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On June 24, NYDFS announced a consent order imposing a $5 million fine against a group of Florida-based cruise lines for alleged violations of the state’s Cybersecurity Regulation (23 NYCRR Part 500). According to a Department investigation, the companies were subject to four cybersecurity incidents between 2019 and 2021 (including two ransomware attacks). The companies determined that unauthorized parties gained access to employee email accounts, and that, through a series of phishing emails, the parties were able to access email and attachments containing personal information belonging to the companies’ consumers and employees. NYDFS claimed that although the companies were aware of the first cybersecurity event in May 2019, they failed to notify the Department as required under 23 NYCRR Part 500 until April 2020. The investigation further showed that the companies allegedly failed to implement multi-factor authentication and did not provide adequate cybersecurity training for their personnel. NYDFS determined that in addition to the penalty, since the companies were licensed insurance producers in the state at the time of the cybersecurity incidents they would be required to surrender their insurance provider licenses.
The settlement follows a $1.25 million data breach settlement reached with 45 states and the District of Columbia on June 22 (covered by InfoBytes here).
On June 24, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted final approval of a $2.5 million class action settlement resolving claims that an auto dealer group and marketing director (collectively, “defendants”) violated the TCPA by sending “prerecorded telemarketing messages” to consumers’ cell phones without receiving consumers’ express written consent. According to the second amended complaint, the plaintiff sued the defendants after he allegedly received unsolicited prerecorded text messages advertising one of the auto group’s dealerships. Under the terms of the agreement, class members (comprised of consumers who were sent prerecorded messages from the defendants, auto dealerships managed by the defendant, or anyone acting on the defendant’s behalf, including employees, agents, third-party contractors, and sub-contractors) will receive a portion of the $2.5 million settlement. The settlement amount also provides for up to $625,700 in attorneys’ fees, nearly $12,600 for costs, and $125,000 for the settlement administrator. The class representative will be given a $5,000 service award. Additionally, the defendants and dealerships are required to “adopt policies and procedures regarding compliance with the TCPA and the National Do Not Call Registry.”
On June 24, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted final approval of a $38.5 million settlement in a class action against a national gas service company and other gas companies (collectively, defendants) for allegedly violating the TCPA in connection with calls made to cell phones. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiff’s memorandum of law requested preliminary approval of the class action settlement. The settlement establishes a settlement class of all U.S. residents who “from March 9, 2011 until October 29, 2021, received a telephone call on a cellular telephone using a prerecorded message or artificial voice” regarding several topics including: (i) the payment or status of bills; (ii) an “important matter” regarding current or past bills and other related issues; and (iii) a disconnect notice concerning a current or past utility account. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will provide monetary relief to claiming class members in an estimated amount between $50 and $150. The settlement will additionally require the companies to implement new training programs and procedures to prevent any future TCPA violations. The settlement permits counsel for the proposed class to seek up to 33 percent of the settlement fund to cover attorney fees and expenses.
On June 17, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval of a class action settlement resolving claims that a hospitality company violated the FCRA and various California laws. According to the order, plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that the company violated the FCRA by failing to make proper disclosures and obtain proper authorization during its hiring process. Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed that the company’s background check forms were allegedly defective because they “contained information for multiple states for whom background checks were run” in violation of California’s Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act and other California laws. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendant will pay nearly $1.4 million, of which class members will receive $821,714 in total ($63.29 per class member), $10,127 will go towards settlement administration costs, $349,392 will cover attorneys’ fees, and $5,000 will be paid to each of the two named plaintiffs.
On June 22, a coalition of state attorneys general from 45 states and the District of Columbia announced a $1.25 million settlement with a Florida-based cruise line, resolving allegations that it compromised the personal information of employees and consumers as a result of a data breach. According to the announcement, in March 2020 the company publicly reported that the breach involved an unauthorized actor gaining access to certain employee email accounts. The breach notifications sent to the AGs' offices stated the company first became aware of suspicious email activity in late May of 2019, approximately 10 months before it reported the breach. An ensuing multistate effort focused on the company’s email security practices and compliance with state breach notification statutes. The announcement explained that “’unstructured’ data breaches, like the [company’s] breach, involve personal information stored via email and other disorganized platforms” and that “[b]usinesses lack visibility into this data, making breach notification more challenging and causing further risks for consumers with the delays.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the company has agreed to provisions designed to strengthening its email security and breach response practices, including, among other things: (i) implementing and maintaining a breach response and notification plan; (ii) requiring email security training for employees; (ii) instituting multi-factor authentication for remote email access; (iii) requiring the use of strong, complex passwords, password rotation, and secure password storage for password policies and procedures; (iv) maintaining enhanced behavior analytics tools to log and monitor potential security events on the company’s network; and (v) undergoing an independent information security assessment, consistent with past data breach settlements.
On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania certified a putative class action against an online apparel company related to alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff claimed that he was unable to access the defendant’s website because the website did not facilitate access to customers using screen readers or other auxiliary aids. This lack of access made the website not fully accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired—a “violation of the effective communications and equal access requirements of Title III” of the ADA. The plaintiff sued, seeking to include a class of similarly situated blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers or other auxiliary aids to access the defendant’s website and/or mobile app. According to the plaintiff, the defendant failed to have in place adequate policies and practices to ensure its website was fully accessible, and that, although the defendant maintains a single brick-and-mortar location, most of its sales are digital. In certifying the class, the court determined, among other things, that the defendant’s “website and other digital properties affected all members of the class, and thus the class as a whole shares the same interest in obtaining the injunctive relief provided by the settlement—prospective changes to [defendant’s] digital properties.” The court also preliminarily approved the proposed class action settlement, which requires, among other things, that the defendant make several changes to its policies and procedures to ensure accessibility of its digital properties and to make sure it complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.
On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted preliminary approval of a class settlement in an action against a cable TV and communications provider (defendant) for failing to protect current and former employees’ (plaintiffs) personal information and prevent a 2019 phishing attack. According to the plaintiffs’ supplemental memorandum in support of preliminary approval of settlement, the defendant notified the plaintiffs (as well as the attorneys general of several states) that a successful phishing campaign was launched against them. The phishing scheme resulted in cybercriminals being able to “access” and “download” a report containing the unencrypted personally identifiable information (PII) of 52,846 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged that as a result of the data security incident they suffered concrete injuries, including, inter alia, identity theft, the exposure of their PII to cybercriminals, a substantial risk of identity theft, and actual losses. Under the terms of the preliminarily approved settlement, class members are eligible to enroll in three years of identity protection and credit monitoring, and may receive reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and compensation for up to three hours spent dealing with the security incident.
On June 21, the United States Department of Justice announced that it had secured a “groundbreaking” settlement resolving claims brought against a large social media platform for allegedly engaging in discriminatory advertising in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement is one of the first significant federal actions involving claims of algorithmic bias and may indicate the complexity of applying “disparate impact” analysis under the anti-discrimination laws to complex algorithms in this area of increasingly intense regulatory focus.
On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against an individual defendant who participated in a deceptive debt-relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the Bureau, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the third amended complaint, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015, the debt relief operation violated the CFPA, TSR, FDCPA, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the Bureau and the states claimed that the debt relief operation engaged in deceptive practices by, among other things, misrepresenting: (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness for borrowers; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments. Moreover, the debt relief operation allegedly failed to inform borrowers that it was their practice to request that the loans be placed in forbearance and also submitted false information to student loan servicers to qualify borrowers for lower payments.
Under the terms of the final judgment, in addition to various forms of injunctive relief, the individual defendant must pay a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau and $5,000 each to Minnesota, North Carolina, and California. The individual defendant is also “liable, jointly and severally, in the amount of $95,057,757, for the purpose of providing redress to Affected Consumers,” although his obligation to pay this amount is “suspended based on [his] inability to pay.”
On June 10, the DOJ announced that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered a consent order against several defendants accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by targeting Hispanic homeowners for predatory mortgage loan modification services. After several Hispanic homeowners filed discrimination complaints with HUD, the agency conducted an investigation, issued charges of discrimination, and referred the matter to the DOJ for litigation. According to the DOJ’s complaint, the defendants targeted Hispanic homeowners with deceptive Spanish-language advertising “that falsely promised to cut their mortgage payments in half” and guaranteed “lower payments in a specific timeframe in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550, which defendants claimed were ‘non-refundable.’” The DOJ further contended that many of the targeted Hispanic homeowners (who had limited English proficiency) were told not to communicate with their lenders and were instructed to stop making monthly mortgage payments; however, the defendants allegedly “did little or nothing to obtain the promised loan modifications,” leading to defaults and foreclosures.
The consent order, reached in partnership with the Civil Rights Division’s Housing Section, enters a nearly $4.6 million judgment (which is mostly suspended) against the defendants to compensate harmed homeowners. Of this amount, $95,000 in total will go to three individuals who intervened as plaintiffs in the DOJ’s lawsuit. Defendants must also pay a $5,000 civil penalty. In addition to monetary relief, the consent order permanently enjoins defendants “from providing any mortgage relief assistance services, including, but not limited to, mortgage loan modification, foreclosure rescue, or foreclosure defense services.” The consent order also imposes training and reporting/recordkeeping requirements for defendants’ other real-estate activities.
- Daniel R. Alonso discussed “The importance of the FCPA in the world and its current impact” at a ‘Competitive Breakfast’ event sponsored by the international compliance firm Intedya
- Jedd R. Bellman discussed “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Buckley Webcast: State supervision, enforcement, and multistate coordination
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar