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On November 7, the FTC and the State of Florida settled with a chargeback company to prevent it from deceiving any consumers who seek to dispute credit card charges. Back in April 2023, the FTC and the State of Florida sued the chargeback company under Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), Chapter 501, Part II, as previously covered by InfoBytes here. A chargeback is a system for consumers to get their money returned when they have a problem with a purchase. The proposed court order was agreed to by the defendants but, before it can go into effect, the order first must be approved by a federal judge. The final judgment totals $150,000 and prevents the defendants from working with several high-risk clients.
On August 29, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, at their discretion, to close offices in areas of Florida affected by Hurricane Idalia “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” In issuing the proclamation, the OCC noted that only bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions should close, and that banks should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address customers’ banking needs. The proclamation directs institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on natural disasters and other emergency conditions.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.
On June 23, the Florida governor signed HB 1353 (the “Act”), creating the Florida Commercial Financing Disclosure Law and imposing several requirements on commercial financing providers and brokers. The Act defines a “provider” as “a person who consummates more than five commercial financing transactions with a business located in [Florida] in any calendar year.” The definition “also includes a person who enters into a written agreement with a depository institution to arrange a commercial financing transaction between the depository institution and a business via an online lending platform administered by the person.” The Act clarifies, however, the “fact that a provider extends a specific offer for a commercial financing transaction on behalf of a depository institution may not be construed to mean that the provider engaged in lending or financing or originated that loan or financing.” A “commercial financing transaction” is defined broadly and means a secured or unsecured commercial loan, an account receivable purchase transaction, or a commercial open-end credit plan.
The Act establishes parameters for qualifying commercial transactions and outlines numerous exemptions, including federally insured depository institutions; transactions secured by real property, a lease, or a certain purchase money obligations; transactions of at least $50,000 where the recipient is a motor vehicle dealer or rental company (or an affiliate of such company); providers licensed as money transmitters in any state; and commercial financing transactions greater than $500,000.
Specifically, at or prior to consummation of a commercial financing transaction, a provider must (i) disclose the terms of the transaction as specified within the Act; (ii) outline the manner and frequency of the payments, including a description of the methodology used to calculate any variable payment amount and the circumstances that may cause a payment amount to vary; and (iii) disclose any costs or discounts associated with prepayment. Disclosures must be in writing and may be based on an example of a transaction that could occur under the agreement. The Act further specifies that only one disclosure is required for each commercial financing transaction. Subsequent disclosures are not required as a result of a modification, forbearance, or change to a consummated commercial financing transaction.
The Act also defined a “broker” as “a person who, for compensation or the expectation of compensation, arranges a commercial financing transaction or an offer between a third party and a business in [Florida] which would, if executed, be binding upon that third party.” The definition excludes “a provider and any individual or entity whose compensation is not based or dependent upon the terms of the specific commercial financing transaction obtained or offered.” In addition, the Act outlines prohibited conduct and establishes unique broker requirements. Specifically, a broker may not “[a]ssess, collect, or solicit an advance fee from a business to provide services as a broker” (a business may pay for actual services required to apply for a commercial financing transaction), and may not make any false or misleading representations when engaging in the offering or sale of its brokering services.
The Act explicitly prohibits a private right of action, but instead grants the Florida attorney general exclusive enforcement authority. The AG may seek fines of $500 per incident (not to exceed $20,000 for all aggregated violations). Fines will increase to $1,000 per incident (not to exceed $50,000 for all aggregated violations) for continued violations following receipt of written notice or a prior violation.
The Act takes effect on July 1.
On June 6, the Florida governor approved SB 262 to create the Florida Digital Bill of Rights (FDBR) and establish a framework for controlling and processing consumer personal data in the state, applicable only to companies that meet certain criteria and bring in global gross annual revenues of more than $1 billion. Specifically, the FDBR applies to “controllers,” or any person that conducts business in Florida, collects personal data about consumers (or is an entity on behalf of which this information is collected), determines the purposes and means of processing consumers’ personal data (alone or jointly with other entities), meets the revenue minimum, and satisfies at least one of the following criteria: (i) derives at least 50 percent of global gross revenue from the sale of online advertisements (including targeted advertising); (ii) operates a consumer smart speaker and voice command component service; or (iii) operates an app store or a digital distribution platform offering a minimum of 250,000 unique software applications available for download. The FDBR outlines exemptions, including exemptions for financial institutions and data subject to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, as well as certain covered entities governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
- Consumer rights. Under the FDBR, Florida consumers will have the right to, among other things, (i) confirm whether their personal data is being processed and to access their data; (ii) correct inaccuracies; (iii) delete their data; (iv) obtain a copy of personal data processed by a controller; and (v) opt out of the processing of their data for targeted advertising, the sale of their data, or certain profiling. The FDBR also adds biometric data and geolocation information to the definition of personal information.
- Controllers’ responsibilities. Data controllers under the FDBR will be responsible for, among other things, (i) responding to consumers’ requests within 45 days unless extenuating circumstances arise and providing requested information free of charge, up to twice annually for each consumer; (ii) establishing an appeals process to allow consumer appeals within a reasonable time period after a controller’s refusal to take action on a consumer’s request; (iii) limiting the collection of data to what is required and reasonably necessary for a specified purpose; (iv) securing personal data and implementing appropriate data security protection practices; (v) not processing data in violation of state or federal anti-discrimination laws; (vi) obtaining consumer consent in order to process sensitive data (consent may be revoked at any time); (vii) ensuring contracts and agreements do not waive or limit consumers’ data rights; and (viii) providing clear privacy notices. The FDBR also sets forth obligations relating to contracts between a controller and a processor.
- No private cause of action but enforcement by the Florida Department of Legal Affairs. The FDBR explicitly prohibits a private cause of action. Instead, it grants the department exclusive authority to bring actions under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and seek penalties of up to $50,000 per violation, which may be tripled for any violation involving a child under the age of 18 for which the online platform has actual knowledge. The department is also granted authority to adopt rules to implement the FDBR.
- Right to cure. Upon discovering a potential violation of the FDBR, the department must give the controller written notice. The controller then has 45 days to cure the alleged violation before the department can file suit.
Minor children are also afforded specific protections under the FDBR, including prohibiting online platforms that provide services or features to children from processing children’s personal information or from collecting, selling, sharing, or retaining any personal information that is not necessary to provide an online service, product, or feature. Additionally, the FDBR includes provisions addressing political ideology and government-led censorship.
The FDBR takes effect July 1, 2024.
Several states are moving forward on legislation relating to commercial financing disclosures. While Georgia is the most recent state to require disclosures in connection with commercial financing transactions of $500,000 or less (covered by InfoBytes here), additional states, including Connecticut and Florida, are moving bills through the legislature that would also impose several requirements on commercial financing lenders and providers.
Awaiting the governor’s signature, Connecticut SB 1032 would require certain providers of commercial financing to make various disclosures, with violators being subject to civil penalties. The requirements are applicable to sales-based financing in amounts of $250,000 or less. A “provider” is defined by the bill as “a person who extends a specific offer of commercial financing to a recipient” and includes, unless otherwise exempt, a “commercial financing broker,” but does not include “a bank, out-of-state bank, bank holding company, Connecticut credit union, federal credit union, out-of-state credit union or any subsidiary or affiliate of the foregoing.” The bill establishes parameters for qualifying commercial transactions and outlines numerous additional exemptions. Providers may also be able to rely on a statement of intended purpose made by the “recipient” – which is defined as “a person, or the authorized representative of a person, who applies for commercial financing and is made a specific offer of commercial financing by a provider” – to determine whether the financing is commercial financing. Additionally, when extending a specific offer for sales-based financing, the provider must disclose the terms of the transaction as specified within the bill. As a condition of obtaining commercial financing, should the provider require a recipient to pay off the balance of existing commercial financing from the same provider, the provider would be required to include additional disclosures. The bill also discusses conditions and criteria for when using another state’s commercial financing disclosure requirements that meet or exceed Connecticut’s provisions may be permitted.
The bill further provides that a commercial financing contract entered into on or after July 1, 2024, may not contain any provisions waiving a recipient’s right to notice, judicial hearing, or prior court order in connection with the provider obtaining any prejudgment remedy. Additionally, a provider may not revoke, withdraw, or modify a specific offer until midnight of the third calendar day after the date of the offer. Finally, the banking commissioner also is authorized to adopt regulations to carry out the bill’s provisions. Notably and unique to Connecticut is a requirement that providers and brokers of commercial financing be registered with the state banking commissioner in addition to adhering to the prescribed disclosure requirements. No later than October 1, 2024, providers and brokers must abide by certain application requirements and pay registration fees. If enacted, Connecticut’s requirements would take effect July 1, 2024.
Similarly, Florida also moved legislation during the 2023 session related to commercial financing that would have created the Florida Commercial Financing Disclosure Law. Among other things, HB 1353 would have required covered providers to provide specified disclosures for commercial financing transactions in amounts of $500,000 or less and would have established unique broker requirements. Florida’s session ended May 5.
On May 25, the Florida governor signed HB 761 (the “Act”) to clarify notice requirements relating to telephone and text message solicitations and to outline conditions under which certain civil actions may be brought. Specifically, the amendments provide that “unsolicited” telephone sales calls involving an automated system used to select and dial numbers or one that plays a recorded message cannot be made without the prior express written consent of the called party. Consent may now be obtained by a consumer “checking a box indicating consent or responding affirmatively to receiving text messages, to an advertising campaign, or to an e-mail solicitation.”
The Act also clarifies that before the commencement of a civil action for damages for text message solicitations, the called party must reply “STOP” to the number that sent the message. The called party may bring an action only if consent is not given and the telephone solicitor continues to send text messages 15 days after being told to cease. The new requirements apply to any suit filed on or after the Act’s immediate effective date, as well as to any putative class action not certified on or before the effective date of the Act. The Act became effective immediately.
On May 5, the FDIC issued FIL-22-2023 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Florida affected by severe storms, tornados, and flooding from April 12 to 14. The FDIC acknowledged the unusual circumstances faced by affected institutions and encouraged those institutions to work with impacted borrowers to, among other things: (i) extend repayment terms; (ii) restructure existing loans; or (iii) ease terms for new loans, provided the measures are done “in a manner consistent with sound banking practices.” Additionally, the FDIC noted that institutions “may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.” The FDIC will also consider regulatory relief from certain filing and publishing requirements and instructed institutions to contact the Atlanta Regional Office if they expect delays in making filings or are experiencing difficulties in complying with publishing or other requirements.
On April 12, the FTC and the Florida attorney general filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida alleging a “chargeback mitigation” company and its owners (collectively, “defendants”) used numerous unfair tactics to thwart consumers trying to dispute credit card charges through the chargeback process. The chargeback process allows consumers to contest unwanted, fraudulent, or incorrect credit card charges with their credit card companies. According to the complaint, the defendants regularly sent screenshots and statements on behalf of company clients to credit card companies allegedly showing that consumers had agreed to the disputed charges. However, the FTC claimed that in many instances, the misleading screenshots did not come from the merchant’s website where the consumer made the disputed purchase. The complaint further alleged that the defendants used a system that allowed company clients to run numerous small-value transactions via prepaid debit cards in order to raise the number of transactions, thus lowering the percentage of charges that were disputed by consumers. The service, the FTC maintained, “enabled fraudulent merchants to evade or delay chargeback monitoring programs, fines, and account terminations designed to protect consumers from fraud.”
The FTC noted that three of the defendants’ major clients (for which the defendants disputed tens of thousands of chargebacks on behalf of each of the companies) were previously sued by the FTC for engaging in deceptive negative-option marketing practices. The complaint accused the defendants of ignoring clear warning signs that the screenshots were misleading, including instances where the name of the product referenced in the screenshot did not match the product in the disputed purchase. The defendants also allegedly often overlooked company clients that opened and used a large number of different merchant accounts to process charges. Asserting violations of the FTC Act and the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the complaint seeks permanent injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties.
In December, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the FTC and the CFPB requesting a review of a Florida-based real estate brokerage firm’s use of exclusive 40-year listing agreements marketed as a “loan alternative.” The request follows a November press release by the Florida attorney general announcing legal action against the firm for engaging in allegedly deceptive, unfair, and unconscionable business practices. According to the AG’s complaint, the firm offered homeowners $300 to $5,000 as a cash loan alternative in exchange for an agreement to use the firm as an exclusive real estate listing broker for a 40-year period. The complaint claimed the firm informs homeowners that there is no obligation to return the cash, stressing the homeowner will owe the firm nothing unless and until the home is sold. The AG asserted, however, that what is not clearly disclosed is that after accepting the payment, the firm files a 40-year lien on the property so that if at any time within 40 years the home is foreclosed upon or transferred to heirs upon the homeowner’s death, or if homeowners simply wish to cancel the deal, the firm will attempt to take three percent of the home’s value. Further, the AG claimed that the firm also failed to inform customers that the liens are filed in the public record, which can make it difficult for homeowners to refinance or access their home’s equity. The complaint seeks injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties.
On December 8, the FTC and the Florida attorney general announced that a Florida-based grant funding company and its owner (collectively, “defendants”) will be permanently banned from offering grant-writing and business consulting services as a result of a lawsuit the regulators brought against the defendants in June. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleged that the defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act, the FTC Act, and the Florida Deceptive Unfair Trade Practices Act by deceptively marketing their services to minority-owned small businesses. Among other things, the defendants (i) promised grant funding that did not exist and/or was never awarded; (ii) misled customers about the status of grant awards; and (iii) failed to honor a “money-back guarantee” and suppressed customer complaints. The defendants agreed to the terms of a proposed court order, which would ban them from providing grant-related services and business consulting, and prohibit them from making misrepresentations regarding advertised products or services. Defendants would also be required to turn over certain property to be sold in order to provide refunds to affected businesses. The proposed order also includes a more than $2 million monetary judgment, which is partially suspended due to defendants’ inability to pay.