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On June 23, the CFPB issued a final rule implementing amendments to the FCRA intended to assist victims of human trafficking. According to the Bureau’s announcement, the final rule prohibits credit reporting agencies (CRAs) from providing reports containing any adverse items of information resulting from human trafficking. The final rule amends Regulation V to implement changes to the FCRA enacted in December 2021 in the “Debt Bondage Repair Act,” which was included within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
Among other things, the final rule establishes methods available for trafficking victims to submit documentation to CRAs establishing that they are a survivor of trafficking (including “determinations made by a wide range of entities, self-attestations signed or certified by certain government entities or their delegates, and documents filed in a court where a central issue is whether the person is a victim of trafficking”). The final rule also requires CRAs to block adverse information in consumer reports after receiving such documentation and ensure survivors’ credit information is reported fairly. CRAs will have four business days to block adverse information once it is reported and 25 business days to make a final determination as to the completeness of the documentation. All CRAs, regardless of reach or scope, must comply with the final rule, including both nationwide credit reporting companies and specialty credit reporting companies.
The final rule takes July 25.
On May 2, the CFPB released its spring 2022 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of auto servicing, consumer reporting, credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, mortgage origination, prepaid accounts, remittances, and student loan servicing. The report’s findings cover examinations completed between July and December 2021. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances of servicers engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices connected to wrongful repossessions, misleading final loan payment amounts, and overcharges for add-on products.
- Consumer Reporting. The Bureau found deficiencies in credit reporting companies’ (CRCs) compliance with FCRA dispute investigation requirements and furnishers’ compliance with FCRA and Regulation V accuracy and dispute investigation requirements. Examples include (i) both CRCs and furnishers failed to provide written notice to consumers providing the results of reinvestigations and direct dispute investigations; (ii) furnishers failed to send updated information to CRCs following a determination that the information reported was not complete or accurate; and (iii) furnishers’ policies and procedures contained deficiencies related to the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.
- Credit Card Account Management. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation Z related to billing error resolution, including instances where creditors failed to (i) resolve disputes within two complete billing cycles after receiving a billing error notice; (ii) reimburse consumers after determining a billing error had occurred; (iii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices due to human errors and system weaknesses; and (iv) provide consumers with the evidence relied upon to determine a billing error had not occurred. Examiners also identified Regulation Z violations connected to creditors’ acquisitions of pre-existing credit card accounts from other creditors, and identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
- Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA and CFPA violations where debt collectors used false or misleading representations in connection with identity theft debt collection. Report findings also discussed instances where debt collectors engaged in unfair practices by failing to timely refund overpayments or credit balances.
- Deposits. The Bureau discussed violations related to Regulation E, which implements the EFTA, including occurrences where institutions (i) placed duplicate holds on certain mobile check deposits that were deemed suspicious instead of a single hold as intended; (ii) failed to honor a timely stop payment request; (iii) failed to complete error investigations following a consumer’s notice of error because the consumer did not submit an affidavit; and (iv) failed to provide consumers with notices of revocation of provisional credit connected with error investigations regarding check deposits at ATMs.
- Mortgage Origination. Bureau examiners identified Regulation Z violations concerning occurrences where loan originators were compensated differently based on the terms of the transaction. Under the Bureau’s 2013 Loan Originator Final Rule, “it is not permissible to differentiate compensation based on credit product type, since products are simply a bundle of particular terms.” Examiners also found that certain lenders failed to retain sufficient documentation to establish the validity for revisions made to credit terms.
- Prepaid Accounts. The Bureau found violations of Regulation E and EFTA related to institutions’ failure to submit prepaid account agreements to the Bureau within the required time frame. Examiners also identified instances where institutions failed to honor oral stop payment requests related to payments originating through certain bill pay systems. The report cited additional findings where institutions failed to properly conduct error investigations.
- Remittances. Bureau examiners identified violations of the EFTA, Regulation E, and deceptive acts and practices. Remittance transfer providers allegedly made false and misleading representations concerning the speed of transfers, and in multiple instances, entered into service agreements with consumers that violated the “prohibition on waivers of rights conferred or causes of action created by EFTA.” Examiners also identified several issues related to the Remittance Rule’s disclosure, timing, and recordkeeping requirements.
- Student Loan Servicing. Bureau examiners identified several unfair acts or practices connected to private student loan servicing, including that servicers failed to make advertised incentive payments (which caused consumers to not receive payments to which they were entitled), and failed to issue timely refund payments in accordance with loan modification payment schedules.
The report also highlights recent supervisory program developments and enforcement actions, including the Bureau’s recent decision to invoke a dormant authority to examine nonbanks (covered by InfoBytes here).
On April 12, the CFPB sued a credit reporting agency (CRA), two of its subsidiaries (collectively, “corporate defendants"), and a former senior executive for allegedly violating a 2017 enforcement order in connection with alleged deceptive practices related to their marketing and sale of credit scores, credit reports, and credit-monitoring products to consumers. The 2017 consent order required the corporate defendants to pay a $3 million civil penalty and more than $13.9 million in restitution to affected consumers as well as abide by certain conduct provisions (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau’s announcement called the corporate defendants “repeat offender[s]” who continued to engage in “digital dark patterns” that caused consumers seeking free credit scores to unknowingly sign up for a credit monitoring service with recurring monthly charges. According to the Bureau’s complaint, the corporate defendants, under the individual defendant’s direction, allegedly violated the 2017 consent order from the day it went into effect instead of implementing agreed-upon policy changes intended to stop consumers from unknowingly signing up for credit monitoring services that charge monthly payments. The Bureau claimed that the corporate defendants’ practices continued even after examiners raised concerns several times. With respect to the individual defendant, the Bureau contended that he had both the “authority and obligation” to ensure compliance with the 2017 consent order but did not do so. Instead, he allowed the corporate defendants to “defy the law and continue engaging in misleading marketing, even in the face of thousands of consumer complaints and refund requests.” The complaint alleges violations of the CFPA, EFTA/ Regulation E, and the FCRA/Regulation V, and seeks a permanent injunction, damages, civil penalties, consumer refunds, restitution, disgorgement and the CFPB’s costs.
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra issued a statement the same day warning the Bureau will continue to bring cases against repeat offenders. Dedicated units within the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision teams will focus on repeat offenders, Chopra stated, adding that the Bureau will also work with other federal and state law enforcement agencies when repeat violations occur. “Agency and court orders are not suggestions, and we are taking steps to ensure that firms under our jurisdiction do not engage in repeat offenses,” Chopra stressed. He also explained that the charges against the individual defendant are appropriate, as he allegedly, among other things, impeded measures to prevent unintended subscription enrollments and failed to comply with the 2017 consent order, which bound company executives and board members to its terms.
The CRA issued a press release following the announcement, stating that it considers the Bureau’s claims to be “meritless” and that as required by the consent order, the CRA “submitted to the CFPB for approval a plan detailing how it would comply with the order. The CFPB ignored the compliance plan, despite being obligated to respond and trigger deadlines for implementation. In the absence of any sort of guidance from the CFPB, [the CRA] took affirmative actions to implement the consent order.” Moreover, the CRA noted that “[r]ather than providing any supervisory guidance on this matter and advising [the CRA] of its concerns – like a responsible regulator would – the CFPB stayed silent and saved their claims for inclusion in a lawsuit, including naming a former executive in the complaint,” and that “CFPB’s current leadership refused to meet with us and were determined to litigate and seek headlines through press releases and tweets.”
On April 7, the CFPB released a proposed rule and solicited comments on regulations implementing amendments to the FCRA intended to assist victims of trafficking. The proposed rule would establish a method for a trafficking victim to submit documentation to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) establishing that they are a survivor of trafficking, and would require CRAs to block adverse information in consumer reports after receiving such documentation. The proposed rules would amend Regulation V to implement changes to FCRA enacted in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, also referred to as the “Debt Bondage Repair Act,” which was signed into law in December 2021. (Covered by InfoBytes here). Under the law, CRAs are prohibited “from providing consumer reports that contain any negative item of information about a survivor of trafficking from any period the survivor was being trafficked.” In announcing the proposal, the CFPB noted that “Congress required the CFPB to utilize its rulemaking authorities to implement the Debt Bondage Repair Act through rule changes to Regulation V, which ensures consumers’ credit information is fairly reported by CRAs.” According to the CFPB, the proposal “would protect survivors of human trafficking by preventing CRAs from including negative information resulting from abuse.” Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On January 13, the CFPB released a new Bulletin to remind debt collectors and credit reporting agencies (CRAs) of their legal obligations under the FDCPA and the FCRA when collecting, furnishing information about, and reporting medical debts covered by the No Surprises Act (NSA). Effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022, the NSA establishes new federal protections against surprise medical bills arising out of certain out-of-network emergency care. The CFPB notes that medical debt often poses special risks to consumers as consumers are “rarely informed of the costs of medical treatment in advance” and are “generally ill suited to the task of identifying [medical] billing errors.” Specifically, the Bulletin reminds debt collectors of the FDCPA prohibition against “false representation of the ‘character, amount, or legal status of any debt’” and the use of any “unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.” According to the Bulletin, these would include “misrepresenting that a consumer must pay a debt stemming from a charge that exceeds the amount permitted by the [NSA].” The Bulletin also reminded debt collectors, as furnishers of information to CRAs, and the CRAs themselves of their obligations under the FCRA to assure the accuracy of information furnished or included in a consumer report, as well as to “conduct reasonable and timely investigations of consumer disputes to verify the accuracy of furnished information.” The Bulletin clarified that the accuracy and dispute obligations imposed by the FCRA “apply with respect to debts stemming from charges that exceed the amount permitted” by the NSA. The Bulletin further offered several examples of acts or practices that may be violative of the FDCPA and/or the FCRA in connection with medical debt covered by the NSA. According to the Bulletin, the CFPB “will hold debt collectors accountable for failing to comply with the FDCPA and Regulation F, and it will hold CRAs and furnishers accountable for failing to comply with the FCRA and Regulation V.” The Bureau also noted that it “will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other partners to address medical debt abuses.”
On November 12, the CFPB announced a settlement with an Illinois-based non-bank debt collector, resolving allegations that the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Regulation V, and the Consumer Financial Protection Act when providing information to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). According to the Bureau, the company allegedly (i) “furnished information to CRAs that it knew or had reasonable cause to believe was inaccurate and failed to report to CRAs an appropriate first date of delinquency on certain accounts”; (ii) failed to conduct reasonable investigations into disputes reported to the company and to the CRAs; (iii) failed to send required notices about the results of investigations; and (iv) “failed to establish, implement, and update its policies and procedures regarding its furnishing of consumer information to CRAs.” According to the consent order, the company, among other things, allegedly furnished actual payment amounts as $0.00 on roughly 165,000 accounts even though consumers had made payments. For about 72,000 accounts, the company allegedly furnished current balances and amounts past due in amounts other than $0.00 even though the accounts were settled in full.
The consent order requires the company to pay a $500,000 civil money penalty and to (i) regularly review samples of furnished account information for accuracy and integrity; (ii) review samples of consumer disputes to ensure they are handled in compliance with the FCRA; (iii) update its policies and procedures to ensure compliance and continued effectiveness; and (iv) secure at least one independent consultant who specializes in FCRA and Regulation V compliance to conduct a review of the company’s activities, policies, and procedures related to furnishing and credit reporting.
States ask Treasury to exempt stimulus payments from garnishment and urge CFPB to “vigorously enforce” FCRA
On April 13, a coalition of state attorneys general and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection (states) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, calling for immediate action to ensure that stimulus checks issued under the CARES Act to consumers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are not subject to garnishment by creditors and debt collectors. While the CARES Act does not “explicitly designate these emergency stimulus payments as exempt from garnishment,” the states claim that a “built-in mechanism” contained within a provision of the CARES Act can rectify the legislative oversight. Specifically, the states point to Section 2201(h), which “authoriz[es] Treasury to issue ‘regulations or other guidance as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this section,’” and ask Treasury to immediately designate the stimulus checks as “‘benefit payments’ exempt from garnishment.”
The same day, another coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger urging the Bureau to rescind an April 1 policy statement directed at consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and furnishers (covered by InfoBytes here) that stated the Bureau will take a “flexible supervisory and enforcement approach during this pandemic regarding compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act [(FCRA)] and Regulation V.” According to the states, the policy statement suggests that the Bureau does not plan on enforcing the CARES Act amendment to the FCRA, which requires lenders to report as current any loans subject to Covid-19 forbearance or other accommodation. The Bureau’s decision, the states contend, may discourage consumers from taking advantage of offered forbearances and other accommodations. The states also argue that allowing CRAs to take longer than the FCRA-prescribed 30 days to investigate consumer disputes puts consumers at risk. The states stress that the recent increase in Covid-19 scams has heightened the need for the Bureau to vigorously enforce the FCRA, and that, moreover, the thousands of complaints received by the states, FBI, FTC, and DOJ concerning phishing and other scams designed to gather consumers’ financial information have highlighted identity theft risks. The states emphasize “that even if the CFPB refuses to act. . .we will not hesitate to enforce the FCRA’s deadlines against companies that fail to comply with the law.”
On December 9, the CFPB released a special edition of its fall 2019 Supervisory Highlights, focusing on recent supervisory findings in the areas of consumer reporting and information furnishing to consumer reporting companies (CRCs). This is the second special edition to focus on consumer reporting issues, and follows a report that the Bureau released in March 2017 covered by InfoBytes here. According to the Bureau, recent supervisory reviews of FCRA and Regulation V compliance have identified new violations as well as compliance management system (CMS) weaknesses at CFPB-supervised institutions. However, the Bureau noted that examiners have also observed significant improvements, such as continued investment in FCRA-related CMS.
Highlights of the supervisory findings include:
- Recent examples of CMS weaknesses and FCRA/Regulation V violations (where corrective action has either been taken or is currently being taken) in which one or more (i) mortgage loan furnishers did not maintain policies and procedures “appropriate to the nature, size, complexity, and scope of the furnisher’s activities”; (ii) auto loan furnishers’ policies and procedures failed to provide sufficient guidance for investigating indirect disputes containing allegations of identity theft; (iii) debt collection furnishers’ policies and procedures failed to differentiate between FCRA disputes, FDCPA disputes, or validation requests, leading to a lack of consideration for applicable regulatory requirements when handling these matters; and (iv) deposit account furnishers lacked written policies and procedures for furnishing or validating the information provided to specialty CRCs.
- Examiners found that one or more furnishers provided information they knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, was inaccurate. Examples include inaccurate derogatory status codes due to coding errors and unclear addresses for consumers to submit disputes.
- Examiners discovered several instances where furnishers failed to send prompt notifications to CRCs after determining that information previously furnished was inaccurate, including situations where furnishers failed to promptly update or correct information after consumers paid charged-off balances in full or discharged them in bankruptcy.
- Examiners found that some furnishers reported the incorrect date of the first delinquency in connection with their responsibility to provide notice of delinquent accounts to CRCs.
- Examiners found several instances where furnishers failed to investigate disputes, complete investigations in a timely manner, or notify consumers of certain determinations related to “frivolous or irrelevant” disputes.
The Bureau also discussed supervisory observations concerning CRC compliance with FCRA provisions, and commented that CRCs continue to (i) improve procedures concerning the accuracy of information contained in consumer reports; (ii) implement improvements to prevent consumer reports from being furnished to users who lack a permissible purpose; (iii) strengthen procedures to “block information that a consumer has identified as resulting from an alleged identity theft”; and (iv) investigate and respond to consumer disputes.
On August 2, the CFPB ordered a national bank to pay $4.6 million for allegedly failing to establish adequate policies and procedures for providing consumer deposit account information to nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies (NSCRAs). The consent order alleges that the bank violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V by failing to provide consumers the results of investigations into their disputes and by withholding the contact information for the consumer reporting company supplying the information used to deny a checking account application. Pursuant to the consent order, in addition to the civil money penalty, the bank must (i) implement policies and procedures to ensure NSCRAs receive accurate consumer deposit account information; (ii) provide consumers with the results of its dispute investigations concerning information furnished to NSCRAs; and (ii) give consumers NSCRA contact information in situations of adverse action.
- Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar