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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Federal Reserve Governor discusses fintech’s role in financial inclusion

    Fintech

    On October 17, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “FinTech, Financial Inclusion—and the Potential to Transform Financial Services” conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program to discuss ways in which fintech can improve financial access for underserved families and small businesses. Brainard argued that, although new technologies can lower transaction costs, access to accounts and credit—while beneficial—does not, by itself, overcome the barriers to financial inclusion. Brainard stressed that continued progress toward financial inclusion is likely to require solutions designed with an understanding of issues the underserved face, such as examining why many unbanked or underbanked people intentionally choose not to maintain a bank account and recognizing the need to support faster payment systems for those living paycheck to paycheck. Brainard cautioned, however, that new fintech products may create consumer data security and privacy issues, and that fintech may struggle to reach communities lacking the infrastructure for digital service delivery. The challenge as regulators, she stated, “is to ensure trust in financial products and services by maintaining the focus on consumer protection, while supporting responsible innovation that provides social benefits.”

    Fintech Federal Reserve Consumer Finance

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  • FTC announces settlement over tenant-screening FCRA violations

    Consumer Finance

    On October 16, the FTC announced that it reached a settlement with a Texas-based company over allegations that it violated the FCRA by failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of tenant-screening information furnished to landlords and property managers. The FTC alleges that the company compiled screening reports through an automated system using broad criteria that incorrectly matched applicants to criminal records. Additionally, the company allegedly lacked policies or procedures to assess the accuracy of those results, which led to some renters being turned down for housing. The settlement requires the company to pay $3 million—the largest civil penalty ever assessed by the FTC against a background screening company. In addition, the company must maintain reasonable procedures to ensure consumer reports contain the maximum possible accuracy of information and is subject to compliance, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements.

    Consumer Finance FTC Settlement FCRA Consumer Reporting

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  • FTC report outlines efforts to protect older consumers from fraud

    Federal Issues

    On October 18, the FTC released a report to Congress outlining the agency’s comprehensive efforts to protect older consumers in the marketplace from fraud, identity theft, imposter scams, deceptive credit schemes, and other unlawful practices. The report, Protecting Older Consumers 2017-2018: A Report of the Federal Trade Commission, discusses (i) scams that target older consumers, including technical support scams; business imposter scams; prizes, sweepstakes, and lottery scams; and family or friend imposter scams; (ii) key FTC enforcement actions taken against companies that allegedly engaged in deceptive schemes that targeted or affected older consumers; and (iii) outreach and education efforts, including fraud prevention campaigns and resources for older consumers. Specifically, the report contains analysis of consumer complaint data from 2017, which revealed that older consumers (especially those over 80) were more likely to report fraud than younger people, and that when they reported losing money to fraud, they lost significantly more money than consumers in their twenties. (See previously InfoBytes coverage here on the FTC’s annual summary of consumer complaints received in 2017).

    Federal Issues FTC Fraud Elder Financial Exploitation Consumer Finance

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  • FTC to release quarterly consumer complaint data; agency highlights rise in gift card scams

    Consumer Finance

    On October 16, the FTC announced the launch of a new interactive online format that will release aggregated consumer complaint data on a quarterly basis. The interactive dashboards explore aggregated statistics about fraud, identity theft, and other consumer protection problems, and also provide a state-by-state breakdown of issues. As part of the new initiative, the FTC’s Consumer Protection Data Spotlight focuses on the rise in consumer complaints concerning gift card scams, which are now the most reported method of payment for imposter scams. According to the FTC, fraud report payments using gift and reload cards experienced a 270 percent increase (from 7 percent up to 26 percent), which can be attributed to quick access to cash, largely irreversible transactions, and anonymity. As of September 2018, the FTC reports that reported losses involving the use of gift and reload cards has already reached $53 million.

    Consumer Finance FTC Consumer Complaints Gift Cards

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  • Federal, state financial regulatory agencies issue guidance for institutions affected by Hurricane Michael

    Federal Issues

    On October 10, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (collectively, the “agencies”) issued a joint statement providing guidance to financial institutions impacted by Hurricane Michael. The agencies encouraged lenders to work with borrowers in impacted communities to modify loans as appropriate based on the facts and circumstances of each borrower and loan. In addition, the agencies assured lenders that they would (i) expedite any request to operate temporary facilities to provide more convenient services to those affected by Hurricane Michael; (ii) not generally assess penalties for institutions who take prudent steps to satisfy any publishing or reporting requirements, including by contacting their state or federal regulator to discuss satisfaction of such requirements; and (iii) consider granting institutions favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.

    On the same day the joint statement was issued, the FDIC issued a statement encouraging depository institutions to assist affected customers (see FIL-59-2018), which may include “waiving fees, increasing ATM cash limits, easing credit card limits, allowing loan customers to defer or skip payments, and delaying the submission of delinquency notices to credit bureaus.” The FDIC also encouraged depository institutions to use Bank Secrecy Act-permitted “non-documentary verification methods” for customers unable to provide standard identification documents and stated that prudent efforts taken to meet customers’ cash and financial needs “generally will not be subject to examiner criticism.”

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.

    Federal Issues FDIC OCC Federal Reserve Disaster Relief CRA Bank Secrecy Act Consumer Finance

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  • District Court allows certain check authorization recommendation claims against consumer reporting agency to proceed

    Courts

    On October 2, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas granted in part and denied in part a request for judgment on the pleadings brought by a nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency (defendant) that provides check authorization recommendations used by merchants when determining whether to honor a consumer’s check. According to the order, the plaintiff’s attempts to cash checks were denied based upon guidelines for authorization established by the defendant. The plaintiff subsequently (i) complained to the defendant that consumers did not have access to the recommendation guidelines; (ii) disputed the accuracy of the recommendations; and (iii) requested that denied transactions be reinvestigated. In its second amended complaint, the plaintiff claimed the defendant violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Texas Consumer Credit Reporting Act (TCCRA), and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, asserting that the consumer file prepared by the defendant contained two inaccuracies and that the defendant failed to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation of his consumer file or did not have procedures in place to correct inaccurate information. While the court dismissed the FCRA and TCCRA §20.07 claims to the extent they were based on allegations that the defendant did not have reasonable procedures in place to correct inaccurate information, it held that the allegations regarding the defendant’s failure properly to reinvestigate the consumer’s file did state a plausible claim for relief.

    Courts Consumer Reporting Agency FCRA State Issues Consumer Finance

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  • Washington state Attorney General says debt buyers are collection agencies, files lawsuit for operating without a license

    State Issues

    On September 21, the Washington state Attorney General announced that it filed a lawsuit against several collection agencies and their owner (defendants) for allegedly purchasing and suing on charged-off consumer debts in violation of the Washington Collection Agency Act (WCAA) and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (WCPA). The complaint alleges that defendants bought and then obtained judgements on at least 3,500 consumer debts without first obtaining a collection agency license under the WCAA. Under the WCAA, a debt buyer is a collection agency and must therefore “be licensed as a collection agency if it enters into contracts with sellers of debt accounts or takes other affirmative steps to acquire accounts for collection, either directly or through an agent.” Failure to obtain a license as required under the WCAA  amounts to a per se violation of the WCPA. Because defendants bought and sued on consumer debts before obtaining a license in 2013, the Attorney General claimed that they violated the WCAA and the WCPA. The complaint seeks civil money penalties of up to $2,000 per violation for each violation of the WCPA, restitution for affected consumers, and reimbursement of legal costs and fees.

    State Issues State Attorney General Debt Buyer Licensing Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB announces settlement with companies that allegedly delayed transfer of consumer payments to debt buyers

    Consumer Finance

    On October 4, the CFPB announced a settlement with a group of Minnesota-based companies that allegedly violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act when consumers made payments on debts that the companies had already sold to third parties, and the companies improperly delayed the forwarding of some of those payments to debt buyers. According to the consent order, the companies—whose practices include the purchasing, servicing, collection, and furnishing consumer-report information on consumer loans—partnered with third-party banks to sell merchandise on closed-end or open-end revolving credit. Within a few days, banks originated the loans and sold the receivables to the companies. The companies subsequently serviced the debts and sold the receivables to a third party. For defaulted accounts, the companies charged off the accounts and sold them to third-party debt buyers. According to the Bureau, the companies allegedly failed to notify consumers when their accounts were sold, failed to inform them who now owned the debt, and continued to accept direct pays from consumers. The Bureau contends that between 2013 and 2016, the companies delayed forwarding direct pays for more than 31 days in 18,000 instances, and in 3,500 of those instances, the companies did not forward the payments for more than a year. Moreover, the Bureau asserts that these delays led to misleading collection efforts, including collection activity on accounts consumers had completely paid off. The order requires the companies to pay a civil money penalty of $200,000, and improve their policies and procedures to prevent further violations.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Third-Party Debt Buying CFPA Settlement

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  • FTC reaches settlements with student debt relief operators

    Consumer Finance

    On September 28, as part of Operation Game of Loans, a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement, the FTC announced settlements with several individuals and their associated companies (defendants), accused of violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule when marketing and selling student debt relief services. According to the FTC, the defendants, among other claims: allegedly (i) misrepresented to consumers that they were affiliated with the Department of Education or a borrower’s loan servicer; (ii) claimed that consumers who paid an up-front fee—as much as $1,000 according to the FTC’s complaint—would qualify for or be approved to receive permanently reduced monthly payments or have their student loans forgiven or discharged; and (iii) engaged in deceptive advertising practices through social media, falsely claiming they could qualify, establish eligibility for, approve, or enroll consumers in loan forgiveness programs.

    Under the terms of the settlements, the defendants are permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief products or services—or from assisting others to do the same. The defendants also are prohibited from making misrepresentations related to financial products and services. Combined, the settlements total more than $19 million in monetary judgments, all of which have been partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay the entire amount of their respective judgments. The more than $5 million in unsuspended amounts may be used for equitable relief, including consumer redress.

    Consumer Finance Student Lending Debt Relief FTC FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • FTC announces settlements with website operators over the sale of fake documents allegedly used for fraud and identity theft

    Consumer Finance

    On September 18, the FTC announced three proposed settlements with the operators of websites who allegedly violated the FTC Act’s prohibition against unfair practices by selling fake financial documents used to facilitate identity theft and other frauds, including loan and tax fraud. As previously covered in InfoBytes, identity theft was the second largest category of consumer complaints reported in 2017 according to the FTC. The FTC brought charges against the first defendant, alleging the defendant engaged in the sale of fake pay stubs, bank statements, and profit-and-loss statements, as well as providing a product that allowed customers to edit existing (and authentic) bank statements. The second defendant’s charges include the alleged sale of fake pay stubs, auto insurance cards, and utility and cable bills, while the allegations against the third defendant also include the sale of fake tax forms, bank statements, and verifications of employment. While the defendants’ websites claimed that the fake documents were sold for “‘novelty’ and ‘entertainment’ purposes,” the FTC asserts that the defendants “failed to clearly and prominently mark such documents as being for such purposes and did not state on the documents themselves that they were fake.”

    Under the terms of the proposed settlement agreements (see here, here, and here), monetary judgments are imposed against the defendants, who also are permanently prohibited from advertising, marketing, or selling similar fake documents.

    Consumer Finance FTC Identity Theft Fraud Consumer Complaints Settlement FTC Act

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