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On January 15, the OCC announced a $3.5 million penalty against a national bank’s former general counsel for his role in the bank’s incentive compensation sales practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January 2020, the OCC announced charges against the former general counsel and other executives, seeking a lifetime prohibition from participating in the banking industry, a personal cease and desist order, and/or civil money penalties. The January announcement included settlements with three of the executives, and the OCC settled with three others in September 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here).
In addition to the $3.5 million penalty, the consent order against the former general counsel includes a personal cease and desist, and a requirement to cooperate with the OCC in any investigation or proceeding related to the sales practices of the bank. The consent order does not prohibit the former general counsel from holding future executive positions within the industry.
On December 22, the CFPB announced a settlement with a nonprime auto loan originator and servicer (company) for allegedly violating the FCRA by providing erroneous consumer loan data to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). According to the consent order, between January 2016 and August 2019, the company (i) furnished inaccurate information to CRAs it knew or should have known was inaccurate; (ii) failed to promptly update information with the CRAs once it was determined to be inaccurate or incomplete; (iii) failed to furnish dates of first delinquency for severely delinquent or charged off accounts; and (iv) failed to implement reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy of furnished information. The consent order imposes a civil money penalty of $4.75 million and requires the company to, among other things, correct all inaccuracies identified by the Bureau, conduct monthly reviews of information furnished to CRAs, and establish reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.
On December 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a default judgment and order against two companies (collectively, “default defendants”) for their role in a student loan debt-relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the student loan debt relief operation (defendants) for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. The complaint alleged that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the complaint asserts that the defendants engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments. In September, the court entered final judgments against four of the defendants (covered by InfoBytes here), which included a suspended monetary judgment of over $95 million due to the defendants’ inability to pay.
The new default order enters a $55 million judgment against one of the defaulting defendants and requires the defaulting defendant to pay a $30 million civil money penalty with $50,000 of that sum going directly to each of the states. Additionally, the court entered a judgment of over $165,000 to the other defaulting defendant and total civil money penalties of $2.5 million, with $10,000 going to each of the states directly and an additional $1.25 million to California. The judgment also, among other things, permanently bans the defaulting defendants from telemarketing any consumer financial product or service and from selling any debt-relief service.
On December 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered final judgment against two defendants (defendants) and a default judgment against another defendant (defaulting defendant) in an action brought by the CFPB alleging the defendants (and others not subject to these judgments) charged thousands of customers approximately $11.8 million in upfront fees in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July, the CFPB filed a complaint against the defendants, one other company, its two owners, and four attorneys, alleging the companies would market its debt-relief services to customers over the phone, encouraging those with private loans to sign up with an attorney to reduce or eliminate their student debt. The businesses allegedly charged the fees before the customer had made at least one payment on the altered debts, in violation of the TSR’s prohibition on requesting or receiving advance fees for debt-relief service or, for certain defendants, the TSR’s prohibition on providing substantial assistance to someone charging the illegal fees. In August, the court approved stipulated final judgments with one of the owners of the other company and three of the attorneys. In December, the court entered a default judgment against the other company and another owner (previous InfoBytes coverage available here).
The final judgment permanently bans the defendants from engaging in any debt-relief service or telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service. Additionally, the court entered a suspended judgment of over $11 million in redress, which will be satisfied by a payment of $5,000 (due to an inability to pay) and each defendant is required to pay a civil money penalty of $1 to the Bureau. Liability for nearly $5 million was entered by default judgment against the defaulting defendant and a civil monetary penalty in the amount of $5 million.
On December 3, the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California entered a default judgment against a student debt-relief company and one of its owners (collectively, “defaulting defendants”) in an action brought by the CFPB alleging the defaulting defendants (and others not subject to the judgment) charged thousands of customers approximately $11.8 million in upfront fees in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July, the CFPB filed a complaint against the defaulting defendants, one other company, its owner, and four attorneys, alleging the companies would market its debt-relief services to customers over the phone, encouraging those with private loans to sign up with an attorney to reduce or eliminate their student debt. The businesses allegedly charged the fees before the customer had made at least one payment on the altered debts, in violation of the TSR’s prohibition on requesting or receiving advance fees for debt-relief service or, for certain defendants, the TSR’s prohibition on providing substantial assistance to someone charging the illegal fees. In August, the court approved stipulated final judgments with the other company owner (available here) and three of the attorneys (available here, here, and here).
The court entered into a default judgment against the defendants after they failed to file an answer or otherwise respond to the Bureau’s complaint. The judgment requires the defaulting defendants to pay over $11 million in consumer redress with separate $15 million civil money penalties entered against the company and the owner. Additionally, the defaulting defendants are permanently banned from providing debt-relief services or engaging in telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service.
On September 21, the OCC announced settlements with three former senior executives of a national bank for their roles in the bank’s incentive compensation sales practices. According to consent orders (see here and here), the OCC alleged that two of the individuals either “knew or should have known” about the sales misconduct problem and its root cause, but allegedly failed to, among other things, appropriately consider concerns about the “unreasonably high sales goals” and the associated risks of incentivizing sales of secondary deposit products. The third individual—previously in charge of identifying human resource risks—allegedly approved incentive compensation plans that overly incentivized sales and failed to respond to or escalate information received about unreasonable sales goals. In addition to paying civil money penalties, the individuals—who did not admit or deny wrongdoing—have each agreed to cooperate with the OCC in any investigation, litigation, or administrative proceeding related to sales misconduct at the bank.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January, the OCC reached settlements with three other former senior executives in January for their alleged roles in the bank’s sales practices misconduct, and issued notices of charges against five others.
On September 11, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ordered a California-based investment training operation to pay $362 million to resolve FTC allegations that the operation used deceptive claims to sell costly “training programs” targeting older consumers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC argued that the operation violated the FTC Act and the Consumer Review Fairness Act by using false or unfounded claims to market programs that purportedly teach consumers investment strategies designed to generate substantial income from trading in the financial markets “without the need to possess or deploy significant amounts of investable capital.” Additionally, the FTC alleged the operation required that dissatisfied customers requesting refunds sign agreements barring them from posting negative comments about the operation or its personnel, and prohibited customers from reporting potential violations to law enforcement agencies.
The district court agreed with the FTC, approving an order that requires the operation to pay a partially suspended judgment of $362 million, with three individual defendants required to pay $8.3 million, $158,000, and $736,300, respectively, and to surrender various assets. The remainder of the total judgment is suspended upon the completion of the individuals’ respective payments and surrender of assets, conditioned on the “truthfulness, accuracy, and completeness” of the sworn financial representations. Moreover, among other things, the order prohibits the operation from (i) making misleading claims of potential earnings or misrepresenting the time or effort required by consumers to “attain proficiency” in the operation’s trading strategy; and (ii) restricting customers from communicating with law enforcement or posting negative reviews. Additionally, the operation must notify all clients of their rights to post honest reviews and to file complaints.
On August 4, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO be held liable for violations of TILA, CFPA, and the EFTA and pay restitution of $38 million and $12.5 million in civil penalties in a CFPB administrative action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2015, the Bureau filed an administrative suit against the lender and its CEO alleging violations of TILA and the EFTA, and for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Specifically, the CFPB argued that, from May 2008 through December 2012, the online lender (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. In 2016, an ALJ agreed with the Bureau’s contentions, and the defendants appealed the decision. In May 2019, CFPB Director Kraninger remanded the case to a new ALJ.
After a new hearing, the ALJ concluded that the lender violated (i) TILA (and the CFPA by virtue of its TILA violation) by failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose consumers’ legal obligations; and (ii) the EFTA (and the CFPA by virtue of its EFTA violation) by “conditioning extensions of credit on repayment by preauthorized electronic fund transfers.” Moreover, the ALJ concluded that the lender and the lender’s owner engaged in deceptive acts or practices by misleading consumers into “believing that their APR, Finance Charges, and Total of Payments were much lower than they actually were.” Lastly, the ALJ concluded the lender and its owner engaged in unfair acts or practices by (i) failing to clearly disclose automatic rollover costs; (ii) misleading consumers about their repayment obligations; and (iii) obtaining authorization for remote checks in a “confusing manner” and using the remote checks to “withdraw money from consumers’ bank accounts after consumers attempted to block electronic access to their bank accounts.” The ALJ recommends that both the lender and its owner pay over $38 million in restitution, and orders the lender to pay $7.5 million in civil money penalties and the owner to pay $5 million in civil money penalties.
On July 23, the CFPB announced that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against a foreclosure relief services company, along with the company’s president/CEO (defendants), resolving CFPB allegations that the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts and practices in connection with the marketing and sale of purported financial-advisory and mortgage-assistance-relief services to consumers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2019, the CFPB filed a complaint alleging that since 2014, the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and Regulation O by, among other things, making deceptive and unsubstantiated representations about the efficacy and material aspects of its mortgage assistance relief services, as well as making misleading or false claims about the experience and qualifications of its employees. The Bureau also alleged the defendants’ misrepresentations constituted abusive acts and practices because consumers “generally did not understand and were not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of [the defendants’] marketing representations or the quality of the mortgage-assistance-relief services that [the defendants] sold.” Moreover, the Bureau claimed the defendants further violated Regulation O by charging consumers advance fees before rendering services.
The stipulated final judgment suspends $3 million in consumer redress based upon the defendants’ sworn financial statements and disclosures of material assets that detailed their inability to pay, but orders the defendants to pay $40,000 in civil money penalties. Additionally, the judgment permanently restrains the defendants from offering mortgage relief and financial advisory services and subjects the defendants to certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
On June 2, the CFPB announced a settlement with a payday and auto title loan lender and its subsidiaries (collectively, “lender”) resolving allegations that the lender violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and TILA. Specifically, the Bureau asserts that the lender—which is based in Cleveland, Tennessee and operates 156 stores in eight states—violated the CFPA and TILA by (i) disclosing finance charges that were substantially lower than what the consumer would actually incur if repaid according to the amortization schedules; (ii) delayed refunds of consumer credit balances for months; (iii) made repeated debt collection calls to third-parties, including workplaces after being told to stop; and (iv) improperly disclosed, or risked disclosure, of consumer debt information to third parties. The Bureau alleges that the lender received over $3.5 million in finance charges that exceeded the amount stated in required TILA disclosures.
The consent order requires the lender to pay $2 million of the $3.5 million in consumer redress and $1 civil money penalty, based on a demonstrated inability to pay. The consent order also prohibits the lender from misrepresenting finance charges or engaging in unlawful collection practices and requires certain compliance and reporting measures to be undertaken.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance 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