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On April 27, FTC staff testified on behalf of the Commission before the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, briefing lawmakers on the FTC’s efforts to protect consumers from scams and frauds connected to the Covid-19 pandemic. During the testimony, presented by acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection Daniel Kaufman, the FTC highlighted that the agency filed more than a dozen law enforcement actions, led the elimination of deceptive claims made by more than 350 companies, and released more than 100 alerts to update consumers and businesses on identifying and avoiding these schemes. According to the testimony, the FTC responded rapidly to identify and stop schemes that have proliferated during the pandemic in response to the demand for scarce goods, to peddle potential treatments and cures, and to exploit consumers’ and businesses’ financial hardships during the crisis. Acting Director Daniel Kaufman noted that “the FTC issued its first warnings to consumers about COVID-19 related scams in February 2020, even before the declaration of a national emergency.” Additionally, the FTC has brought enforcement actions to protect consumers’ privacy and data from digital harms amplified by the ongoing pandemic, and has partnered with the CFPB to ensure “that renters are not subjected to unlawful practices in light of the eviction crisis caused by COVID-19.” The testimony also pointed out that the FTC has received more than 436,000 reports concerning fraud, identity theft, and other consumer problems since January 2020, reflecting $399 million in fraud losses.
On April 23, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced a new round of Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) assistance to provide $5 billion in additional assistance to small businesses and nonprofit organizations with 10 employees or fewer that have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Supplemental Targeted Advance program is the latest SBA relief program and follows recent SBA actions taken to increase EIDL assistance. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last month SBA raised the loan limit for Covid-19 disaster loans “from 6-months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $150,000 to up to 24-months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $500,000,” and extended the deferment period for all disaster loans, including Covid-19 EIDLs, until 2022 (covered by InfoBytes here).
On April 15, the FTC announced a civil complaint filed by the DOJ on its behalf, against a St. Louis-based company and its owner for violating the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FTC Act by making deceptive marketing health claims about their products. (See also DOJ press release here.) This is the first action the FTC has brought under the new law, which makes it unlawful under Section 5 of the FTC Act “for any person, partnership, or corporation to engage in a deceptive act or practice in or affecting commerce . . . that is associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID–19” or “a government benefit related to COVID–19.” The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants deceptively marketed their products as being an effective treatment for Covid-19 based on the results of certain scientific studies, even though they “lacked any reasonable bases” for their claims. According to the FTC’s announcement, the defendants also allegedly advertised—without scientific support—that their products were equally, or more, effective than the currently available vaccines. The FTC seeks an injunction against the defendants, along with monetary penalties and other civil remedies to prevent harm caused by the defendants’ misrepresentations.
On April 21, the FHFA announced a final extension of certain loan origination guidelines put in place to assist borrowers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the FHFA extended until May 31 existing guidelines related to: (i) alternative appraisal requirements on purchase and rate term refinance loans; (ii) completion report flexibilities; and (iii) Freddie Mac’s CHOICERenovation Mortgage flexibilities. The extensions are implemented in updates to Fannie Mae Lender Letter LL-2021-04 and Freddie Mac Guide Bulletin 2021-15. FHFA stated, however, that other temporary flexibilities will expire as scheduled on April 30, including alternative methods for employment verification, condominium project reviews, and expanded power of attorney.
On April 20, the governor of Colorado issued an executive order providing additional protections for tenants at risk of eviction due to the impact of Covid-19. The order suspends portions of the Colorado statutes that require landlords to provide tenants with 10 days’ notice of default on rent payments during which the tenant may cure the default. The order instead requires landlords to provide 30 days’ notice of any default for nonpayment of rent on or after March 10, 2020. During this 30-day period, landlords are prohibited from initiating an action for forcible entry and tenants have the opportunity to cure any default.
On April 19, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued an updated procedural notice to lenders related to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) deadlines following the enactment of the PPP Extension Act of 2021 (covered by InfoBytes here). SBA reiterates that under the PPP Extension Act, “from June 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021, SBA shall not accept new PPP Loan guaranty applications from Lenders and shall only process PPP Loan guaranty applications submitted by Lenders to SBA before June 1, 2021.” The updated procedural notice modifies a previously issued notice concerning First Draw PPP loan increases (covered by InfoBytes here), and addresses (i) requests for increased first draws on unforgiven PPP loans approved before August 8, 2020, for eligible partnerships, seasonal employers, and farmers or ranchers; (ii) reapplications by eligible borrowers that fully repaid a first-draw PPP loan prior to December 27, 2020; (iii) re-disbursements to eligible borrowers that returned part of a first-draw PPP loan prior to December 27, 2020; (iv) increases for eligible borrowers that did not accept the full amount of a first-draw PPP loan approved on or before August 8, 2020; and (v) hold codes for unresolved borrowers.
On April 19, the CFPB issued an interim final rule (IFR) to amend Regulation F, which implements the FDCPA, that will require debt collectors to provide tenants written notice alerting them of their rights under the CDC’s moratorium on evictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Failure to provide notice will be considered a violation of the FDCPA, which may result in a private right of action as well as actual damages, statutory damages, and attorney’s fees. The Bureau noted in its press release that the IFR does not preempt more protective state laws. Additionally, debt collectors are prohibited from misrepresenting renters’ eligibility for temporary protection under the CDC’s moratorium. Sample disclosure language and a summary of the IFR have been provided by the Bureau as well.
The IFR will take effect May 3. Comments are due 15 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On April 19, the FTC issued a staff report highlighting the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. The report addresses hardships consumers face during the pandemic and identifies the Commission’s priorities to tackle Covid-19-associated fraud and other consumer issues using “sophisticated targeting, aggressive law enforcement, and ongoing partnership and outreach.” The report highlights the FTC’s efforts through consumer and business education, including sending out consumer alerts about Covid-19 scams, reminding businesses about their responsibilities regarding honest advertising, and alerting companies about scams targeting them. The report also highlights the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic, including: (i) filing 13 enforcement actions against companies that, among other things, “made deceptive health or earnings claims”; (ii) ordering over 350 companies to remove deceptive Covid-19-related claims concerning treatments, potential earnings, and financial relief for small business and students, and warning companies that it is also illegal to facilitate deceptive Covid-19 calls; (iii) prioritizing privacy enforcement actions related to certain types of conduct “exacerbated in the transformation to digital work and schooling, including videoconferencing, ed-tech and health-tech”; (iv) collecting and tracking over 436,000 reports related to Covid-19 between January 2020 and April 2021 where consumers reported $399 million in fraud losses; and (v) issuing more than 100 Covid-19-related consumer and business alerts. In addition, the report notes that the Commission implemented systems to “track and alert the public to shifts in reports from consumers, launched a public dashboard providing information on reports associated with COVID-19, and used COVID-19-related reports to identify law enforcement targets.”
The FTC also briefed lawmakers on these efforts in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 20. During the testimony, the FTC highlighted its efforts to help consumers facing major challenges as a result of Covid-19 and requested that Congress “affirm the FTC’s authority to return money to consumers using Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission.” The testimony noted that the FTC has issued enforcement actions against those who have communicated deceptive Covid-19 claims, engaged in consumer and business education and outreach, and collected millions of reports from the public on fraud, identity theft, and other consumer problems. The testimony also highlighted the FTC’s partnership with the CFPB to ensure renters are not subjected to unlawful eviction practices (covered by InfoBytes here).
Recently, the Federal Reserve Banks released the 2021 Report on Employer Firms covering findings from their small business credit survey (SBCS), which gathered insights from nearly 10,000 small businesses with fewer than 500 employees on challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as on business performance and credit conditions. SBCS findings showed that few small businesses were able to avoid negative impacts as a result of the pandemic, and notably revealed disparities in experiences and outcomes across business and owner demographics, including race and ethnicity, industry, and firm size. Key findings include:
- Small businesses’ financial conditions sharply declined between 2019 and 2020, with firms owned by people of color reporting greater challenges. Statistics include: (i) 78 percent of firms reported decreases in revenue; (ii) 79 percent, 77 percent, and 66 percent of Asian-owned, Black-owned, and Latinx-owned firms, respectively, “characterized their financial condition as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’” (in contrast to 54 percent of Non-Hispanic White); and (iii) the share of firms carrying more than $100,000 in debt increased from 31 percent in 2019 to 44 percent in 2020.
- 91 percent of small businesses applied for some type of emergency funding. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was the most commonly used program, with 77 percent of PPP applicants receiving all of the funding they requested. Applications were most frequently submitted through large and small banks, with 95 and 83 percent of applicants having an existing relationship with either a large bank or small bank, respectively, prior to applying for a PPP loan.
- 64 percent of small businesses would apply for additional government-provided assistance if it were available, with 39 percent reporting that “they would be unlikely to survive until sales return to ‘normal’ (that is, 2019 levels) without further government assistance.”
- Approval rates on loans, lines of credit, and cash advances decreased. Prior to the start of the pandemic, 81 percent of small businesses were at least partially approved for funding. After March 1, only 70 percent received partial approval.
- Use of online lenders decreased during 2020, with 42 percent of small businesses applying for loans, lines of credit, or cash advances through a large bank (43 percent turned to a small bank). In contrast, the number of small businesses that applied to online lenders fell from 33 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2020. Notably, small businesses with lower credit scores applied to online lenders and nonbank finance companies more often than their higher credit score counterparts. Moreover, small businesses that received financing from online lenders reported a decline in net satisfaction.
On April 14, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2020 to fulfill its fair lending mandate, while protecting consumers against the resulting economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities that continued from years past such as mortgage origination, small business lending, and student loan origination. The report also discusses new policy areas and programs for fair lending examinations or investigations, including (i) the Fair Lending Help Desks; (ii) amendments concerning Regulation C, which will increase the permanent threshold for collecting, recording, and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from 100 to 200; and (iii) two HMDA data point articles. Additionally, the report discusses the Bureau’s efforts in expanding access to credit for underserved or underbanked populations, including: (i) hosting the first “Tech Sprint” (covered by InfoBytes here) to encourage regulatory innovation and stakeholder collaboration; (ii) continuing to examine and investigate institutions for compliance with HMDA and ECOA; (iii) engaging with stakeholders to discuss fair lending compliance, issues related to credit access, and policy decisions; and (iv) issuing Supervisory Recommendations relating to weak or nonexistent fair lending policies and procedures, risk assessments, and fair lending training. The report also provides information related to regulation, supervision, enforcement, and education efforts.
- APPROVED Webcast: CFL license transition to NMLS
- 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
- 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