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On June 9, the CFPB filed a stipulated final judgment and order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California resolving allegations that the operator of a student-loan debt relief company engaged in unfair debiting of consumer accounts, in violation of the CFPA. According to the complaint, in 2016, the defendant founded a student debt relief company, which “did not solicit new consumers, but instead obtained student-loan account and billing information for hundreds of former [student debt relief operation] consumers without the knowledge or consent of those consumers.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2016, the CFPB filed a consent order against a San Diego-based student debt relief operation for alleged violations of the CFPA, the TSR, and Regulation P by deceiving borrowers into paying fees for federal loan benefits and misrepresenting to consumers that it was affiliated with the Department of Education. The CFPB alleged that the defendant led a debt collection scheme by withdrawing $39 per month, and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in total fees from student borrowers’ bank accounts, without authorization, after previously obtaining their names and account information from the former student loan debt relief business. According to the CFPB, “under this scheme, [the defendant’s] company had unlawfully debited more than $240,000 from hundreds of student borrowers’ accounts.” Under the terms of the settlement, the defendant is permanently banned from engaging in debt relief services and must pay a $175,000 penalty to the CFPB.
Mortgage broker allegedly violated federal laws by posting customers’ personal information on website
On January 7, the FTC announced a proposed settlement with a California mortgage broker and his company to resolve alleged violations of the FTC Act, FCRA, Regulation P, and the Safeguards Rule. According to a complaint filed by the DOJ on behalf of the FTC, the defendants published the personal information of customers who posted negative reviews on a public website, including customers’ “sources of income, debt-to-income ratios, credit history, taxes, family relationships, and health.” The alleged posts containing negative financial information violated the defendants’ responsibilities under Regulation P (Privacy of Consumer Financial Information) as the required privacy disclosure provided to the customers stated that the defendants would not share personal information with any third party. Regulation P also “prohibits financial institutions from disclosing to any nonaffiliated third party any nonpublic personal information about a customer unless it has provided the customer with an opt-out notice, . . . a reasonable opportunity to opt out of the disclosure, and the customer has not opted out.” In this instance, customers were not given the opportunity to opt out of disclosure of their personal financial information in response to online consumer reviews, the complaint asserts. In addition, the complaint alleges that the defendants also violated the FTC Act by causing unfair or deceptive acts or practices that “deprived consumers of the ability to control whether and to whom they disclosed sensitive information.” The defendants also allegedly violated the FCRA by using consumer reports for impermissible purposes, and the FTC’s Safeguards Rule by failing to implement or maintain an adequate information security program. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants will pay a $120,000 civil penalty and are prohibited from (i) misrepresenting their privacy and data security practices; (ii) using consumer reports for anything other than a permissible purpose; (iii) not providing required privacy notices; and (iv) improperly disclosing nonpublic personal information to third parties. Among other things, the company is also prohibited from transferring, selling, sharing, collecting, maintaining, or storing nonpublic personal information unless it implements a comprehensive information security program; and must obtain independent third-party assessments of its information security program every two years.
On February 6, the CFPB announced a settlement with an Indiana-based payday retail lender and affiliates (companies) in seven states to resolve alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) privacy protections. The CFPB alleges that the companies engaged in unfair acts or practices, failed to properly disclose annual percentage rates, and failed to provide consumers with required initial privacy notices.
Specifically, the Bureau alleges that the companies violated CFPA’s UDAAP provisions by, among other things, (i) failing to implement processes to prevent unauthorized charges, including those resulting from unauthorized draws on borrowers’ bank accounts; (ii) requiring loan applicants to provide contact information for their employers, supervisors, and four personal references, and then repeatedly calling employers to seek payments when borrowers became delinquent; (iii) disclosing the borrower’s financial information during those calls and, in certain instances, asking the third party to make payments on the loan; (iv) misusing personal references for marketing purposes; and (v) advertising check-cashing and telephone reconnection services they were no longer providing.
While the companies have not admitted to the allegations, they have agreed to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty and are prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior.
On August 10, the CFPB issued final amendments to Regulation P, which implements the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and provides, among other things, exemptions for financial institutions from sending annual privacy notices to consumers provided they meet certain conditions. The final rule—originally proposed in July 2016 (as previously covered in InfoBytes here)—implements a December 2015 statutory change in Section 75001 of the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” which permits certain exemptions provided a qualifying financial institution (i) has not changed its privacy notice from the one previously delivered to its customer, and (ii) limits its sharing of a customer’s nonpublic personal information with nonaffiliated third parties so that a customer does not have the right to opt out, as otherwise afforded under the statute and Regulation P. The final rule will not affect the collection or use of a customer’s nonpublic personal information, and all financial institutions are still required to deliver initial privacy notices to customers. Moreover, the final rule establishes requirements for alternative delivery methods and provides deadlines for financial institutions that lose the exception and are required to resume delivery of annual privacy notices.
The amendments to Regulation P will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
FTC Announces Settlement with Operator of Online Tax Preparation Service Over Privacy and Security Allegations
On August 29, the FTC issued a press release announcing a settlement with the operator of a Georgia-based online tax preparation service to resolve allegations that the company failed to implement adequate security procedures to protect client information in violation of several federal privacy and security rules, including the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act’s Privacy Rule (Regulation P) and Safeguards Rule. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that the company violated the Safeguards Rule, which requires financial institutions under FTC jurisdiction toprotect customer information by developing, implementing, and maintaining a comprehensive information security program that satisfies certain requirements. The complaint alleged that, because the company failed to implement these requirements and did not have in place adequate risk-based authentication measures, hackers were able to conduct a “list validation attack” between October 2015 and December 2015, which gave them full access to nearly 9,000 customer accounts. Hackers then used the acquired information to engage in tax identity theft. In addition, the FTC alleges that the company failed to notify customers of the list validation attack or alterations until a user called in January 2016 to report suspicious activity, and failed to delivery privacy notices to customers as required by the Privacy Rule.
Under the terms of the decision and order, the company, among other things, is required for 10 years to obtain biennial independent third-party assessments to address the effectiveness of the company’s security programs and safeguard measures to “certify that [the company’s] security program(s) is operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance that the security, confidentiality, and integrity of personal information is protected and has operated throughout the reporting period.”
The agreement with the FTC will be subject to public comment for 30 days through September 29, at which point the FTC will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.