Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • FTC Reaches $9 Million Settlement with Nationwide Debt Relief Company

    Financial Crimes

    On March 7, the FTC announced that it had reached a settlement with a debt relief company and its principals over allegations that they mislead consumers and charged illegal advance fees. The FTC claimed that the defendants sent direct mail ads that looked like official attorney or bank documents and exaggerated the amount of money consumers would save and the time it would take them to become debt free. In violation of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, the defendants also allegedly charged advance fees before negotiating savings on credit card debts. The stipulated order requires the defendants to pay $9 million (to be partially suspended upon payment of $510,000), a figure that represents the amount of alleged harm to consumers. The defendants are also banned from “making misrepresentations about debt relief and other financial products or services, and making unsubstantiated claims about any products or services.”

    Financial Crimes FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule Debt Relief

    Share page with AddThis
  • Financial Services Institution Discloses SEC FCPA Investigation into Hiring Practices

    Financial Crimes

    On February 24, a major financial services institution disclosed in its 10-K that government and regulatory agencies, including the SEC, are conducting investigations concerning potential violations of the FCPA related to hiring of candidates referred by or related to foreign government officials.  The institution stated that it was cooperating with the investigations.

    This is not the first FCPA-related investigation of a company’s hiring practices.  As previously reported here in November 2016, a global financial company and a Hong Kong subsidiary agreed to pay approximately $264 million to the DOJ, SEC, and the Federal Reserve, ending a nearly three year, multi-agency investigation of the subsidiary’s referral program through which the children of influential Chinese officials were allegedly given prestigious and lucrative jobs as a quid pro quo to retain and obtain business in Asia.  Similarly, as reported here, in August 2015, the SEC announced a settlement with a multinational financial services company over allegations that the company violated the FCPA by giving internships to family members of government officials working at a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund in hopes of retaining or gaining more business from that fund. The company paid $14.8 million to settle the charges. 

    Nor are the inquiries confined to financial services companies.  For example, the SEC announced in March 2016 that it settled charges with the San Diego-based mobile chip maker.  The company agreed to pay a $7.5 million civil penalty to resolve charges that it violated the FCPA by hiring relatives of Chinese government officials and providing things of value to foreign officials and their family members, in an attempt to influence these officials to take actions that would assist the company in obtaining or retaining business in China.

    Financial Crimes DOJ FCPA Federal Reserve SEC

    Share page with AddThis
  • Claims Management Company Reports Conclusion of SEC FCPA Investigation

    Financial Crimes

    As previously covered here, an Atlanta-based claims management firm, disclosed in November 2015 that it self-reported possible FCPA violations to the DOJ and SEC.  These potential violations were identified during an internal audit.  On February 27, 2017, the firm announced that it had received notice that the SEC “concluded its investigation and did not intend to recommend an enforcement action” related to this matter.   The company did not reference the DOJ in its announcement.

    Financial Crimes DOJ FCPA SEC

    Share page with AddThis
  • FinCEN and OCC Penalize CA Bank for BSA/AML Violations

    Financial Crimes

    On February 27, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had assessed a $7 million civil money penalty against a bank specializing in providing services for check-cashers and money transmitters, for alleged “willful violations” of several Bank Secrecy Act provisions. The OCC also identified deficiencies in the bank’s practices and assessed a $1 million civil money penalty for “violations of previous consent orders entered into by [the bank].” As noted in the release, the bank’s payment of the $1 million OCC penalty will go towards satisfying the FinCEN penalty. According to FinCEN, the bank allegedly failed to (i) “establish and implement an adequate anti-money laundering program;” (ii) “conduct required due diligence on its foreign correspondent accounts;” and (iii) “detect and report suspicious activity.” Furthermore, FinCEN claims $192 million in high-risk wire transfers were processed through some of these accounts.

    Financial Crimes Courts Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act FinCEN OCC

    Share page with AddThis
  • BAFT Issues Comments on Proposed AML/CFT Guidance Revisions

    Financial Crimes

    On February 22, the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (BAFT), an international financial services association for organizations engaged in international transaction banking, together with the Institute of International Finance (IIF) issued a letter to the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) with comments on BCBS’ proposed revisions to its risk management guidance related to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing. In the letter, BAFT and IFF note that, while both associations are “particularly pleased with [BCBS’] recognition that not all correspondent banking relationships bear the same level of risk and [BCBS’] acknowledgment of the difference between inherent and residual risk,” they do summarize several areas where enhancements would assist with the “general usefulness” of the final guidance:

    • BCBS should “design guidance that explicitly permits a correspondent bank to rely upon appropriate utilities for the vast majority of cases rather than simply permitting a correspondent bank to use a utility as another source of information supporting the due diligence process” with the purpose of “establishing international standards or sound practices for such utilities to create greater assurance of achieving official ALM/CFT goals.”
    • BCBS should adopt “regulatory practices [that] include standards for ‘verification’ that national authorities could administer or supervise.”

    The “[s]tandardization of information requirements (or templates) for utilities could also be extended to include [the] international standardization of basic due diligence information and ‘enhanced due diligence’ information for higher-risk relationships.” A “basic standardization would give both parties a ground of expectations to build upon in making judgments about how to do business. It could [also] eliminate a degree of unnecessary duplication of effort and costs.”

    Financial Crimes Agency Rule-Making & Guidance International BAFT BCBS IIF Risk Management Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism

    Share page with AddThis
  • IRS Releases Annual Criminal Investigations Report for FY2016

    Financial Crimes

    On February 27, the IRS announced the release of its Annual Criminal Investigation Report (“Report”), discussing the significant accomplishments and criminal enforcement actions taken by the IRS in fiscal year 2016. Highlights in the Report include case examples on a range of matters, including money laundering, public corruption, terrorist financing and narcotics trafficking financial crimes, as well as a discussion of a drop in the number of agents and professional staff at the IRS, and a drop in the total number cases brought for the third consecutive year.

    Financial Crimes IRS Anti-Money Laundering

    Share page with AddThis
  • FinCEN Renews GTOs for Title Insurance Companies in Six Major Metropolitan Areas Upon Finding that GTOs Provide ‘Valuable Data’

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 23, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the renewal of its existing GTOs Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs), each of which temporarily require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used to pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate in six major metropolitan areas. Generally, the GTOs require all title insurance companies in the targeted cities to file a FinCEN Form 8300 within 30 days of closing a covered transaction, identifying the buyer, any beneficial owner of the buyer, and the individual primarily responsible for representing the buyer in an “all-cash” purchase of high-end residential real estate. Covered businesses must also retain their records for at least five years after the GTO expires.   

    Notably, the decision to continue the GTO program for another 180 days—beginning on February 24, 2017—was based largely on FinCEN’s finding that the first GTOs issued back in July are producing “valuable data” that is assisting both law enforcement and FinCEN’s efforts to address money laundering through real estate transactions. Nearly one-third of the targeted transactions covered by the July GTOs ended up involving a beneficial owner or representative who is already the subject of a previous suspicious activity report. The results appear to validate the concerns underlying FinCEN’s rationale for issuing GTOs in the first place, namely the use of shell companies to buy luxury real estate in all-cash transactions. 

    The targeted geographic areas and corresponding closing price thresholds include: (i) Manhattan ($3 million) and all other boroughs of New York City ($1.5 million); (ii) Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties ($1 million); (iii) Los Angeles County ($2 million); (iv) San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties ($2 million); (v) San Diego County ($2 million); and (vi) Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio ($500,000). In targeting the above-listed metropolitan areas, FinCEN clarified that “GTOs do not imply any derogatory finding by FinCEN with respect to the covered companies.” Rather, as explained by FinCEN Acting Director Jamal El-Hindi, “Money laundering and illicit financial flows involving the real estate sector is something that we have been taking on in steps to ensure that we continue to build an efficient and effective regulatory approach.”

    For additional information concerning GTO compliance, FAQs released by FinCEN in August 2016 are available here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Financial Crimes FinCEN GTO Title Insurance

    Share page with AddThis
  • DOJ Fraud Section Unveils New Guidelines on Corporate Compliance Programs

    Financial Crimes

    The DOJ’s Fraud Section recently published an “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs.”  The guidelines were released on February 8 without a formal announcement.  Their stated purpose is to provide a list of “some important topics and sample questions that the Fraud Section has frequently found relevant in evaluating a corporate compliance program.”  The guidelines are divided into 11 broad topics that include dozens of questions.  The topics are:

    1. Analysis and Remediation of Underlying Conduct
    2. Senior and Middle Management
    3. Autonomy and Resources
    4. Policies and Procedures
    5. Risk Assessment
    6. Training and Communications
    7. Confidential Reporting and Investigation
    8. Incentives and Disciplinary Measures
    9. Continuous Improvement, Periodic Testing and Review
    10. Third Party Management
    11. Mergers & Acquisitions

    According to the Fraud Section, many of the topics also appear in, among other sources, the United States Attorney’s Manual, United States Sentencing Guidelines, and FCPA Resource Guide published in November 2012 by the DOJ and SEC.  While the content of the guidelines is not particularly groundbreaking, it is nonetheless noteworthy as the first formal guidance issued by the Fraud Section under the Trump administration and new Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  By consolidating in one source and making transparent at least some of the factors that the Fraud Section considers when weighing the adequacy of a compliance program, the guidelines are a useful tool for companies and their compliance officers to understand how the Fraud Section and others at the DOJ may proceed in the coming months and years. 

    However, while the guidelines may give some indication of what the DOJ views as a best practices compliance program, they caution that the Fraud Section “does not use any rigid formula to assess the effectiveness of corporate compliance programs,” recognizes that “each company’s risk profile and solutions to reduce its risks warrant particularized evaluation,” and makes “an individualized determination in each case.”

    Financial Crimes Federal Issues Securities DOJ SEC

    Share page with AddThis
  • FTC Returning $436,000 to Consumers Scammed in Non-Existent Money-Lending Scheme

    Courts

    On February 17, the FTC announced that it is mailing checks to 2,031 consumers who lost money as part of a business opportunity scheme that cheated consumers out of more than $7 million. The compensation follows a 2013 complaint filed by the Commission focused on 20 individuals and eight companies who, according to the Commission’s allegations, “falsely claimed consumers would earn up to $3,000 per month by referring small businesses to the defendants to obtain an average loan or cash advance of $20,000, and that they could operate a profitable business from their home.”  The defendants were charged with engaging in unlawful conduct by: (i) falsely claiming consumers would earn substantial income; (ii) repeatedly calling consumers who told them not to call, often times using obscenities and threats, as well as calling numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry; and (iii) failing “to provide specific information to help consumers evaluate a business opportunity…and making earnings claims without substantiation,” in violation of the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule.

    The FTC obtained judgments and settlements in 2015 totaling over $7.3 million, and banned 18 defendants from similar telemarketing activities.

    Courts Consumer Finance Financial Crimes FTC Business Opportunity Rule

    Share page with AddThis
  • FTC Fines Large Debt Collector $700,000 for Unlawful Collection Calls

    Courts

    On February 14, the FTC announced that it has entered a Stipulated Order for Permanent Injunction and Civil Penalty Judgment of $700,000 with a debt collector that allegedly used unlawful tactics to collect on federal student loans and other debts. According to the complaint, filed by the DOJ on behalf of the FTC in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, agents working for the defendant-debt collectors (i) left messages that illegally disclosed purported debts to individuals other than the debtors without permission to do so; and (ii) contacted consumers multiple times despite being told they had the wrong number or that the person answering did not owe the debt. Furthermore, the company was alleged to have falsely represented to regulators that it would take steps to prevent its employees from making such unlawful calls. In addition to the $700,000 fine, the Stipulated Order also enjoined the company from continuing such practices going forward.

    Courts Financial Crimes FTC Debt Collection Student Lending

    Share page with AddThis

Pages