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  • CFPB, FTC submit amicus brief in FCRA case

    Federal Issues

    On March 29, the CFPB and the FTC filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the FCRA mandated consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) when a consumer challenged the “completeness or accuracy of any item or information” in their file, must perform a “reasonable reinvestigation.”

    In the underlying case, a consumer claimed she identified multiple inaccuracies in her credit report held by the defendant CRA, including issues with her name, address, and Social Security number. She allegedly contacted the defendant three times to dispute these errors, but the defendant directed her to resolve the issues with the misinformation sources and did not conduct its own reinvestigation as the consumer believed was required by the FCRA.

    The consumer then filed a lawsuit against the defendant CRA for not performing the reinvestigation. The district court acknowledged that the defendant should have completed the reinvestigation under the FCRA but nonetheless concluded that the defendant did not violate the statute because it did not reasonably interpret that the FCRA did not require a reinvestigation.

    The case will now be under the appeal process and the CFPB and FTC have submitted a joint amicus brief arguing that the FCRA required a CRA to reinvestigate a consumer’s dispute about personal identifying information, and that the district court correctly determined that a reinvestigation was required. The brief also argued that the district nonetheless erred in concluding that the defendant did not negligently or willfully violate the FCRA because the defendant’s interpretation of the FCRA was not “objectively reasonable.”  

    Federal Issues Courts CRA CFPB FTC Amicus Brief

  • FTC to hold an informal hearing on its proposed “junk fee” rules

    Federal Issues

    On March 27, the FTC published a notice in the Federal Register informing the public of its decision to hold an informal hearing on its proposed rule prohibiting “junk fees.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC released a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) titled “Rule on Unfair or Deceptive Fees” and extended the comment period last October. In the NPRM, the FTC presented the opportunity for any party to present their positions orally. The FTC announced that 17 commenters requested to partake in the informal hearing by presenting oral statements and an administrative law judge for the FTC will serve as the presiding officer. The informal hearing will be presented virtually on April 24 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. The hearing will be presented live to the public on the FTC’s website, and a recording will be placed in the rulemaking record.

    Federal Issues FTC Junk Fees ALJ

  • CFPB, federal and state agencies to enhance tech capabilities

    Federal Issues

    On March 26, the CFPB announced as a part of a coordinated statement with other federal and state agencies, the intent to enhance its technological capabilities. As part of this initiative, the CFPB will be hiring more technologists to help enforce laws and find remedies for consumers, workers, small businesses, etc. These technologists will join interdisciplinary teams within the CFPB to monitor and address potential violations of consumer rights within the evolving tech landscape, particularly considering the growing attention to generative artificial intelligence (AI). The CFPB's technologists will be tasked with identifying new technological developments, recognizing potential risks, enforcing laws, and developing effective remedies. CFPB Director Rohit Chopra emphasized the essential role of technology in the Bureau’s efforts to regulate data misuse, AI issues, and big tech involvement in financial services. Chopra and Chief Technologist Erie Meyer remarked that the CFPB has integrated technologists into its core functions, with these experts now actively involved in supervisory examinations, enforcement actions, and other regulatory proceedings. They also note that the CFPB has researched how emerging technologies, such as generative AI and near-field communication, are used in consumer finance. To foster a competitive and “law-abiding” marketplace, Chopra and Meyer also note that the CFPB will continue to issue policy guidance to assist firms with understanding legal obligations. 

    Federal Issues CFPB FCC FTC Fintech Consumer Protection

  • FTC fines two fintech firms $59 million for PPP loan practices

    Federal Issues

    On March 18, the FTC announced enforcement actions against two companies that allegedly made “false promises” to small businesses seeking Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Both companies have agreed to settle with the FTC to resolve alleged violations of the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FTC Act. 

    According to the FTC’s complaint on the first company—a company that offers online financing products to small businesses—and its subsidiary allegedly engaged in a pattern of deceptive and unfair conduct by quoting shorter processing times for consumers’ applications, despite being aware of the significant delays. The companies also allegedly ignored consumers’ requests to withdraw their pending applications frequently. The FTC further alleged that roughly 40 percent of the companies’ consumers had their applications canceled or rejected. The proposed stipulated order included a prohibition against misrepresentations, an injunction concerning the companies’ application practices (which had prohibited them from failing to allow consumers to promptly withdraw their applications), and a $33 million judgment for monetary relief. The companies must also comply with reporting requirements detailed in the settlement.

    The FTC’s complaint against the second company—an online platform offering PPP financing services to small businesses—and its CEO, alleged that respondents made deceptive claims to consumers, many of whom were eligible but never received funding because the respondents failed to fix known technical issues with their system or provide consumers with assistance. According to the complaint, the company claimed that processing a loan would only take 24 hours through the “fast lane” service, but the company’s chat support was slow, as were its review and processing times. The FTC noted that the time-sensitive nature of PPP funding meant any delays had significant impacts on consumers. In addition to the $26 million monetary judgment, the settlement with the company and its CEO prohibited them from making any deceptive, false, or unsubstantiated claims about financial services or products.

    Federal Issues FTC FTC Act Enforcement Covid-19 PPP

  • FTC confirms two members as its board returns to full strength

    Federal Issues

    On March 8, the FTC announced the confirmation of two new commissioners: Andrew N. Ferguson and Melissa Holyoak. Additionally, current Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter received a confirmation vote for a second term. Newcomers Ferguson and Holyoak were nominated by President Biden and will serve until September 25, 2025; Slaughter will serve until the same date in 2029. Ferguson had previously been working as solicitor general of Virginia, and before that he was chief counsel to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and as Republican counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Holyoak was most recently solicitor general with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. Before that, she served as president and general counsel of a D.C.-based public interest law firm.

    Federal Issues FTC Utah

  • FTC updates the Telemarketing Sales Rule, proposes tech support rule

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On March 7, the FTC announced updates to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) to extend fraud protections to businesses and modernize recordkeeping requirements in response to technological advancements. These updates were part of an ongoing review of the TSR, which governs telemarketing practices and includes the Do Not Call Registry (DNC) and issued rules against telemarketing robocalls.

    The newly finalized rule broadened the scope of prohibited deceptive and abusive telemarketing practices to include business-to-business calls, which were previously exempt, except in specific cases. The rule also revised the TSR's recordkeeping requirements to reflect changes in technology and telemarketing methods, which included maintaining detailed call records and consent documentation, as well as compliance with the DNC Registry.

    In addition to these updates, the FTC proposed a rule that would enhance its ability to tackle tech support scams by extending the TSR's coverage to include inbound telemarketing calls for technical support services. This amendment addressed deceptive tech support schemes and would empower the FTC to seek stronger legal remedies such as civil penalties and consumer compensation. The Commission invited public feedback on a proposed definition of tech support scams.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues FTC TSR Artificial Intelligence

  • FTC takes action against tax prep company for alleged unfair and deceptive practices

    Federal Issues

    On February 23, the FTC announced an action against a tax preparation company for alleged unfair and deceptive acts and practices related to the sale of tax preparation products and services. The FTC alleged in its redacted administrative complaint that the defendant unfairly pushed consumers into paying for more expensive tax preparation products. The FTC further alleged the company made it unnecessarily difficult to downgrade the consumer’s tax preparation plan, both by requiring the consumer to first speak with a representative and by requiring the consumer to re-input the data if the consumer chooses to downgrade to the lower-priced product. The FTC also stated that the company’s upgrade policy, in contrast, is notably simple compared to its downgrade policy, and consumers’ “data seamlessly moves to the more expensive product instantly.” The FTC also claimed that the company’s “file for free” advertisements are deceptive because not all consumers’ tax situations are eligible for the free service.

    This action follows the FTC’s action against another tax preparation software provider last month (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Unfair Deceptive FTC Act Consumer Protection

  • FTC provides its 2023 ECOA activities to CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On February 12, the FTC provided the CFPB with an annual summary of its 2023 enforcement, research and policy development, and educational-related initiatives on ECOA, as Dodd-Frank allows the Commission to enforce ECOA and any CFPB rules applicable to entities within the FTC’s jurisdiction. The letter emphasized the commitment of each agency to enforce laws protecting civil rights, fair competition, consumer protection, and equal opportunity in the development and use of automated systems and artificial intelligence. Additionally, the letter stated the FTC continued its involvement in initiatives such as military outreach and participation in interagency task forces on fair lending. Its initiatives focused on consumer and business education regarding issues related to Regulation B and guiding fair lending practices. The Commission also highlighted (1) an enforcement action against a group of auto dealerships alleging ECOA and its implementing Regulation B violations in connection with the sale of add-on products; (2) refund checks sent as a result of the settlement of two enforcement actions against auto dealerships in which it was alleged that the dealerships violated ECOA and Regulation B by discrimination against Black and Latino consumers by charging them higher financing costs; and (3) an amicus brief submitted to an appeals court in support of the CFPB’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit of the lower court’s decision regarding the applicability of ECOA to individuals other than “applicants.” 

    Federal Issues FTC CFPB ECOA Dodd-Frank Enforcement

  • FTC encourages potential defendants to sign tolling agreements to avoid "undue delay"

    Federal Issues

    On February 20, Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in an FTC blog post, that although the FTC welcomes open dialogue with parties in open investigations, the Commission is prepared to quickly pivot to litigation in cases should companies cause “undue delay” to redress for consumers. In light of a 2021 Supreme Court ruling in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC, the FTC can no longer pursue monetary relief under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, which lacks a statute of limitations. Instead, the FTC said, it frequently turns to Section 19, 15 U.S.C. § 57b, which allows courts to order defendants to provide redress only if violations occurred within three years of the Commission’s action. To facilitate timely productive discussions, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection often requests tolling agreements from potential defendants to provide time for information gathering and dialogue while preserving the possibility of a pre-litigation settlement or closing the investigation in appropriate cases. Parties are encouraged to sign these agreements, as refusal may impact extension requests and meeting opportunities. If necessary, the FTC will recommend litigation to protect consumer interests.

    Federal Issues FTC FTC Act Litigation Enforcement

  • FTC proposes two actions to combat AI impersonation fraud

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 15, the FTC announced its supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking relating to the protection of consumers from impersonation fraud, especially from any impersonations of government entities. The first action from the FTC was a final rule that prohibited the impersonation of government, business, and their officials or agents in interstate commerce. The second action was a notice seeking public comment on a supplemental proposed rulemaking that would revise the first action and add a prohibition on, and penalties for, the impersonation of individuals for entities who provide goods and services (with the knowledge or reason to know that those goods or services will be used in impersonations) that are unlawful. In tandem, these actions sought to prohibit the impersonation of government and business officials.

    The FTC notes that these two actions come from “surging complaints” on impersonation fraud, specifically from artificial intelligence-generated deep fakes. The final rule will expand the remedies and provide monetary relief, whereas the FTC stated this rule will provide a “shorter, faster and more efficient path” for injured consumers to recover money. The rule would enable the FTC to seek monetary relief from scammers that use government seals or business logos, spoof government and business emails, and impersonate a government official or falsely imply a business affiliation.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Artificial Intelligence Fraud NPR

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