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On August 14 and 10, the Illinois governor signed HB 4404 and SB 2615, which amend the Illinois Residential Mortgage License Act of 1987. Effective immediately, SB 2615, now Public Act 100-0795, requires, among other things, that mortgage loan advertisements in Illinois, whether print or electronic, reference the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) and Registry’s Consumer Access website, except where exempted by the Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation.
HB 4404, now Public Act 100-0851, provides that an entity that is engaged solely in independent loan processing through the sponsoring of individuals is considered exempt from the licensing requirements of the Residential Mortgage License Act but is required to annually apply through the NMLS for an exempt company registration for the purpose of sponsoring one or more licensed mortgage loan originators. The changes are effective immediately.
On December 7, the CFPB announced that it had entered into consent orders with three reverse mortgage companies to settle claims that their advertisements for those mortgages were deceptive under the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule. The alleged misconduct included deceptive advertising campaigns that misrepresented, among other things: (i) the risk of losing home and the right to remain in the home; (ii) expected costs and mortgage payments; (iii) government affiliations of the mortgage company; and (iv) the effectiveness of a reverse mortgage credit product to eliminate debt.
The consent orders require the companies to make clear and prominent disclosures in their reverse mortgage advertisements and implement systems to ensure they are following all laws. One of the three firms also cannot imply affiliation with the government and must maintain complete and accurate records. In addition, the consent orders impose civil penalties ranging from $65,000 up to $400,000.
- American Advisors Group Consent Order
- American Advisors Group Stipulation
- Reverse Mortgage Solutions Consent Order
- Reverse Mortgage Solutions Stipulation
- Aegean Financial Consent Order
- Aegean Financial Stipulation
CFPB Settles with Payment Processor and Mortgage Servicer over Deceptive Mortgage Advertisement Allegations
On July 28, the CFPB announced that a Colorado-based payment processor, along with a Virginia-based mortgage servicer, agreed to pay a total of $38.5 million to resolve allegations that both entities used misleading advertisements related to a mortgage payment program. The CFPB alleged that both entities advertised the “Equity Accelerator Program” as a program that would help consumers save on interest payments by making mortgage payments biweekly rather than monthly. However, according to the CFPB, the program failed to make the biweekly payments, and no more than a “tiny” percentage of consumers enrolled in the program benefitted from the promised savings. Under the terms of the consent orders, the payment processor agreed to provide $33.4 million in restitution to affected consumers and pay a $5 million civil money penalty. The mortgage servicer will pay a $100,000 civil money penalty. Both entities also agreed to ensure that any advertisements concerning the mortgage program’s benefits complied with federal law.
On February 12, the CFPB announced a civil suit against a Maryland-based mortgage company and consent orders with two additional mortgage companies headquartered in Utah and California for allegedly misleading consumers with advertisements implying U.S. government approval of their products in violation of the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (MAP Rule or Regulation N) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). In its complaint against the Maryland-based mortgage company, the CFPB alleges that the company’s reverse mortgage advertisements appeared as if they were U.S. government notices. Further, the CFPB claims that the company misrepresented whether monthly payments or repayments could be required and that there was a scheduled expiration date or deadline for the FHA-insured reverse mortgage program. The CFPB is seeking a civil fine and permanent injunction to prevent future violations with respect to the Maryland company. Similarly, the CFPB alleges that the Utah-based mortgage company disseminated direct-mail mortgage loan advertisements that improperly suggested that the lender was, or was affiliated with the FHA or VA, including that the company was “HUD approved” when it was not. The Utah company was ordered to pay a $225,000 civil penalty. In the separate consent order with the California-based mortgage company, the CFPB alleges that the lender’s mailings contained an FHA-approved lending institution logo and a website address that implied the advertisements were from, or affiliated with, the U.S. government, and were therefore deceptive and in violation of the CFPA. The company was ordered to pay an $85,000 civil penalty. In addition to civil penalties, each consent order requires the mortgage companies to submit a compliance plan to the CFPB and comply with specified record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks
On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty, in part for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating refinance mortgage loans guaranteed by the VA, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil penalty, the consent order requires the lender to end any deceptive marketing, cease deceptive endorsement relationships, submit a compliance plan to the CFPB, and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks
On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating VA loans, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil money penalty, the consent order requires the lender to submit a compliance plan to the CFPB and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
On August 12, the CFPB announced a consent order with a nonbank mortgage lender, its affiliated appraisal management company (AMC), and the individual owner of both companies to resolve allegations that the lender deceptively advertised mortgage rates to consumers, improperly charged fees before providing consumers with Good Faith Estimates (GFE), and failed to disclose its affiliation with the AMC while allowing the AMC to charge inflated fees.
As explained in the consent order, the lender primarily conducts business online through its own website, and also advertises its mortgages through display ads on independent websites and the website of an unaffiliated third-party rate publisher. The CFPB asserts that, over a roughly two-year period, a “systemic problem” caused the lender to list on the rate publisher’s website lower rates for certain mortgages than the lender was willing to honor, and that the lender supplied other rates to the rate publisher that were unlikely to be locked for the majority of the lender’s borrowers. The CFPB claims that the lender failed to perform systematic due diligence or quality control to ensure the accuracy of listed rates, even though the lender was made aware through consumer complaints that certain rates were inaccurate.
The CFPB also claims that, over a period of more than two years, the lender advertised in its display ads on independent websites rates that were based on (i) a consumer profile that included an 800 credit score, although most of the lender’s borrowers had scores below 800; and (ii) payment of high discount points, without adequate disclosure of the bases for the rates. In addition, the CFPB asserts that, over a nearly four-year period, the lender generated inaccurate personal loan quotes for certain consumers because the design of the lender’s website prevented those consumers from changing the model’s credit score from 800 to a more applicable lower score. The CFPB asserts these practices violated the Mortgage Advertising and Practices (MAP) Rule by misleading consumers.
The CFPB also alleges that the lender violated RESPA and TILA by overcharging for credit reports and by requiring consumers to schedule and give payment authorization information for appraisals before providing a GFE and receiving indication that the consumers intended to proceed with a loan from the lender, thereby restricting consumers’ ability to shop for alternatives. In addition, the CFPB claims that the lender violated RESPA by failing to properly disclose its affiliate relationship with the AMC and making numerous deceptive statements that led consumers to believe that the lender had no relationship with the AMC and that the AMC’s fees were reasonable third-party fees, and violated the MAP Rule by inflating prices for certain of the AMC’s services, including “appraisal validations.”
According to the CFPB, much of the alleged conduct was directed by, and provided a financial benefit to, the companies’ individual owner.
Redress, Penalties, and Corrective Actions
The consent order requires the lender to pay nearly $14.9 million to the CFPB, which will distribute the funds to consumers who: (i) viewed the lender’s misleading rates on the rate publisher’s website on or after July 21, 2011 and then took out a mortgage with the lender with higher than advertised rates; (ii) received misleading mortgage quotes on the lender’s website based on an inapplicable 800 FICO score on or after July 21, 2011 and then took out a mortgage with the lender at a rate higher than that quoted; (iii) on or after November 1, 2009 paid more than the actual costs of credit reports before the lender provided a GFE; (iv) paid an appraisal fee on or after January 1, 2011 without receiving a proper affiliated business disclosure; and (v) closed loans during or after December 2010 and paid for appraisal review fees.
The order also: (i) requires the lender to pay a $4.5 million penalty; (ii) regulates the way the lender is permitted to advertise interest rates; (iii) mandates numerous other corrective actions related to the alleged activity; and (iv) requires the lender to hire an independent consultant to assess the lender’s advertising and disclosure practices and report to the CFPB’s Enforcement Director.
Under the consent order, the individual owner is jointly and severally liable for the nearly $14.9 million redress judgment, and must pay a $1.5 million civil money penalty.
FTC Obtains Settlement Regarding Marketing of Mortgage Refinancing Services to Servicemembers; Announces First Settlements in "Cardholder Services" Robocalls Sweep
On June 27, the FTC announced that a mortgage broker will pay a $7.5 million civil penalty to resolve alleged violations of the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and Mortgage Acts and Practices – Advertising Rule (MAP Rule). The broker allegedly violated the TSR by calling more than 5.4 million telephone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry to offer home loan refinancing services to current and former U.S. military consumers and by failing remove consumers from its call list upon demand. The broker also allegedly violated the MAP Rule by misleading consumers about its affiliation with the Department of Veterans Affairs and leading consumers to believe that it was offering low interest, fixed rate mortgages with no costs, when in reality it was offering adjustable rate mortgages with closing costs. In the same announcement, the FTC stated that it had obtained the first settlements in cases related to a 2012 sweep of telemarketers alleged to have placed automated calls to consumers to make deceptive “no-risk” offers to substantially reduce the consumers’ credit card interest rates in exchange for an upfront fee. According to the FTC, the telemarketers claimed to be calling from the consumers’ credit card company, or otherwise used the generic “Cardholder Services” title to suggest a relationship with a bank or credit card company.
On November 19, the CFPB announced that it issued warning letters to about a dozen nonbank mortgage lenders and brokers regarding advertisements targeted towards older Americans and veterans that may violate the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (MAP Rule). The CFPB claims that certain companies’ ads may (i) make misrepresentations about government affiliation, (ii) provide inaccurate information about interest rates, (iii) make misleading statements about the costs of reverse mortgages, or (iv) misrepresent the amount of cash or credit available to a consumer. The letters do not make any determinations as to whether the ads at issue violate the law, and the letters provide the companies an opportunity to review and remedy any potential violations. However, the CFPB announcement also notes that the Bureau has initiated formal investigations of six companies for “serious violations of the law.” At the same time, the FTC announced that it sent letters to twenty real estate agents, home builders, and lead generators warning that certain advertisements may similarly violate the MAP Rule or section 5 of the FTC Act. The FTC also acknowledged that it has opened nonpublic investigations of other advertisers that may have violated federal law. This coordinated CFPB/FTC action resulted from a review of about 800 randomly selected mortgage-related ads from across the country, including ads for mortgage loans, refinancing, and reverse mortgages. BuckleySandler is representing one of the companies being investigated by the FTC in connection with this review.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- APPROVED Webcast: Strategy & Technology: A dynamic duo for successful regulatory exams
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss “Primer on cross-border prosecutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico for U.S. criminal lawyers” at a New York City Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute