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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Wisconsin enacts SB 628 to protect vulnerable adults

    State Issues

    On March 22, the Governor of Wisconsin signed SB 628 (the “Act”), which “allows financial service providers to refuse or delay financial transactions when financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult is suspected.”

    The Act would authorize financial service providers to refuse or postpone financial transactions on accounts held by or benefiting a vulnerable adult—a term defined as “an adult at risk or an individual who is at least 65 years of age”—if there is a reasonable suspicion of financial exploitation. The Act would not mandate covered financial service providers, which included financial institutions, mortgage bankers, brokers, and loan originators, among others, to take such action. Additionally, financial service providers were allowed, but not obligated, to act on information from elder-adult-at-risk agencies, adult-at-risk agencies, or law enforcement regarding potential financial exploitation. The Act mandated that financial service providers give notice when transactions are refused or delayed and defined the time limits for such actions. It also permitted financial service providers to refuse to accept a power of attorney if financial exploitation is suspected. Moreover, the Act outlined a procedure for financial service providers to compile a list of contacts that a vulnerable adult authorizes, which can be used if exploitation is suspected, and authorized the financial service provider to share its suspicions with designated individuals, including those on the list. Financial service providers acting in good faith would be granted immunity from any criminal, civil, or administrative liability for actions such as (i) refusing or not refusing a financial transaction; (ii) refusing to accept or accepting a power of attorney; (iii) contacting or not contacting a person to convey suspicion of financial exploitation; and (iv) any action based on a reasonable determination related to these measures. The Act went into effect on March 23. 

    State Issues Wisconsin Consumer Protection State Legislation

  • CFPB, seven State AGs file suit against debt-relief company

    Federal Issues

    On January 19, the CFPB and seven state attorneys general (Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) announced a lawsuit against a debt-relief company, its subsidiaries, and its two individual owners (defendants) for allegedly facilitating an unlawful debt relief service. According to the complaint, the company used third parties to solicit consumers with large debts and direct them to contact defendants. The company then, allegedly, advised consumers to enroll in their debt-relief service that will negotiate reduced payoff amounts with consumers’ creditors and represent consumers. Additionally, individual defendants implicated in the action created law firms paired with one of the company’s subsidiaries, which performed little to no work on behalf of consumers, while non-attorney negotiators from the company were tasked with renegotiating a consumer’s debt. The CFPB and the AGs alleged that the company charges fees ($84 million since 2016) before and during the service, that left consumers with additional debt, lower credit scores, lawsuits with creditors, and had none of their original debts settled or reduced.

    Among other things, the CFPB claimed the company violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by (i) charging advance fees before a consumer has made at least one payment under a debt settlement plan; (ii) collecting fees after settling some of a consumer’s debts when the fees are not proportional to the amount of debt defendant successfully settled or based on a fixed percentage of the amount saved; and, (iii) supporting its subsidiary law firms that the company knew or knowingly avoided knowing engaged in abusive acts or practices. The complaint sought permanent and preliminary injunctive relief, redress for consumers, and a civil money penalty. On January 11, the court granted the Bureau’s request for a temporary restraining order.

    Federal Issues CFPB State Attorney General Colorado Delaware Illinois Minnesota New York North Carolina Wisconsin Debt Relief

  • FTC and Wisconsin sue auto dealer group for alleged discrimination and illegal fees

    Federal Issues

    The FTC and the State of Wisconsin announced that they filed a complaint in the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin against an auto dealer group, and its current and former owners, and general manager, alleging that the defendants deceived consumers by tacking hundreds or even thousands of dollars in illegal junk fees onto car prices and discriminated against American Indian customers by charging them higher financing costs and fees relative to similarly situated non-Latino whites.

    The complaint also notes the disparity only increased since a change of ownership in 2019. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants regularly charged many of their customers junk fees for “add-on” products or services without their consent, which resulted in additional fees and interest on the customers’ loans. Further, the defendants allegedly discriminated against American Indian customers in the cost of financing by adding more “markup” to their interest rates. This additional markup cost American Indian customers, on average, $401 more compared to non-Latino white customers.

    The complaint resulted in two proposed settlements. The proposed settlement with the auto dealer, its current owners, and the general manager requires the company to stop deceiving consumers about whether add-ons are required for a purchase and obtain consumers’ express informed consent before charging them for add-ons. The settlement will also the require the defendants to establish a comprehensive fair lending program that, among other components, will allow consumers to seek outside financing for a purchase and cap the additional interest markup the auto dealer can charge consumers. The current owners and general manager will also be required to pay $1 million to be used to refund affected consumers.

    Separately, the former owners agreed to pay $100,000 to be used to refund affected consumers.

    Federal Issues Wisconsin State Issues Discrimination Fees Enforcement

  • DOJ, FTC, Wisconsin AG sue timeshare scammers

    Federal Issues

    On November 22, the DOJ, FTC, and the Wisconsin attorney general announced a civil enforcement action against 16 defendants for allegedly using deceptive sales practices to sell timeshare “exit services” to consumers, mostly involving senior citizens. The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleged that the defendants failed to assist consumers in exiting their timeshare contracts while collecting large fees for the incomplete service. The complaint also alleged that the defendants deceived consumers into registering for timeshare exit services by, among other things, falsely claiming that consumers could not exit timeshare contracts on their own, and that the defendants were affiliated with legitimate companies. The complaint further alleged that the defendants failed to notify consumers of their rights under federal and state law to cancel their contracts with defendants within three business days. The complaint noted that the defendants allegedly deceived consumers into paying over $90 million to the defendant companies for services that were not delivered. The complaint also stated that the defendants’ actions violated the FTC Act, the FTC’s rule concerning the cooling-off period for sales made at home or other locations, and certain Wisconsin state laws concerning fraudulent misrepresentations and direct marketing. The complaint seeks monetary relief, civil penalties, and injunctive relief. According to the DOJ, the defendants’ timeshare exit services are also the subject of lawsuits filed by the Alaska and Missouri attorneys general in June 2022.

    Federal Issues Courts DOJ FTC State Attorney General State Issues Wisconsin Deceptive Enforcement FTC Act

  • Wisconsin assembly passes comprehensive data privacy bill

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On February 23, the Wisconsin assembly passed AB 957, which establishes requirements for controllers and processors of consumer personal data. An assembly amendment to the bill making various changes was adopted the same day. Highlights of the bill include:

    • Applicability. The bill will apply to controllers (defined “as a person that, alone or jointly with others, determines the purpose and means of processing personal data”) that “control or process the personal data of at least 100,000 consumers or that control or process the personal data of at least 25,000 consumers and derive over 50 percent of their gross revenue from the sale of personal data.” Personal data is defined as any information linked or reasonably linkable to an individual minus publicly available information. Certain entities are exempt from the bill’s requirements, including “governmental bodies, financial institutions subject to federal privacy disclosure requirements [including affiliates of financial institutions], certain entities subject to federal health privacy laws, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education.” Data collected, processed, and maintained in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is also exempt.
    • Consumer rights. Under the bill consumers will be able to, among other things, (i) confirm whether their personal data is being processed and access their data; (ii) make corrections; (iii) request deletion of their data; (iv) obtain a copy of their previously provided data; and (v) opt out of the processing of their data for targeted advertising, the sale of their data, and certain forms of automated processing of their data. Controllers will be prohibited from taking discriminatory actions against consumers who exercise certain rights.
    • Controllers’ responsibilities. Data controllers under the bill will be responsible for responding to consumers’ requests without undue delay, including if a controller declines to take action regarding a consumer’s request. Responses to consumers’ requests must be provided free of charge once annually per consumer, and controllers will be required to establish an appeals process for denied requests, wherein “[w]ithin 60 days of receiving an appeal, a controller must inform the consumer in writing of any action taken or not taken in response to the appeal, including a written explanation of the reasons for its decisions. If the appeal is denied, the controller must provide the consumer with a method through which the consumer can contact the attorney general to submit a complaint.” The bill will also require controllers to disclose certain information regarding data collection and sharing practices to consumers, as well as how consumers may exercise their rights under the bill. Controllers will also be prohibited from collecting or processing personal data for purposes not relevant to or reasonably necessary for the purposes disclosed in the privacy notice.
    • Data processing contracts. The bill requires controllers to enter into data processing contracts with data processors and “requires controllers to conduct data protection assessments related to certain activities, including processing personal data for targeted advertising, selling personal data, processing personal data for profiling purposes, and processing sensitive data, as defined in the bill.” The state attorney general may also request controllers to disclose any data protection assessments relevant to an investigation.
    • Private right of action and state attorney general enforcement. The bill explicitly prohibits a private right of action. Instead, it grants the state attorney general exclusive authority to enforce the law and seek forfeiture of up to $7,500 per violation. The attorney general may also recover reasonable investigation and litigation expenses. The bill further “prohibits cities, villages, towns, and counties from enacting or enforcing ordinances that regulate the collection, processing, or sale of personal data.”
    • Right to cure. Upon discovering a potential violation of the bill, the attorney general must give the controller or processor written notice. The controller or processor then has 30 days to cure the alleged violation before the attorney general can file suit.

    If enacted in its current form, the bill would take effect January 1, 2024. The bill still needs to be approved by the state senate and any differences reconciled before the measure can be sent to the governor.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security State Issues State Legislation Consumer Protection Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down state’s stay-at-home order

    State Issues

    On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state’s stay at home order was invalid and unenforceable. In a 4-3 decision, the court held that the state’s health services secretary exceeded her authority when issuing the order because she did not follow guidelines in place for emergency rule procedures when issuing the rule. The court further concluded that, even if emergency rulemaking were not required, the order’s requirements for all people to stay in their homes and the closure of businesses exceeded the secretary’s statutory authority. The ruling took immediate effect, lifting the state’s stay-at-home order. 

    State Issues Covid-19 Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin regulator bars penalties for late/missed rent payments

    State Issues

    On April 29, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection adopted an emergency rule that prohibits landlords from assessing late fees or other penalties for missed or late rent payments during Covid-19 public health emergency.  The rule is in effect until 90 days after the public health emergency ends.

    State Issues Covid-19 Wisconsin Consumer Finance

  • Wisconsin Department of Financial Services discourages unlicensed adjustment service companies

    State Issues

    On April 29, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions issued guidance on adjustment service companies and encouraged Wisconsin residents exercise caution before hiring companies to assist them with debt management.  In particular the guidance discourages doing business with unlicensed companies and links to a list of licensed adjustment service companies.

    State Issues Covid-19 Wisconsin Licensing

  • Wisconsin extends stay at home order

    State Issues

    On April 16, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services extended its order closing all non-essential businesses and ordering residents to stay at home until May 26, 2020. Banks, credit unions, and other depository or lending institutions; licensed financial service providers; insurance services; broker dealers; and investment advisors are not required are considered essential and not required to close.

    State Issues Covid-19 Wisconsin Bank Compliance Credit Union Licensing Insurance Broker-Dealer Investment Adviser

  • Wisconsin DFI issues emergency guidance on debt collection

    State Issues

    On April 13, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions issued guidance on debt collection practices that are prohibited during the Covid-19 crisis. Among them are repeated telephone calls and unsolicited threats to sue. The guidance warns that debt collectors that fail to respect hardships arising from the Covid-19 pandemic “should expect to be judged harshly.”

    State Issues Covid-19 Wisconsin Debt Collection


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