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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Indiana Court of Appeals allows class action to proceed against dealership

    Courts

    On March 6, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s denial of an auto dealership’s motion to dismiss a proposed class action alleging the dealership violated the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (the Consumer Act). According to the opinion, consumers filed the proposed class action alleging that the dealership charged document preparation fees that exceeded the actual costs incurred by the dealership for preparation and that the fees were not affirmatively disclosed or negotiated with the consumers. The proposed class action argued the charging of the fees was an “unfair, abusive, or deceptive act, omission, or practice in connection with a consumer transaction” under the Consumer Act and quoted a statutory provision from the Indiana Motor Vehicle Dealer Services Act (the Dealer Act). The dealership moved to dismiss the action, arguing there was no private right of action under the Dealer Act and that the consumers failed to state a claim for relief under the Consumer Act. The consumers conceded there was no private right under the Dealership Act, but noted the quoted reference was used to merely describe an unfair practice that is prohibited by the Consumer Act. The lower court denied the motion, concluding that the non-disclosure claim fell within the “catch-all” provision of the Consumer Act.

    On appeal, the appellate court noted that in order to state a claim under the Consumer Act, the consumer must have alleged the dealership “committed an uncured or incurable deceptive act.” The appellate court acknowledged that the allegations that the dealership charged an unfair fee and “did not state its intention as part of the bargaining process” generally fell within the realm of the Consumer Act, and determined that, even without specifics, the complaint’s “general allegations of uncured and incurable acts are adequate to withstand dismissal.”

    Courts State Issues UDAAP Appellate Auto Finance Fees Consumer Finance

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  • FDIC encourages relief for Alabama borrowers

    Federal Issues

    On March 7, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter FIL-11-2019 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Alabama affected by severe weather since March 3 through the present. The FDIC is encouraging institutions to consider, among other things, extending repayment terms and restructuring existing loans to borrowers affected by the severe weather. Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.

    Federal Issues FDIC Disaster Relief CRA Consumer Finance

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  • FTC announces new action and proposed settlement in DOJ elder abuse sweep

    Federal Issues

    On March 7, the FTC announced a new legal action and a final settlement issued against individuals and their operations for allegedly engaging in schemes that exploit elderly Americans. The actions are part of an enforcement sweep spearheaded by the DOJ in conjunction with, among others, the FBI, the FTC, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and the Louisiana Attorney General, which—according to a press release issued the same day by the DOJ—is the largest-ever coordinated nationwide elder fraud sweep, involving multiple cases, over 260 defendants, and more than two million allegedly victimized U.S. Citizens, most of whom are elderly.

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the company used deceptive tactics to convince consumers, the majority of whom were older, that their computers were infected with viruses in order to sell expensive and unnecessary computer repair services in violation of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act. Specifically, the company allegedly used internet ads to target consumers looking for email password assistance and once they contacted the consumers, the telemarketers would run phony “diagnostic” tests that falsely showed the consumer’s computer was in danger and needed software and services to be fixed. On February 27, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Utah, granted a temporary restraining order against the company and its founder.

    The FTC also announced a proposed settlement with a sweepstake operation that allegedly bilked consumers out of tens of millions of dollars through personalized mailers that falsely implied that the recipients had won or were likely to win a cash prize if they paid a fee. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC announced the charges against the company in February 2018, alleging that consumers, most of whom were elderly, paid more than $110 million towards the scheme. The final settlement not only requires the operation to turn over $30 million in assets and cash to provide redress to the victims, but also permanently bans the operators from similar prize promotions in the future. The proposed settlement has not yet been approved by the court.

    Federal Issues DOJ FTC Fraud Consumer Finance Consumer Protection State Attorney General Telemarketing Sales Rule FTC Act Elder Financial Exploitation Courts

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  • FTC Chairman Simons stresses collaboration with state AGs

    Federal Issues

    On March 5, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons spoke at the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Winter Meeting to advocate for increased collaboration with state Attorneys General. Noting that such collaboration is critical to the agency’s mission, Simons highlighted FTC consumer protection goals as well as several collaborative efforts, including joint task forces and investigation and enforcement initiatives. Buckley attorneys Michelle L. Rogers, Antonio Reynolds, and Katherine Halliday, co-authors of What To Expect From Increased FTC-State AG Collaboration, discuss how Simons’ pitch to NAAG could turn out to be a useful signal of increased joint FTC-AG enforcement activity in the future.

    Federal Issues FTC Consumer Protection Consumer Finance Enforcement State Attorney General State Issues

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  • Illinois AG sues tax preparers for charging illegal fees

    State Issues

    On March 5, the Illinois Attorney General announced a lawsuit against a Georgia-based tax preparation business and its Chicago operators alleging the defendants collected more than $1 million in undisclosed fees from consumers from their anticipated income tax refunds for unnecessary tax-related financial products. According to the press release, the Illinois AG alleges that the defendants advertised services to consumers promising, for a $350 fee, tax refunds double their normal size and free cash advances on anticipated refunds. However, the AG alleges the defendants instead extract high, undisclosed, and unauthorized fees from consumers’ refunds without their knowledge. The complaint asks the court to grant a temporary restraining order to shut down the defendants’ operations.

    State Issues State Attorney General Consumer Finance Fees

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  • District Court denies motion to dismiss FDCPA statute of limitations claims

    Courts

    On March 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied defendants’ motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging the defendants violated the FDCPA by failing to mention that payment on a settlement offer would restart the statute of limitations on the underlying “legally unenforceable debt.” According to the opinion, the defendants sent the plaintiff a letter outlining three discount program payment options, with a post-script stating that “[d]ue to the age of this debt, we will not sue you for it or report payment or non-payment of it to a credit bureau.” However, the plaintiff claimed that the letter’s failure to disclose that the statute of limitations could be restarted if a payment was made was a concrete information injury sufficient for Article III standing. The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiff alleged only a bare statutory violation and failed to identify a particularized injury in fact. Instead, the court ruled that even though the plaintiff has a complete defense because the statute of limitations had expired, the alleged injury is clear because the letter “seems to bait the consumer into paying money on a time-barred debt, either by settling for sixty cents on the dollar . . . or by unwittingly renewing the statute of limitations by making a new payment on the debt.”

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Statute of Limitations Spokeo Consumer Finance

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  • Court rejects dismissal bid in veteran pension case

    Courts

    On March 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina affirmed the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge and denied the motion of a law firm, one of its partners, and others’ (collectively, “defendants”) to dismiss an action alleging that the defendants violated the Federal Anti-Assignment Act (FAAA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). These alleged violations were based on the advance purchase of future military pension and disability benefits in exchange for current lump sum payments. According to the report of the Magistrate Judge, five military veterans (collectively, “plaintiffs”) alleged that the defendants operated a coordinated scheme to generate leads from veterans seeking money, and connected veterans to brokers and purchasers in order for the veteran to sell future pension and disability payments for a lump sum wire transfer. The plaintiffs also alleged the operators required the veterans to execute an insurance policy or structured asset agreement to ensure the loan is fully repaid upon the veteran’s death. The Magistrate Judge recommended the motions be denied, concluding that the plaintiffs sufficiently pled the details of the alleged scheme and that the defendants violated the FAAA by inducing veterans to enter into contracts to sell their retirement or disability benefits in advance of the date they are due and payable. Moreover, the Magistrate Judge found that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged the individual plaintiffs violated RICO by engaging in a criminal enterprise that “coordinated various corporations and websites to buy the plaintiffs’ and other veterans’ benefits and funnel the proceeds through [a defendant]’s account.” Upon review of the report, the district court found “no clear error” by the Magistrate Judge, agreed with the recommendations, and denied the motions to dismiss.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, one of the individual defendants was recently fined $1 in civil money penalties by the CFPB for allegedly violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act by operating a website that connected veterans with companies offering high-interest loans in exchange for the assignment of some or all of their military pension payments.

    Courts RICO Military Lending Consumer Finance CFPB CFPA

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  • Court bans telemarketing grant scheme in Arizona

    Courts

    On March 5, the FTC announced the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona entered three orders on February 26, settling the FTC’s case against the operators of a telemarketing grant scheme. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC’s complaint alleged the operators charged consumers upfront fees ranging from $295 to $4,995 and promised to obtain $10,000 or more in government, corporate, or private grants that could help the consumers pay off personal expenses such as medical bills; however, “most, if not all,” of the consumers ultimately received nothing in return. The three stipulated orders (available here, here, and here) impose a suspended $3 million judgment, (based on the operators’ inability to pay) and: (i) require the operators to surrender significant assets; (ii) ban the operators from telemarketing or making misrepresentations or unsubstantiated claims about any product or services; and (iii) prohibit the operators from making false or misleading statements to financial entities, including misrepresenting businesses to payment processors and banks.

    Courts FTC Federal Issues Consumer Finance Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • DOJ proposes SCRA settlement for auto lender

    Federal Issues

    On March 6, the DOJ announced it reached a proposed $80,000 settlement with a California-based indirect auto lending company for allegedly repossessing servicemembers’ vehicles in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the company in March 2018, alleging that an investigation revealed the company failed to have policies or practices in place to verify borrowers’ military status before repossessing vehicles. As such, the DOJ argued that the defendant may have repossessed vehicles of other servicemembers without obtaining the necessary court orders or verifying military status. The investigation was triggered after an Army Private submitted a complaint about the company to the DOJ in 2016. The proposed consent order would require the company to pay a $50,000 civil penalty and issue $30,000 in compensation to a different Army Specialist, whose credit, according to the DOJ, was severely damaged as a result of a repossession by the company. In addition, the company would be required to develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the SCRA in the future. The consent order has not yet been approved by the court.

    Federal Issues DOJ Consumer Finance Servicemembers SCRA Repossession Settlement

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  • FTC seeks comments on Safeguards and Privacy rules

    Federal Issues

    On March 5, the FTC released proposed amendments to two rules that protect the privacy and security of customer data held by financial institutions. The agency seeks comments on proposed changes to the Safeguards Rule and the Privacy Rule under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The Safeguards Rule requires financial institutions to develop, implement, and maintain comprehensive information security programs, whereas the Privacy Rule requires financial institutions to notify customers about information-sharing practices, as well as enable customers to opt out of sharing their information with certain third parties. The FTC’s proposed amendments to the Safeguards Rule would, among other things, add more detailed requirements for financial institutions, including mandatory encryption of customer data and the use of multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to customer information. The proposed amendments to the Privacy Rule would change the rule to account for statutory changes in the Dodd-Frank Act, which gave the majority of the FTC’s rulemaking authority for the Privacy Rule to the CFPB with the exception of certain motor vehicle dealers. The agency plans to remove examples of financial institutions that do not apply to motor vehicle dealers, as well as clarify when annual customer privacy notices must be provided. In addition, the FTC proposes to expand the definition of “financial institution” in both rules to include “finders,” which include persons or entities that charge a fee to introduce consumers to a lender.

    Federal Issues FTC Consumer Finance Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Gramm-Leach-Bliley Safeguards Rule Privacy Rule Dodd-Frank

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