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On May 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $225,937 settlement with a Puerto Rican bank for allegedly violating the Venezuela Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, the bank allegedly processed 337 transactions totaling $853,126 on behalf of two low level employees of the Government of Venezuela (GoV). The apparent violations allegedly resulted from the bank’s maintenance of four personal accounts operated by these two employees that should have been blocked by Executive Order (E.O.) 13884 (which blocks property and interests in property of the GoV, including “‘any person owned or controlled, directly or indirectly,’ by the GoV, and ‘any person who has acted or purported to act directly or indirectly for or on behalf of’ any such entity”). OFAC stated that the two GoV individuals also did not meet the criteria for authorized transaction exemptions under General License 34A and found that the bank failed to identify the customers for 14 months following the issuance of E.O. 13884.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that (i) the bank maintained documentation showing that the two individuals were low-level GoV employees but delayed identifying them; and (ii) the bank has more than $61 billion in assets. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the bank (i) took remedial action to ensure compliance with OFAC sanctions; (ii) created more robust sanctions-related procedures; (iii) developed additional resources and guidance in connection to sanctions alert review and disposition; (iv) added staff to oversee OFAC sanctions matters; (v) reviewed policies and procedures for identifying, reviewing, and reporting transactions that violate OFAC’s regulations; and (vi) enhanced its sanctions screening trainings. The bank also voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations to OFAC and cooperated with OFAC’s investigation.
Providing context for the settlement, OFAC stated that this action “demonstrates the importance of financial institutions conducting timely due diligence…following the issuance of new sanctions prohibitions.”
District Court preliminarily approves $2 million debt collection settlement over garnishment issuance fees
On May 24, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon preliminarily approved a class action settlement resolving claims concerning a debt collection agency’s $45 garnishment “issuance fee.” According to the plaintiffs, the defendant issued garnishments to debtors’ employers and banks through its in-house attorneys to collect revenue for outstanding debts. While Oregon law allows debt collectors to charge fees as a means of compensating for the expense of hiring attorneys who issue such garnishments, the plaintiffs contended that the defendant’s “$45 fee is an abuse of the cost recovery statute because using in-house attorneys relieves defendant from ever incurring such an expense.” The plaintiffs alleged violations of the FDCPA, Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act, and Oregon’s Unlawful Debt Collection Practices Act. While the defendant denied any wrongdoing as part of the preliminarily approved settlement, it has agreed to pay $2 million to settle the claims. Class members, defined as more than 10,000 Oregonians allegedly injured by the $45 issuance fees between January 2018 and September 2019, will each receive “an amount three times greater than the actual damages caused originally by Defendant’s issuance fees.”
On May 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland approved a consent order against defendants in an action concerning allegedly unfair, abusive, and deceptive structured settlement practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2016 the Bureau initiated an enforcement action against the defendants alleging that they violated the CFPA by employing abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. According to the Bureau, the defendants encouraged consumers to take advances on their structured settlements and falsely represented that the consumers were obligated to complete the structured settlement sale, “even if they [later] realized it was not in their best interest.” In July 2021, the court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the Bureau’s amended complaint, which argued that the enforcement action was barred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, which held that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). The defendants had also argued that that the ratification of the enforcement action “came too late” because the statute of limitations on the CFPA claims had already expired (covered by InfoBytes here). Under the terms of the May 18 consent order, the individual defendant, who “had an ownership interest in [the company] and served in executive positions at [the defendants] from their inception to their dissolution" is prohibited from, among other things, participating or assisting others in participating in transfer of payment streams from structured-settlement holders and referring consumers to a specific individual or for-profit entity for advice concerning any structured-settlement transaction, including for independent professional advice. The individual defendant must also pay a $5,000 civil money penalty.
On May 25, the DOJ filed a complaint on behalf of the FTC against a global social media company for allegedly misusing users’ phone numbers and email addresses uploaded for security purposes to target users with ads. (See also FTC press release here.) According to the complaint, the defendant deceived users about the extent to which it maintained and protected the security and privacy of users’ nonpublic contact information. Specifically, from May 2013 to September 2019, the defendant asked users to provide either a phone number or an email address to improve account security. The defendant, however, allegedly failed to inform the more than 140 million users who provided phone numbers or email addresses that their information would also be used for targeted advertising. The FTC claimed the defendant used the collected information to allow advertisers to target specific ads to specific users by matching the phone numbers or email addresses with data they already had or obtained from data brokers. DOJ’s complaint alleged that the defendant’s conduct violated the FTC Act and the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield agreements, which require participating countries to adhere to certain privacy principles in order to legally transfer data from EU countries and Switzerland. This conduct also allegedly violated a 2011 FTC consent order with the defendant stemming from claims that the defendant deceived users and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information. According to DOJ’s complaint, the 2011 order “specifically prohibits the company from making misrepresentations regarding the security of nonpublic consumer information.”
Under the terms of the proposed order, the defendant would be required to pay a $150 million civil penalty and implement robust compliance measures to improve its data privacy practices. According to the FTC and DOJ announcements, these measures would (i) “allow users to use other multi-factor authentication methods such as mobile authentication apps or security keys that do not require users to provide their telephone numbers”; (ii) require the defendant to “notify users that it misused phone numbers and email addresses collected for account security to also target ads to them and provide information about [its] privacy and security controls”; (iii) require the defendant to implement and maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, including conducting “a privacy review with a written report prior to implementing any new product or service that collects users’ private information,” regularly testing its data privacy safeguards, and obtaining regular independent assessments of its data privacy program; (iv) limit employee access to users’ personal data; and (v) require the defendant to notify the FTC should it experience a data breach, and provide reports after any data privacy incident affecting 250 or more users. Additionally, the defendant would be banned from profiting from deceptively collected data.
On May 24, 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 enterprise operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the CFPB, 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 misrepresenting, among other things: (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, the individual defendant must pay a $483,662 civil money penalty to the Bureau.
On May 25, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order in an action taken by the CFPB, in partnership with the New York attorney general, resolving allegations that a debt collection operation based near Buffalo, New York, which includes six companies, three owners, and two managers (collectively, “defendants”), engaged in deceptive tactics to induce consumer payments. (See also CFPB press release here.) As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 against the defendants for allegedly violating the CFPA, FDCPA, and various New York laws by using illegal tactics to induce consumer payments, such as (i) threatening arrest and imprisonment; (ii) claiming consumers owed more debt than they actually did; (iii) threatening to contact employers about the existence of the debt; (iv) harassing consumers and third parties by using “intimidating, menacing, or belittling language”; and (v) failing to provide debt verification notices. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants must pay a $2 million penalty to the CFPB and a $2 million penalty to the New York AG. The judgment provides that if the defendants fail to make timely payments, each penalty amount would increase to $2.5 million. The judgment also permanently bans the defendants from engaging in debt collection operations and prohibits them from engaging in deceptive practices in connection with consumer financial products or services.
On May 12, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia preliminarily approved a nearly $500 million class action settlement resolving allegations that tribal online lending companies charged usurious interest rates. Plaintiffs’ filings outline their class action against tribal entities, as well as several of the entities’ non-tribal business partners (individual defendants), for making and collecting on high-interest loans.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit previously upheld a district court’s denial of defendants’ bid to dismiss or compel arbitration in the case (covered by InfoBytes here). The 4th Circuit concluded that the arbitration clauses in the loan agreements impermissibly forced borrowers to waive their federal substantive rights under federal consumer protection laws, and contained an unenforceable tribal choice-of-law provision because Virginia law caps general interest rates at 12 percent. As such, the appellate court stated that the entire arbitration provision was unenforceable. “The [t]ribal [l]enders drafted an invalid contract that strips borrowers of their substantive federal statutory rights,” the appellate court wrote. “[W]e cannot save that contract by revising it on appeal.”
The 4th Circuit also declined to extend tribal sovereign immunity to the tribal officials, determining that while “the tribe itself retains sovereign immunity, it cannot shroud its officials with immunity in federal court when those officials violate applicable state law.” The appellate court further noted that the “Supreme Court has explicitly blessed suits against tribal officials to enjoin violations of federal and state law.”
Following more than three years of litigation, the parties eventually reached a settlement that will include tribal officials canceling approximately $450 million in debt. As part of the settlement, the tribal officials will eliminate the balance on any outstanding loans on the basis that the debts are disputed, cease all collection activity, and will not sell, transfer, or assign any outstanding loans for collection. Tribal officials will also request deletion of any negative tradelines for loans in the name of tribal officials or tribal corporations, and will pay an additional $1 million to cover the costs of notice and administration for the settlement and $75,000 to go towards service awards. Additionally, the individual defendants will create a $39 million common fund that will go to class members who repaid unlawful amounts on their loans. Class counsel is also seeking attorneys’ fees and costs totaling around $13 million.
On May 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a final judgment on consent resolving a lawsuit concerning data scraping allegations. A professional networking site (plaintiff) sued a Singapore-based company and three company founders (collectively, “defendants”) claiming the defendants violated the terms of the plaintiff’s user agreement by gaining unauthorized access to areas of the plaintiff’s platform that are only accessible to real logged-in members, scraping millions of member profile pages, and using fake member accounts and prepaid virtual debit card numbers to fraudulently obtain access to a function that provides advanced features. In alleging claims for breach of contract, fraud and deceit, and misappropriation, among others, the plaintiff claimed the defendants’ activities defrauded it out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. According to the court’s judgment, the defendants have agreed to be permanently restrained and barred from engaging in the aforementioned activities, including using scraping to access the plaintiff’s data, engaging in marketing and advertising about the availability of user data on the defendant’s website, circumventing any technological measures that control access to the plaintiff’s servers, and transferring data to third parties. “Defendants represent that they have destroyed all [plaintiff] member profile data, whether stored in electronic form or otherwise, in their possession, custody, or control and have certified in writing that they have done so,” the judgment stated. While the judgment did not include a monetary penalty, the court noted that violation of the final judgment or consent shall expose the defendants and all other persons bound by the final judgment on consent “to all applicable penalties, including contempt of Court.”
On May 10, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted preliminary approval of a $5.7 million settlement in a class action against a fast-food chain (defendant) resolving allegations that it acted negligently for failing to protect customers’ data when hackers stole payment card information from more than 700 franchised restaurants. According to the order, in 2017, a data breach compromised the defendant’s customer payment data, which resulted in multiple lawsuits that were settled. In the current case, the plaintiffs sued the defendant for negligence related to insecure systems that led to the data breach. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant’s negligence required financial institutions to spend resources to respond to the breach. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendant would pay under a per-card formula up to $5.73 million to resolve class member claims, which would include up to $3 million to pay class members’ claims ($1.00 per reissued card and $1.50 per card experiencing fraud within four weeks of the breach). The defendant would also pay up to $500,000 for settlement administration, up to $30,000 for class representative service awards, and up to $2.2 million for attorneys’ fees and expenses.
On April 29, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York granted final approval of a class action settlement resolving privacy and data security allegations against a health insurance company and several related health insurance entities (collectively, “defendants”). According to the plaintiffs’ memorandum of support, the plaintiff filed suit in 2015, alleging that the defendants compromised the personal identifying information, Social Security numbers, and medical and financial data of approximately 9.3 million policy holders from a 2013 data breach. After the security incident was announced, 14 lawsuits were filed, which were consolidated with this case. Under the terms of the final settlement, the defendants are required to implement information security and compliance measures, and comprehensively address security risks. The settlement also includes $3.6 million in attorneys’ fees and $700,000 in litigation costs. Class representatives will be awarded service awards that range between $1,000-$7,500 each, which will total approximately $95,500.
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “Risk and compliance management: Are you covered?” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Melissa Klimkiewicz and Daniel A. Bellovin to discuss “Things to know about flood insurance” at a NAFCU webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Max Bonici will moderate a panel on “Enforcement risk and other regulatory and compliance issues related to crypto and digital assets” at the American Bar Association’s 2022 Annual Meeting
- John R. Coleman to provide a “CFPB Update” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “The shifting data privacy and data protection landscape” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “An update on key fair lending cases and the CRA and UDAAP rules” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- 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
- James C. Chou to discuss ransomware at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA seminar