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On January 13, the Illinois attorney general announced that he filed two separate suits in the Circuit Court of Cook County against two credit repair companies and three individuals who allegedly engaged in deceptive and fraudulent practices when promoting credit repair services to consumers and collecting debts in violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the Credit Services Organization Act, and the Collection Agency Act.
In the first complaint, the AG alleges a credit repair agency is not registered in Illinois as a credit services organization, and that it, along with its owner, a co-defendant, has not filed the statutorily required $100,000 surety bond with the Secretary of State’s office. The AG’s complaint alleges that the company charges unlawful upfront fees while making false promises that it will increase consumers’ credit scores. When the defendants fail to live up to these promises, they subsequently refuse to refund the money that consumers paid for the credit repair services they did not receive.
In the second complaint, the AG makes the same allegations against a different credit repair company, its owner, and a former employee. In addition, the second complaint also alleges that the company operates as a debt collection agency, but does not possess the requisite state license as a collection agency. Further, the complaint claims that, among other things, the defendants extract payments for “completely fabricated” payday loan debt from consumers who do not actually owe on the loans by using threats and other abusive and harassing collection tactics.
The AG seeks a number of remedies including injunctive relief prohibiting all defendants from engaging in any credit repair business, and prohibiting the second company and its owner and employee from engaging in any debt collection business; rescission of consumer contracts; and restitution to all affected consumers.
On December 17, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) released a new issue of the Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin focusing on supervisory insights into consumer compliance issues related to fintech to assist financial institutions with assessing and managing risk associated with technological innovation. Among the topics covered in the bulletin, are (i) managing risk with fintech collaborations—the Fed stresses the importance of creating strong policies and procedures, as well as board and senior management oversight, comprehensive and tailored training, and risk monitoring; (ii) managing UDAP risks with online and mobile banking platforms—the Fed recommends a focus on ensuring consistency and accuracy in disclosures on the platforms and the regular monitoring of complaints; and (iii) managing possible fair lending risks resulting from targeted online marketing—the Fed suggests careful monitoring over marketing activities and vendors, as well as close review of filters used with internet advertising to prevent excluding populations with legally protected characteristics. The bulletin will be featured on the agency’s new fintech page previously covered by InfoBytes here.
On October 15, the CFPB Private Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2019. The report, titled Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, is based on approximately 20,600 complaints received by the Bureau relating to federal and private student loan servicing, debt collection, and debt relief services. The report focuses primarily on complaints and student loan debt relief scams, which are, according to Private Education Loan Ombudsman Robert G. Cameron, “two subjects that, if promptly addressed, may have the greatest immediate impact in preventing potential harm to borrowers.” Of the 20,600 complaints, roughly 13,900 pertained to federal student loans with approximately 6,700 related to private student loans. Both categories reflect a decrease in total complaints from previous years. The report also notes that the Bureau handled roughly 4,600 complaints related to student loan debt collection.
The report goes on to discuss collaborative efforts between federal and state law enforcement agencies, including the CFPB, FTC, Department of Education, and state attorneys general, to address student loan debt relief scams. According to the report, the FTC’s Operation Game of Loans (previous InfoBytes coverage here) has yielded settlements and judgments totaling over $131 million for the past two years, while Bureau actions (taken on its own and with state agencies) have resulted in judgments exceeding $17 million.
The report provides several recommendations, including that policymakers, the Department of Education, and the Bureau “assess and consider the sharing of information, analytical tools, education outreach, and expertise” to prevent borrower harm, and that when harm occurs, “reduce the window in which harm is occurring through timely identification and remediation.” With regard to student loan debt relief scams, the report recommends, among other things, that enforcement should be expanded “beyond civil enforcement actions to criminal enforcement actions at all levels.”
On September 18, the CFPB announced changes to its Consumer Complaint Database (CCDB), stating that it would continue the publication of consumer complaints, data fields, and narrative descriptions. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in March 2018, the Bureau issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking feedback on potential changes that could be implemented to the Bureau’s public reporting of consumer complaint information, including the data fields provided in the CCDB. In June 2018, then-acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, noted the Bureau was in the process of reviewing whether or not the CCDB would continue to be publicly available (covered by InfoBytes here.) The Bureau noted that it received nearly 26,000 comments from a wide array of stakeholders in response to the RFI and after considering all input, the decision was made to continue the “publication of complaints with enhanced data and context that will benefit consumers and users of the database while addressing many of the concerns raised.” Specifically, the CCDB will now (i) more prominently acknowledge that the CCDB is not a statistical sample of consumers’ experiences in the marketplace; (ii) highlight the availability of answers to common financial questions to help inform consumers before they submit a complaint; and (iii) highlight consumers’ ability to contact the financial institution directly. Additionally, in the coming months the Bureau plans to, among other things, explore the expansion of a company’s ability to respond publicly to individual complaints in the database and look for additional ways to put complaint data in context, such as incorporating product or service market share and company size.
On March 29, the CFPB published its Consumer Response Annual Report, providing a review of the Bureau’s complaint process and a description of complaints received from consumers from across all 50 states and the District of Columbia between January 1 and December 31, 2018. According to the report, the Bureau handled approximately 329,800 consumer complaints. Of these complaints, roughly 80 percent were submitted to companies for review and response, 14 percent were referred to other regulatory agencies, and four percent were determined to be incomplete. The top categories, representing approximately 89 percent of all complaints, were credit or consumer reporting, debt collection, mortgages, credit card, and checking or savings complaints. The Bureau also received complaints related to: (i) student, personal, and payday loans; (ii) money transfers and virtual currency; (iii) vehicle finance; (iv) prepaid cards; (v) credit repair; and (vi) title loans. As reported by the CFPB, the majority of consumers who submitted complaints indicated that they first tried to resolve their issues with the companies.
On March 19, the CFPB released the “Complaint Snapshot: Servicemembers, Veterans, and Military Families 50 State Report,” which provides state-specific data on the nearly 34,000 complaints received from servicemembers, veterans, and their families in 2018 (which the CFPB collectively defines as, “servicemember”). Specifically, for each state, the snapshot provides (i) the total number of servicemember complaints handled in 2018 and the percentage change since 2017; (ii) distribution of complaints by product for both servicemembers and non-servicemembers; (iii) distribution of complaints by branch of service; and (iv) a visual representation of complaints by zip code. Notably, servicemember complaints increased by 12 percent from 2017 to 2018. The states with the highest number of servicemember complaints include Texas, California, Florida, and Georgia. The Bureau has received over 133,000 complaints from servicemembers since 2011.
See recent article by Buckley attorneys, "Takeaways from military complaints at the CFPB."
On March 5, Attorneys General from all 50 states, as well as from the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation supporting a recently introduced bipartisan bill to combat illegal robocalls. Among other things, S. 151, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act), would: (i) grant the FCC three years to take action against robocall violations, instead of the current one-year window; (ii) authorize the agency to issue penalties of up to $10,000 per robocall; and (iii) require service providers to implement the FCC’s new call authentication framework. The AGs state that they “are encouraged that the TRACED Act prioritizes timely, industrywide implementation of call authentication protocols,” and note their support for an interagency working group that the bill would establish consisting of members from the DOJ, FCC, FTC, CFPB, other relevant federal agencies, state AGs, and non-federal stakeholders.
On January 29, the CFPB released a report on mortgage complaints, and a corresponding blog post, which provide a high-level overview of the mortgage complaints received by the Bureau during the last 24 months. According to the report, mortgage complaints accounted for 11 percent, or approximately 71,000 complaints, of the total complaints the Bureau received from November 2016 through October 2018. An analysis of the complaints indicated that 42 percent of them had to do with issues concerning the payment process, while 36 percent had to do with difficulties in paying off the mortgage. Consumer complaints regarding payment process problems describe a variety of issues, including misapplied payments and escrow analysis inaccuracies. The CFPB notes that complaints from consumers struggling to pay their mortgages often state they have difficulty receiving assistance after a financial hardship, illness, or a natural disaster.
Additional highlights of the report include: (i) the number of mortgage complaints received between August 2018 and October 2018 was 15 percent lower than the number of mortgage complaints received during the same time period in 2017; (iii) 50 percent of mortgage complaints relate to conventional mortgages; and (iii) adjusted for population, the largest mortgage complaint volumes came from the District of Columbia, Maryland and New Jersey.
On January 24, the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) released an annual report, which highlights issues facing military consumers based on complaints submitted by servicemembers, veterans, and their families (collectively “servicemembers”). The OSA report covers the period between April 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018, during which the Bureau received approximately 48,800 military complaints. Some key takeaways from the OSA report are as follows:
- The largest category of servicemember complaints focused on credit reporting, with 37 percent of total servicemember complaints in this area. The report notes that the Department of Defense’s new security clearance process increases the likelihood that a servicemember’s poor credit score could result in losing a security clearance, and by extension being separated from the military.
- After credit reporting, debt collection was the next most complained about issue. Most servicemembers’ debt collection complaints alleged that the servicemember did not owe the debt or that the debt collector failed to respond to written requests for information. In particular, the report states that some debt collectors have inappropriately contacted servicemembers’ chains of command in an attempt to obtain payment.
- For mortgage debt, the largest category of complaints arose from challenges in the payment process—in particular issues related to loan modifications, collections, communicating with the servicemember’s “single point of contact,” escrow, and servicing transfers. These process-focused complaints were closely followed by overall difficulties in being able to afford mortgage payments.
- For credit cards, the greatest concentration of complaints were around problems with purchases on statements (i.e. fraudulent/unauthorized charges, billing frustrations, and difficulties in challenging charges directly with the credit card issuer). Notably, while the report acknowledges the October 2017 Military Lending Act compliance date for credit card issuers, it does not specifically break out MLA-related complaints; rather, the report notes that the Bureau has received “some complaints from servicemembers demonstrating confusion with respect to how and when creditors are applying the MLA’s protections to credit card accounts.”
- For auto lending, the leading category of complaints arose from managing the loan or lease, including application of payments and late fees. Unique to servicemembers, the report highlights that products like GAP can become void if a servicemember takes a car overseas (for example, to use while on deployment).
- For student lending, two-thirds of complaints arose from challenges in making payments and enrolling in payment plans, in particular issues with enrolling and recertifying eligibility for income-driven repayment.
- Finally, in the payday loan space, since 2016 servicemember complaints have decreased drastically and are now equal with non-servicemember complaints (as a percentage of total complaint volume); previously, servicemembers were almost twice as likely to complain about payday loan products.
On October 23, the CFPB released its Complaint snapshot: 50 state report, which covers complaints received by the Bureau from January 2015 through June 2018. According to the report, the Bureau has received more complaints from consumers in California than any other state, followed by Florida and Texas. Other highlights of the report include: (i) issues related to credit reporting received the most complaints in 2017, comprising 31 percent of all submitted complaints; (ii) the Bureau averaged over 27,000 complaints per month from January 2017 through June 2018; and (iii) complaints about prepaid cards trended upward the beginning half of 2018, while student loan, payday loan, credit repair, and money transfer complaints all trended lower.
- Andrew W. Schilling to moderate "Expectations of in-house counsel from their law firm partners" at the ACI's 7th Annual Advanced Forum on False Claims and Qui Tam
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "Cybersecurity basics for compliance staff" at a NAFCU webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Tips for navigating changes to the FHA recertification process
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference
- Kari K. Hall and Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Overdrafts and regulatory trends" at the CLE Alabama Banking Law Update
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Industry open forum session on NMLS usage" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Regulating innovative consumer lending products" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Daniel P. Stipano to moderate "Washington update" at the 17th Puerto Rican Symposium of Anti Money Laundering 2020 conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Private flood insurance updates" at the MBA's Servicing Solutions Conference & Expo 2020
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: CFL overview
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "MLA & SCRA" on a NAFCU webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 25th Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 25th Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference