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  • Business groups sue the CFPB over credit card late fee rule

    Courts

    On March 7, several business groups (plaintiffs) sued the CFPB rule in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas over its announced credit card late fee rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau’s new final rule limited most credit card late fees to $8, among other actions, and was met immediately with criticism from banks and legislators.

    The plaintiffs’ complaint claimed the CFPB completed the rule hastily to implement a pledge made by President Biden around his State of the Union Address to reduce credit card late fees by 75 percent. The complaint further asserted the CFPB skipped necessary steps, made economic miscalculations, and otherwise breached the Administrative Procedure Act. As alleged, the Bureau likely understated “the volatility of card issuers’ cost-to-fee ratios pertaining to late fees” and improperly relied on data which does not allow for the recovery of a “reasonable and proportional” penalty fee. On the Bureau’s use of the Y-14M data, the complaint alleged the new rule ignored peer-reviewed studies and instead opted to base the rule on an internal study using confidential data that was not available for examination during the period allocated for public comment. The plaintiffs argued the final rule would incur “substantial compliance costs” by amending printed disclosures, using the cost-analysis provisions, and notifying consumers of changes in interest rates to recoup costs, among other problems. The complaint also cited TILA’s effective-date provisions and the Bureau’s embattled funding structure to support the argument that the final rule would cause irreparable harm.

    Courts Federal Issues CFPB Litigation Credit Cards Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Fees Consumer Finance Consumer Protection

  • CFPB warns lead generators, digital comparison-shopping tool operators of potential CFPA violations

    Federal Issues

    On February 29, the CFPB issued a circular to law enforcement agencies and regulators explaining how operators of digital comparison-shopping tools or lead generators can potentially violate the CFPA’s prohibition on abusive acts or practices by steering consumers towards options that best serve the operator or the lead generator. The circular further discussed “how law enforcement agencies and regulators can evaluate operators of comparison-shopping tools… to manipulate results” to appease consumer preferences.

    The Bureau explained that while consumers often use these tools to research, compare, and select financial products, some intermediaries also functioned as lead generators that sold consumer information to lenders. These intermediaries may have received compensation, the CFPB said, often termed as “bounties,” from financial providers for preferential treatment or lead generation. The circular recognized that operators of these tools may have engaged in commercial arrangements with financial providers and may have received compensation based on user actions or bids.

    The CFPB stated that both digital comparison-shopping tool operators and lead generators can qualify as “covered persons” under CFPA section 1031(d)(2)(C) which prohibits them from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, particularly those that “take unreasonable advantage” of consumers so they may act in the “covered person’s” best interests. The circular outlined elements of CFPA Section 1031(d)(2)(C) and applied the elements including reasonable reliance by consumers on covered entities to act in their interests, to an evaluation of the operator or lead generator activities. Notably, the circular warned that reasonable consumer reliance could be created based on the representations of the tool operator or lead generator, as well as implicit or explicit communications. Further, the Bureau added that steering consumers towards certain products or providers for the financial benefit of the operator or lead generator, rather than consumer interest, constituted unreasonable advantage-taking.

    Finally, the circular included a non-exhaustive list of examples of preferencing or steering arrangements and advised law enforcement agencies and regulators to scrutinize bounty or bidding schemes and decision-making processes to identify abusive conduct.

     

    Federal Issues CFPB Lead Generation CFPA Enforcement Consumer Protection Abusive Deceptive Unfair

  • Minnesota Attorney General settles with tribal company over high interest rates

    State Issues

    On February 21, the Minnesota Attorney General announced a settlement with a tribal economic development entity to resolve a 2023 federal lawsuit that alleged the entity’s lending subsidiaries were engaged in predatory lending and illegal interest rates, in violation of Minnesota and federal consumer lending laws. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint claimed that the entity’s lending subsidiaries charged interest rates of up to 800 percent in violation of state statutory caps of eight percent, and led state residents to believe that the entity was exempt from state laws that protect against predatory lending.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the entity and its subsidiaries can no longer lend to Minnesota residents nor advertise or market those loans. The settlement also required any loan issued to consumers in Minnesota before the settlement is canceled, except to recover the original principal balance with all past payments to be attributed towards paying down the principal balance.

    State Issues Courts Minnesota Interest Rate Consumer Finance State Attorney General Settlement Enforcement Consumer Protection

  • FTC takes action against tax prep company for alleged unfair and deceptive practices

    Federal Issues

    On February 23, the FTC announced an action against a tax preparation company for alleged unfair and deceptive acts and practices related to the sale of tax preparation products and services. The FTC alleged in its redacted administrative complaint that the defendant unfairly pushed consumers into paying for more expensive tax preparation products. The FTC further alleged the company made it unnecessarily difficult to downgrade the consumer’s tax preparation plan, both by requiring the consumer to first speak with a representative and by requiring the consumer to re-input the data if the consumer chooses to downgrade to the lower-priced product. The FTC also stated that the company’s upgrade policy, in contrast, is notably simple compared to its downgrade policy, and consumers’ “data seamlessly moves to the more expensive product instantly.” The FTC also claimed that the company’s “file for free” advertisements are deceptive because not all consumers’ tax situations are eligible for the free service.

    This action follows the FTC’s action against another tax preparation software provider last month (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Unfair Deceptive FTC Act Consumer Protection

  • FCC adopts rule on robocalls and robotexts, includes NPR on TCPA applicability

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 15, the FCC adopted a rule to protect consumers from robocalls and robotexts. According to the rule, robocallers and robotexters must honor do-not-call and consent revocation requests within 10 business days from receipt. In addition, the rule will allow consumers to revoke consent under the TCPA through any unreasonable means and will clarify that the TCPA would not be violated when a one-time text message is sent confirming a consumer’s request that no further text messages be sent if the confirmation text only confirms the opt-out request and does not include marketing information.

    The new rule clarified that revocation of consent can be made via automated methods such as interactive voice responses, key press activation on robocalls, responding with “stop” or similar messages to text messages, or using designated website or phone numbers provided by the caller all will constitute reasonable means to revoke consent. If a called party uses any of these designated methods to revoke consent, it will be considered definitively revoked, and future robocalls and robotexts from that caller must cease. The caller cannot claim that the use of such a mechanism by the called party is unreasonable. Any revocation request made through these specified means will be considered “absolute proof” of the called party's reasonable intent to revoke consent. Furthermore, when a consumer uses a method other than those discussed in the rule to revoke consent, “doing so creates a rebuttable presumption that the consumer has revoked consent when the called party satisfies their obligation to produce evidence that such a request has been made, absent evidence to the contrary.”

    The Commission also included a notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking comment on “whether the TCPA applies to robocalls and robotexts from wireless providers to their own subscribers and whether consumers should have the ability to revoke consent and stop such communications.” The rule will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, except for certain amendments that will not be effective until six months following OMB review. 

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues NPR TCPA FCC Robocalls Opt-Out Consumer Protection

  • FCC ruling determines AI calls are subject to TCPA regulations

    Federal Issues

    On February 8, the FCC announced the unanimous adoption of a declaratory ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices are “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The declaratory ruling notes that the TCPA prohibits initiating “any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party” unless certain exceptions apply. The TCPA also prohibited “any non-emergency call made using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to certain specified categories of telephone numbers including emergency lines and wireless numbers.”

    The ruling, effective immediately, deemed voice cloning and similar AI technologies to be artificial voice messages under the TCPA, subject to its regulations. Therefore, prior express consent from the called party is required before making such calls. Additionally, callers using AI technology must provide identification and disclosure information and offer opt-out methods for telemarketing calls.

    This ruling provided State Attorneys General nationwide with additional resources to pursue perpetrators responsible for these robocalls. This action followed the Commission’s November proposed inquiry for how AI could impact unwanted robocalls and texts (announcement covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Artificial Intelligence FCC TCPA Consumer Protection

  • FTC bans student loan “scammers” from debt relief industry

    Federal Issues

    On February 6, the FTC announced two orders (here and here) that will ban a group of student loan debt relief “scammers” (defendants) from the debt relief industry. As previously covered by InfoBytes, defendants allegedly misled consumers by charging them for services that are free through the Department of Education, claiming consumers needed to pay fees or make payments to access federal student loan forgiveness. As a consequence, the FTC filed a temporary restraining order resulting in an asset freeze, among other things.  

    As a result of the FTC’s action, and subject to court approval, defendants are banned from operating in the debt relief industry, as well as prohibited from making false statements about financial products or services and from using deceptive tactics to gather consumers’ financial information. Moreover, the proposed orders include a monetary judgment of $7.4 million, with a significant portion suspended due to financial constraints. Defendants must surrender personal and business assets, and if any of them materially misrepresent their finances, the entire monetary judgment will become immediately payable.   

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Junk Fees Student Loans Consumer Protection FTC Act Department of Education

  • California Attorney General investigates streaming services for CCPA violations

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On January 26, California State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced an investigative initiative by issuing letters to businesses operating streaming apps and devices, accusing them of non-compliance with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The focus of the investigation is the evaluation of streaming services’ adherence to the CCPA's opt-out requirements, in particular those businesses that sell or share consumer personal information. The investigation targets businesses failing to provide a direct mechanism for consumers wishing to prevent the sale of their data.

    AG Bonta urged consumers to know about and exercise their rights under the CCPA, emphasizing the right to instruct businesses not to sell their personal information. The CCPA grants California consumers enhanced rights regarding the collection, sharing, and disclosure of their personal information by businesses, and compliance responsibilities include responding to consumer requests and providing necessary notices about privacy practices. AG Bonta noted that the right to opt-out under the CCPA mandates that businesses selling or sharing personal data for targeted advertising must facilitate an easy and minimal-step process for consumers to exercise their right. For example, users should be able to easily navigate their streaming service’s mobile application settings to enable the “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” option. The expectation is that this choice remains effective across various devices if users are logged into their accounts when electing to opt-out. Finally, Bonta added that consumers should be given easy access to a streaming service’s privacy policy outlining their CCPA rights. 

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security State Issues State Attorney General CCPA California Compliance Opt-Out Consumer Protection

  • District Court denies stay of CFPB case against lender

    Courts

    On January 12, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied a defendant-mortgage lender’s motion to stay a case filed by the CFPB. The defendant argued that judicial economy—the preservation of the court’s time and resources—favored the stay because the defendant’s pending motion to dismiss is premised on the same constitutional issue addressing the CFPB’s funding structure now before the Supreme Court (see continuing InfoBytes coverage here and here). In opposition, the CFPB argued that the Supreme Court may take months to issue a ruling, the public interest in enforcement of consumer protection laws, and the failure to show how an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court case would definitively result in dismissal of this case.

    The District Court sided with the CFPB, stating that as of now, the CFPB “is a valid agency that is entitled to enforce the consumer financial laws.”  With the stay denied, the court will now consider the defendant’s motion to dismiss.    

    Courts CFPB Mortgage Origination Mortgages Consumer Finance Consumer Protection Constitution

  • U.S. district court holds state laws partially preempted by FCRA

    Courts

    On January 9, the U.S. District Court of Maine entered judgment, determining that Maine law is only partially preempted by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The plaintiff, a trade association that represents the major credit reporting agencies, filed the suit as a facial challenge to certain provisions of Maine law, naming the Maine Attorney General and the Superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection as defendants.

    According to the complaint, the Maine Medical Debt Reporting Act and the Maine Economic Abuse Debt Reporting Act amended the Maine Fair Credit Reporting Act, adding state-specific restrictions on information inclusion in consumer credit reports. The plaintiff argued that the federal FCRA preempts these provisions and that enforcing these amendments threatens the accuracy, integrity, and reliability of consumer report information.

    The court held that while federal law does not “preempt all state laws relating to information contained in consumer reports,” the federal FCRA did preempt provisions of the Maine Medical Debt Reporting Act related to the timing of reporting on veterans’ medical debts by nationwide consumer reporting agencies.  The court noted, however, that sections §§ 1681c(a)(7) and (a)(8) of the federal FCRA do not preempt the Maine Medical Debt Reporting Act to the extent that they regulate non-veterans’ medical debt.

    Regarding the Maine Economic Abuse Debt Reporting Act, the court held that the provisions related to identity-theft in the federal FCRA preempt state law requirements when identify theft is the only method of economic abuse identified by the consumer.  In such cases, the court held that “the blocking of reporting activity on identity-theft-related grounds must proceed according to federal requirements and state requirements are of no effect.” The court noted that its ruling does not “support preemption of Maine’s Economic Abuse Debt Reporting Act insofar as a consumer’s debt is alleged to be the product of economic abuse carried out by means other than or in addition to identity theft.”

    Courts Maine Credit Reporting Agency Consumer Protection State Attorney General Preemption

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