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On October 18, President Trump signed the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, which establishes new requirements aimed at improving the DOJ’s response to elder abuse crimes. Among other things, S 178 expands data collection and information sharing provisions to prevent financial crimes committed against seniors. The law also broadens the federal criminal code to include “email marketing” fraud, such as marketing measures designed to induce the commitment to a loan. Other notable provisions include enhanced penalties for fraud and increased training for federal investigators and prosecutors. Further, the law requires the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and the DOJ to appoint elder justice coordinators to oversee enforcement, consumer education efforts, and policy activities related to elder justice issues.
CFPB, Treasury, and FinCEN Release Memorandum Emphasizing Financial Institutions’ Role in Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation
On August 30, the CFPB, Treasury Department, and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (the agencies) issued a joint memorandum concerning elder financial exploitation (EFE). The agencies note that EFE—which is defined as “the illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or assets”—has become the most common form of elder abuse in the U.S. The Memorandum on Financial Institution and Law Enforcement Efforts to Combat Elder Financial Exploitation emphasizes that financial institutions can play a key role in detecting, responding to, and preventing EFE, encourages collaboration with law enforcement and local adult protective service agencies to facilitate the timely response to reports, and outlines guidance relating to the filing of suspicious activity reports (SARs). According to the memorandum, “SARs can play an important role in the fight against EFE by providing information and references to any supporting documentation that can trigger an investigation, support an ongoing investigation, or identify previously unknown subjects and entities.” The agencies cautioned, however, that “access to SARs and their use is restricted under federal law” and that law enforcement agencies should contact FinCEN for assistance in SAR-related inquiries.
On March 13, the FDIC announced enhancements to Money Smart for Older Adults, its financial education program geared toward preventing elder financial exploitation. The program, which the FDIC developed in partnership with the CFPB, was designed as a response to the growing concerns about financial abuse of senior citizens, which often goes unreported. Statistics provided by the National Adult Protective Services Association show that “only one in 44 cases of financial abuse comes to the attention of authorities, and 90 percent of victims are exploited by a relative, friend, or trusted acquaintance.” The program, which covers topics such as identity theft and scams that target homeowners, also provides tools to help better educate seniors on money management and financial awareness. The recently-announced enhancements include new information and resources aimed at preventing elder financial exploitation.
The DOJ, OFAC and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), as part of an effort to stop an international network of mass mailing fraud schemes that target elderly and vulnerable victims, conducted a joint enforcement action against an international payments processor and money services business based in Canada. The agencies alleged that the payment processor engaged in money laundering and mail fraud by knowingly processing payments on behalf of the perpetrators of more than 100 different mail fraud campaigns, collectively involving tens of millions of dollars. OFAC designated the payments processor as a significant transnational criminal organization (TCO) pursuant to Executive Order 13581. OFAC also designated as TCOs a global network of 12 individuals and 24 entities across 18 countries based on their association with the payment processor. As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Additionally, USPIS obtained a warrant through the Eastern District of New York to seize the funds in a U.S. bank account that was allegedly used to process payments received through fraudulent mailings. According to OFAC, the payment processor “has a nearly 20-year history of knowingly processing payments relating to these fraudulent solicitation schemes, which result in the loss of millions of dollars to U.S. consumers.”
On Thursday, April 21, the CFPB will hold its next Community Bank Advisory Council meeting in Washington, DC. According to the April 5 Federal Register publication providing notice of the meeting, both the CFPB’s strategic outlook and elder financial abuse are discussion topics included in the agenda.
On March 23, the CFPB simultaneously issued a report and an advisory providing financial institutions with information on the financial exploitation of older Americans and recommendations on how to prevent and respond to such exploitation. The report combines the CFPB’s “expertise regarding elder financial exploitation” with knowledge gained from interviews conducted between May 2014 to March 2016 with various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, representatives of individual banks and credit unions of various sizes, trade associations, technology vendors, and law enforcement. According to the CFPB, the release of recommendations outlined in the report and advisory mark the “first time a federal regulator has provided an extensive set of voluntary best practices to help banks and credit unions fight [financial exploitation of older Americans].” The CFPB recommended that financial institutions (i) establish protocols for ensuring staff compliance with the Electronic Fund Transfer Act; (ii) train staff to detect the warning signs of financial exploitation and respond appropriately to suspicious events; (iii) maintain fraud detection systems that provide analyses of the types of products and account activity associated with elder financial exploitation; (iv) report cases of suspected exploitation, which includes filing Suspicious Activity Reports with FinCEN when necessary; and (v) collaborate with stakeholders, including law enforcement, at the local, regional, and state level.
On July 13, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered remarks at the White House Conference on Aging, expressing the need to protect older consumers in light of recent studies that have found that financial exploitation is the most prevalent form of elder abuse. Accordingly, Cordray revealed that the Bureau intends to issue an advisory “later this year” to assist financial institutions with preventing, recognizing, and reporting elder financial abuse, adding that “[f]inancial institutions are especially well-positioned” to prevent fraud, scams, or theft that victimize seniors.
On October 7, the CFPB and the FDIC announced a Spanish-language version of Money Smart for Older Adults, a free financial resource tool intended to prevent the elder financial exploitation that is affecting millions of senior citizens each year. The English-language version, which “includes practical information that can be put to use right away,” was jointly developed by the two agencies last year. The Spanish-language participant/resource guide and power point slides can be downloaded for free at the FDIC’s website, or can be ordered as hard copies on the CFPB’s website.
On July 14, Illinois Attorney General (AG) Lisa Madigan announced that her office filed separate civil lawsuits (here and here) in state court against two student debt relief firms and their principals. The lawsuits allege that the defendants violated several state consumer protection statutes relating to their deceptive student debt relief practices and collection of improper fees. The AG claims that the unlicensed companies and their sole principals improperly accepted upfront fees from student borrowers while claiming to have enrolled them in sham loan forgiveness programs or other legitimate loan relief programs that were available to borrowers free of charge. The lawsuits also allege that the defendants engaged in extensive false and misleading advertisements that misrepresented their expertise, affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education, and the debt relief programs available to borrowers.
The AG maintains that these practices violate several state consumer protection statues, including:
- The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, prohibiting unfair and deceptive business practices, including making false representations and failing to disclose material facts to consumers;
- The Credit Services Organizations Act, prohibiting unlicensed parties from acting as “debt settlement providers” or accepting illegal fees; and
- The Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act, prohibiting parties from accepting upfront payment for debt relief services.
The lawsuits seek injunctive and non-monetary relief in the form of permanent injunctions against each defendant and a rescission of all contracts with Illinois residents. The AG is also pursuing a variety of monetary damages and penalties, including restitution, costs of prosecution and investigation, and civil penalties of $50,000 for each statutory violation with additional penalties for those conducted with the intent to defraud or perpetrated against elderly victims.
On May 5, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed HB 723, which requires state licensed money transmitters to (i) provide on transmittal forms a clear, concise, and conspicuous fraud warning that includes a toll-free telephone number for individuals to call to report fraud or suspected fraud; (ii) provide annual training to agents related to financial abuse and financial exploitation of elders; and (iii) allow an individual to voluntarily be disqualified from sending or receiving money transmissions in the state for a specified period of time. The changes, which take effect October 1, 2014, do not apply to a licensee or an agent that engages (i) in selling or issuing stored value devices, traveler’s checks, or money orders, or providing bill payer services, as long as the licensee or agent does not engage in any other business regulated under the money transmission law; or (ii) in the business of money transmission solely through the Internet.
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable