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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • FDIC releases 25th anniversary edition of FDIC Consumer News

    Consumer Finance

    On August 3, the FDIC published a special edition of its quarterly FDIC Consumer News publication, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the newsletter, titled “25 Years of Tips You Can Bank On: Time-Tested Strategies for Managing and Protecting Your Money.” The quarterly newsletter intends to deliver “timely, reliable and innovative tips and information” about financial matters to consumers. The special edition reprises and updates an old article from each year going back to 1993 and includes topics such as (i) retirement planning and saving; (ii) how to know what is FDIC insured; (iii) minimizing the risk of identity theft; (iv) refinancing loans; and (v) cybersecurity checklists.

    Consumer Finance FDIC Consumer Education

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  • FTC announces charges against auto dealerships for falsifying consumer information on auto financing documents

    Lending

    On August 1, the FTC announced charges against a group of four auto dealers (defendants) with locations in Arizona and New Mexico near the Navajo Nation’s border alleging, among other things, that the defendants advertised misleading discounts and incentives through their vehicle advertisements, and falsely inflated consumers’ income and down payment information on certain financing applications. The charges brought against the defendants allege violations of the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Consumer Leasing Act. According to the complaint, by allegedly falsifying the customers’ income and down payments, the defendants “inaccurately made consumers appear more creditworthy” on the false financing applications. Moreover, the FTC claims the defendants often prevented consumers from reviewing the falsified information provide in the financing applications prior to signing. As a result, credit was extended to consumers—many of whom are members of the Navajo Nation—who then subsequently “defaulted at a higher rate than properly qualified buyers.” Furthermore, the complaint asserts that the defendants’ deceptive advertising practices concealed the true nature and terms of the financing or leasing offers, and were in violation of federal law for failing to disclose the required terms. The complaint seeks, among other remedies, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, restitution, and disgorgement.

    Lending Consumer Finance FTC Auto Finance FTC Act TILA Consumer Leasing Act

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  • FTC halts fraudulent telemarketing scheme in Arizona

    Consumer Finance

    On July 31, the FTC announced that it had successfully halted a $3 million telemarketing scheme, which falsely promised to obtain grants for consumers in exchange for the upfront payment of fees. The FTC alleges the Arizona-based defendants 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,” consumers ultimately received nothing in return and the defendants often changed the company name once they received consumer complaints or state attorney general notices, or once they lost merchant accounts.

    On July 16, the FTC filed a now-unsealed complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The FTC simultaneously sought a temporary restraining order (TRO), which the court granted the following day. Among other things, the TRO prohibits the defendants from: (i) conducting similar business activities; (ii) violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule; and (iii) using or disseminating consumer information obtained through the fraudulent activities. Additionally, the TRO freezes the defendants’ assets and places the companies in receivership until relief is determined.

    Consumer Finance FTC Federal Issues Courts Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • Illinois amends law to clarify that debt collection law firms are not student loan servicers

    State Issues

    On July 27, Illinois’s Governor signed HB 4397, which amends the state’s Student Loan Servicing Rights Act to specify that the definition of “student loan servicer” does not include a law firm or a licensed attorney that is collecting a post-default debt. The amended law is effective December 31.

    State Issues Student Lending State Legislation Student Loan Servicer Consumer Finance

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  • FTC testifies before House subcommittees about combating consumer fraud

    Federal Issues

    On July 26, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, testified before subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the FTC’s program to combat consumer fraud. The prepared testimony discusses the FTC’s anti-fraud program and highlights the agency’s enforcement actions against illicit companies that pose as government agents, such as the IRS, to convince consumers and small businesses to send them money. The FTC touts the steps taken to spur development of technological solutions to unlawful robocalls, including call-blocking and call-filtering products. The testimony also focuses on the FTC’s efforts to curb payment processors from assisting fraudulent actors in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC notes that the Commission has brought 25 actions against payment processors that failed to comply with requirements to ensure their systems were not being used to process fraudulent merchant transactions. The FTC emphasized that while the “overwhelming majority” of payment processors abide by the law, when certain processors do not, they cause “significant economic harm to consumers and legitimate businesses.”

    Federal Issues Payment Processors Consumer Finance Fraud Robocalls FTC FTC Act U.S. House

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  • Federal Reserve fines Kentucky-based bank $4.75 million for FTC Act violations

    Federal Issues

    On July 26, the Federal Reserve Board (Board) announced a settlement with a Kentucky-based bank for allegedly violating section 5 of the FTC Act regarding its offering of deposit account add-on products to consumers. According to the consent order, the bank marketed certain add-on products to accountholders, including an identity protection product, and represented that all benefits of the products would be effective upon enrollment when in actuality, certain benefits needed to be individually activated after enrollment. The Board alleges the bank charged the enrolled accountholders fixed monthly fees for the full benefits of the products without adequately disclosing to accountholders how to receive all the associated benefits. In addition to the $4.75 million the bank must pay in restitution, the consent order also requires the bank to, among other things (i) submit written plans to strengthen the oversight of the compliance management program and enhance the consumer compliance risk management program; (ii) hire an independent auditor to verify the restitution has been made; and (iii) submit quarterly progress reports regarding compliance with the consent order.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve Enforcement Settlement Consumer Finance

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  • Federal Reserve Board launches inaugural Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On July 26, the Federal Reserve Board released its inaugural Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin (Bulletin) to share information about the agency’s supervisory observations and other noteworthy developments related to consumer protection, and provide practical steps for banking organizations to consider when addressing consumer compliance risk. The first Bulletin focuses on fair lending issues related to the practice of redlining and outlines key risk factors the Fed considers in its review, such as (i) whether a bank’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) assessment areas inappropriately exclude minority census tracts; (ii) whether a bank’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act or CRA lending data show “statistically significant disparities in majority minority census tracts when compared with similar lenders”; or (iii) whether the bank’s branches, loan production offices, or marketing strategies appear to exclude majority minority census tracts. Practical steps for mitigating redlining risk are also provided. The Bulletin also discusses fair lending risk related to mortgage pricing discrimination against minority borrowers, small dollar loan pricing that discriminates against minorities and women, disability discrimination, and maternity leave discrimination.

    The Bulletin additionally addresses unfair or deceptive acts or practices risks related to overdrafts, misrepresentations made by loan officers, and the marketing of student financial products and services. The Bulletin also highlights regulatory and policy developments related to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s updated Uniform Interagency Consumer Compliance Rating System along with recent changes to the Military Lending Act.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve Bank Supervision Redlining Fair Lending Consumer Finance Military Lending Act FFIEC HMDA CRA Overdraft

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  • Federal Reserve chair delivers semi-annual congressional testimony, discusses U.S. financial conditions and regulatory relief act

    Federal Issues

    On July 17, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee and spoke the next day before the House Financial Services Committee. In his semi-annual congressional testimony, Powell presented the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report, and discussed the current economic situation, job market, inflation levels, and the federal funds rate. Powell stressed, among other things, that interest rates and financial conditions remain favorable to growth and that the financial system remains in a good position to meet household and business credit needs. Chairman of the Committee, Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, remarked in his opening statement that, while recent economic developments are encouraging, an effort should be made to focus on reviewing, improving, and tailoring regulations to be consistent with the recently passed Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act S.2155/P.L. 115-174 (the Act). During the hearing, Powell confirmed that the Fed plans to implement provisions of the Act as soon as possible. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) When questioned by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, about the direction the Fed plans to take to address stress test concerns, Powell responded that the Fed is committed to using stress tests, particularly for the largest, most systemically important institutions, and that going forward, the Fed wants to strengthen the tests and make the process more transparent. Powell also indicated the Fed intends to “publish for public comment the range of factors [the Fed] can consider” when applying prudential standards. Powell also stated that he believes government-sponsored-enterprise reform would help the economy in the long term.

    When giving testimony to the House Financial Services Committee, Powell also commented that cryptocurrency does not currently impair the Fed’s work on monetary policy and that the Fed will not seek jurisdiction over cryptocurrency and instead will defer to the SEC’s oversight as well as Treasury’s lead to identify the right regulatory structure.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve SEC Cryptocurrency Stress Test Consumer Finance S. 2155 Senate Banking Committee House Financial Services Committee EGRRCPA

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  • CFPB announces settlement with Alabama-based operation for allegedly failing to properly disclose finance charges

    Consumer Finance

    On July 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a small-dollar lending operation that allegedly failed to properly disclose finance charges and annual percentage rates associated with auto title loans in violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the prohibition on deceptive practices in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). According to the consent order, the Alabama-based operation, which owned and operated approximately 100 retail lending outlets in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina under several names, materially misrepresented the finance charges consumers would incur for Mississippi auto title loans by disclosing a finance charge based on a 30-day term while having consumers sign a 10-month payment schedule. The Bureau asserts that “[c]onsumers acting reasonably likely would not understand that the finance charge disclosed in the loan agreement does not actually correspond to their loan payment term.” Furthermore, the Bureau contends that the operation also failed to disclose the annual percentage rate on in-store advertisements as required under TILA. The order requires the operation to pay redress in the amount of $1,522,298, which represents the total undisclosed finance charges made directly or indirectly by affected consumers on their loans. However, based on defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the operation’s paying $500,000 to affected consumers. In addition to the penalties, the operation is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and the operation’s board must ensure full compliance with the consent order.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement CFPA TILA Auto Finance Disclosures

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  • 8th Circuit reverses district court’s decision, rules compound interest not contractually agreed upon violates FDCPA

    Courts

    On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, holding that under Minnesota law, compound interest cannot be collected unless specifically agreed to in a contract. The decision results from a suit filed by a consumer alleging that a law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) when it sent a debt collection letter seeking payment of credit card debt while asserting that the consumer owed compound interest. The consumer’s suit alleged that the debt’s owner, debt collector, and law firm (defendants) “used a false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means . . . and an unfair or unconscionable means” when attempting to collect the debt. Specifically, the consumer alleged the principal balance included interest on the contractual interest—which he claimed he did not agree to in the underlying credit card agreement—and that as a result, the defendants misrepresented the amount of debt and attempted to collect interest that was not permitted under Minnesota law. The district court dismissed the consumer’s claim, finding that he failed to state an FDCPA claim because he did not allege a materially false statement in the collection letter. The 8th Circuit reversed however, finding that the consumer stated a claim under the FDCPA because a demand to pay an amount of debt that is unauthorized under state law is actionable as a false statement or unfair collection attempt, and that a false representation of the amount of a debt that overstates what is owed under state law is a material violation of the FDCPA. The appellate court also rejected the law firm’s argument that there was no FDCPA violation because the agreement authorized the total amount of interest stated in the letter, further declining to calculate the interest under the credit-card terms provided by the law firm because the consumer had contested the terms as unauthenticated.

    Courts Appellate Eighth Circuit FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance

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