated guidance for student loan borrowers during the Covid-19 pandemic. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau first released student loan borrower information on March 27, which covered debt relief provided by the CARES Act, including the automatic freeze on student loan payments until September 30 for those with federally held loans. Servicers will send required notices detailing the payment freeze to borrowers by the middle of April. The guidance notes that some federal student loans—including some Federal Family Education Loans—may be held by commercial lenders. These loans and other privately held loans do not qualify for automatic suspension of payments, and the Bureau encourages borrowers to contact their servicers for debt relief options such as deferment or forbearance if borrowers have difficulty making payments at this time. Borrowers with Perkins loans may also request loan forbearance from the borrowers’ institution for up to three months without submitting documentation.
On April 1, HUD issued guidance detailing mortgage relief options for single-family homeowners with FHA mortgages impacted by Covid-19. HUD explains that the CARES Act requires mortgage servicers to provide mortgage relief to borrowers with options for payment deferral or payment forbearance “for up to six months, and must provide an additional six months of forbearance if requested by the borrower.” In addition, Mortgagee Letter 2020-06 states that borrowers with forbearance plans will have all late charges, fees, and penalties waived as long as the plans are in effect. Although servicers are required to comply with the FCRA, the Mortgagee Letter instructs servicers not to report a borrower as delinquent if the borrower is in a Covid-19 forbearance plan and “performing as agreed,” and further suggests that servicers should “consider the impacts” of Covid-19 “on Borrowers’ financial situations and any flexibilities a Servicer may have under the FCRA.” The Mortgagee Letter also provides a mortgage relief option for “seniors with Home Equity Conversion Mortgages” who can request an extension of up to six months initially, which may be extended up to an additional six months. This mortgage relief option also requires that all late fees, charges, and penalties be waived during the extension period. Borrowers with owner-occupied properties who are granted forbearance plans must also be evaluated for a “C[ovid]-19 National Emergency Standalone Partial Claim” prior to the end of the plan. This option will allow borrowers to reinstate their loans after the plan ends. Consumers can find FHA Q&As here.
On March 30, the FTC announced a settlement with three student loan debt relief companies and their owner for violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act by allegedly engaging in deceptive practices when marketing and selling their debt relief services. The complaint alleges that the defendants, among other things, (i) falsely promised consumers that they could permanently lower or eliminate student loans by enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan for an upfront fee; (ii) offered consumers incentives for positive reviews; (iii) failed to advise consumers to state that they were offered payment for reviews, and failed to disclose that consumers were paid when responding to reviews; and (iv) incorrectly advised consumers on how to report family sizes on applications for student loan debt relief, or falsified consumers’ family size without their knowledge.
According to the FTC, the defendants agreed to a pending stipulated final order that would, among other things, permanently ban the defendants from providing unsecured debt relief services and from making misrepresentations or unsubstantiated claims related to any products and services. However, the defendants will be allowed to continue to assist existing consumers prepare and submit applications to the Department of Education as part of the yearly recertification process, provided the consumers have provided an opt-in confirmation. The stipulated order also requires the defendants to pay $350,000, with the total judgment of approximately $23.9 million suspended due to inability to pay.
On March 31, the CFPB released guidance for consumers who have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and may have difficulty making mortgage or rent payments. Pursuant to the recently passed CARES Act, for homeowners with federally backed mortgages, no foreclosures may be initiated for 60 days beginning on March 18, and homeowners financially impacted by Covid-19 have the right to a forbearance of up to 180 days. The guidance lays out mortgage relief options as well as the process for homeowners to determine the programs for which they qualify. According to the guidance, the CARES Act also protects renters by suspending evictions for 120 days beginning on March 27 if the landlord has a federally backed mortgage. The guidance notes that even if the landlord does not have a federally backed mortgage, most states have also suspended evictions during the pandemic. The guidance also includes information on how homeowners can request mortgage relief from their servicers, including sample questions and other tips. Further, the guidance cautions homeowners to carefully monitor their mortgage statements and credit reports and describes how to avoid scams.
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issues guidance to student loan servicers
On March 30, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Division of Banking (Division), issued guidance encouraging Illinois-licensed student loan servicers to make prudent efforts to meet the financial needs of all student loan borrowers affected directly or indirectly by the Covid-19 pandemic. The guidance reiterates the importance of provisions in the Illinois Student Loan Servicing Rights Act that prohibit servicers from engaging in any unfair or deceptive practices and misapplying payments made by borrowers. Servicers are reminded that they are obligated to lay out all available options to borrowers, including income-based repayment, deferment, forbearance, and relieving borrowers of interest. In addition to adhering to the credit reporting provisions set forth under the CARES Act, the Division also encourages student loan servicers to use the disaster status code in conjunction with a deferment when reporting to the consumer credit reporting agencies to minimize any negative credit reporting impact to consumers due to the Covid-19 crisis.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting