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CFPB files deceptive and abusive allegations against foreclosure relief services company and principals
On September 6, the CFPB announced a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a foreclosure relief services company, along with the company’s president/CEO (defendants), for allegedly engaging in deceptive and abusive acts and practices in connection with the marketing and sale of purported financial-advisory and mortgage-assistance-relief services to consumers. According to the complaint, since 2014 the defendants allegedly violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and Regulation O by making deceptive and unsubstantiated representations about the efficacy and material aspects of its mortgage assistance relief services, as well as making misleading or false claims about the experience and qualifications of its employees. Additionally, the Bureau alleged the defendants’ representations about their services constituted abusive acts and practices because, among other things, consumers “generally did not understand and were not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of [the defendants’] marketing representations or the quality of the mortgage-assistance-relief services that [the defendants] sold.” Moreover, the Bureau claimed the defendants further violated Regulation O by charging consumers advance fees before rendering services.
In addition, the Bureau entered a proposed stipulated final judgment and order against the company’s principal auditor for providing “substantial assistance in furtherance of [the defendants’] unlawful conduct” in violation of the CFPA and Regulation O. The proposed judgment imposes a $493,403.04 civil penalty, of which all but $5,000 is suspended due to the auditor’s limited ability to pay. The auditor is also permanently banned from providing mortgage assistance relief services or consumer financial products and services.
On September 6, the FTC voted 5-0 to approve a final settlement under which a software provider agreed to better protect the data it collects, resolving allegations that the company failed to implement reasonable data security measures and exposed personal consumer information obtained from its auto dealer clients in violation of the FTC Act and the Standards for Safeguarding Customer Information Rule, issued pursuant to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in its complaint, the FTC alleged the company’s failure to, among other things, (i) implement an organization information security policy; (ii) implement reasonable guidance or training for employees; (iii) use readily available security measures to monitor systems; and (iv) impose reasonable data access controls, which resulted in a hacker gaining unauthorized access to the company’s database containing the personal information of approximately 12.5 million consumers. The approved settlement requires the company to, among other things, implement and maintain a comprehensive information security program designed to protect the personal information it collects, including implementing specific safeguards related to the FTC’s allegations. Additionally, the settlement requires the company to obtain third-party assessments of its information security program every two years and have a senior manager certify compliance with the order every year.
On September 5, the Federal Reserve Board announced an enforcement action against a Nebraska-based bank for allegedly violating the National Flood Insurance Act (NFIA) and Regulation H, which implements the NFIA. The consent order assesses a $37,000 penalty against the bank for an alleged pattern or practice of violations of Regulation H, but does not specify the number or the precise nature of the alleged violations. The maximum civil money penalty under the NFIA for a pattern or practice of violations is $2,000 per violation.
On September 5, the U.S. Treasury Department and HUD released complementary proposals in response to a presidential memorandum issued last March (previously covered by InfoBytes here) directing the departments to develop plans to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and reform the housing finance system.
According to a press release released by the Treasury Department, the Treasury Housing Reform Plan outlines several broad goals and legislative and administrative reforms intended to protect taxpayers and assist homebuyers. Included in the Reform Plan are measures to privatize the GSEs, with the Treasury Department emphasizing that FHFA “should begin the process of ending” the conservatorships. “Central to this objective will be ensuring that the GSEs and their successors are appropriately capitalized to remain viable as going concerns after a severe economic downturn and also to ensure that shareholders and unsecured creditors, rather than taxpayers, bear losses.” Other notable agency and limited congressional action highlights include:
- Congress should authorize an explicit, paid-for guarantee by Ginnie Mae on qualified mortgage-backed securities for single-family and multifamily loans.
- Private sector participation should increase in the mortgage market to compete with the GSEs, and ensure a level playing field for lenders of all sizes.
- Congress should replace GSEs’ statutory affordable housing goals with a “more efficient, transparent, and accountable mechanism” to support underserved borrowers and expand HUD’s affordable housing activities.
- GSEs under FHFA’s capital rule should be required to maintain “capital sufficient to remain viable as a going concern after a severe economic downturn,” the cap on the GSEs’ investments in mortgage-related assets should be further reduced, and GSEs’ retained mortgage portfolios should be restricted to “solely supporting [the] business of securitizing mortgage-backed securities.”
- Mortgages eligible for GSE guarantees should have to comply with strict underwriting requirements.
- The Qualified Mortgage rule should be simplified and the so-called QM patch that allows GSEs to avoid certain regulations should be eliminated (see previous InfoBytes coverage on the CFPB’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking to allow the QM patch to expire here).
- Access to 30-year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers should be preserved.
HUD’s Housing Finance Reform Plan, released in conjunction with Treasury’s proposal, addresses the role of FHA and Ginnie Mae, and outlines steps to reduce risk in the FHA portfolio. According to HUD’s press release, the proposal focuses on four objectives: refocusing FHA to its core mission, protecting American taxpayers, providing tools to FHA and Ginnie Mae to appropriately manage risk, and providing liquidity to the housing finance system. Among other objectives, HUD’s plan (i) stresses that FHA, which serves low- and moderate-income borrowers, “must ensure that borrowers are creditworthy and that they have access to loans that meet their financial needs without creating undue risk”; (ii) recommends that FHA and FHFA establish a “formalized collaborative approach” to streamline government-supported mortgage programs to ensure they are “not competing and do not crowd private capital out of the marketplace;” (iii) encourages continued efforts to reduce loan churning; (iv) encourages a continued partnership between FHA and DOJ “to provide more clarity on how the agencies will consult on the appropriate use of the [False Claims Act]” to provide regulatory certainty to lenders; (v) encourages FHA to develop servicing standards for home equity conversion mortgage programs to reduce operational and financial burdens; and (vi) recommends that FHA develop a mortgage origination risk tool that integrates an automated underwriting system.
On August 30, the FDIC announced its release of a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in July. The list reflects that the FDIC issued fourteen orders and one notice of charges, which include “four stipulated consent orders; four terminations of consent orders; four Section 19 orders; one stipulated civil money penalty order; one stipulated removal and prohibition order; and one notice of charges and hearing.”
Among other actions, the FDIC assessed a civil money penalty (CMP) against a Louisiana-based bank for alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act, including, among other things, (i) failing to obtain flood insurance coverage on loans at the time of origination, increase, renewal, or extension; or (ii) failing to maintain flood insurance coverage for the term of a loan secured by property located or to be located in a special flood hazard area.
On August 30, the Department of Education issued final regulations revising protections for student borrowers that were significantly misled or defrauded by the higher education institution they attended. The final Institutional Accountability regulations—first proposed in July 2018 (previous InfoBytes coverage here)—establish standards for loan forgiveness applicable for “adjudicating borrower defenses to repayment claims for Federal student loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020.” Loans disbursed prior to July 1, 2020 remain subject to defenses under prior regulations issued in 2016. Provisions under the new regulations include:
- Borrowers will be required to file their claims within three years of leaving an institution, and may assert defense to repayment claims regardless of whether a loan is in default or in collection proceedings.
- The 2016 final regulation’s preponderance of the evidence standard for all borrower defense to repayment claims will be maintained. The Department also rejected the presumption against full relief, stating that financial harm will be determined by the Department as “the amount of monetary loss that a borrower incurs as a consequence of misrepresentation. . . . [but will] not include damages for nonmonetary loss.”
- The pre-dispute arbitration and class action waiver ban contained within the 2016 final regulations will be eliminated. Institutions are permitted to choose their own internal dispute resolution process, including the use of mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements and class action waivers, provided the agreements are explained in plain language to enable students to make informed enrollment decisions.
- The “closed school loan discharge” eligibility time period is extended from 120 days to 180 days for students who have left an institution prior to its closure. However, borrowers must submit applications, as automatic closed-school discharges are not allowed under the new regulations. Borrowers asserting false certification discharge must also submit applications. Additionally, borrowers will be allowed to choose between accepting a teach-out opportunity offered by an institution or submitting a closed school loan discharge to the Department.
The Department notes that the regulations will take effect July 1, 2020. However, “regulations relating to financial responsibility will be available for immediate implementation.”
On September 4, the FTC and the New York Attorney General announced (see here and here) a combined $170 million proposed settlement with the world’s largest online search engine and its video-sharing site subsidiary concerning alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). According to the complaint, the video-sharing site allegedly collected personal information in the form of “persistent identifiers” from viewers of child-directed channels without first obtaining verifiable parental consent. The persistent identifiers allegedly generated millions of dollars in revenue by delivering targeted ads to viewers. The FTC and New York AG allege, among other things, that the defendants knew the video-sharing site hosted numerous child-directed channels but told advertisers that the video-sharing site contains general audience content, even informing one advertising company that it did not have users younger than 13 on its platform and therefore channels on its platform did not need to comply with COPPA.
Under COPPA, operators of websites and online services directed at children are prohibited from collecting personal information of children under the age of 13—including through the use of persistent identifiers for targeted advertising purposes—unless the company has explicit parental consent. Furthermore, third parties—such as advertising networks—must also comply with COPPA where they have actual knowledge that personal information is being collected directly from users of child-directed websites and online services.
While neither admitting nor denying the allegations, except as specifically stated within the settlement, the defendants will, among other things, (i) pay a $136 million penalty to the FTC and a $34 million penalty to New York; (ii) change their business practices to comply with COPPA; (iii) maintain a system for channel owners to designate their child-directed content on the video-sharing site; and (iv) disclose their data collection practices and obtain verifiable parental consent prior to collecting personal information from children. According to the FTC, the $136 million penalty is “by far the largest amount the FTC has ever obtained in a COPPA case since Congress enacted the law in 1998.”
On August 30, the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council released the 2018 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data on mortgage lending transactions covering information submitted by financial institutions on or before August 7. The data will not remain static, but instead will be updated on an on-going basis to reflect late submissions and resubmissions. The data currently includes information on 12.9 million home loan applications, 7.7 million of which resulted in loan originations, and 2 million purchased loans. Observations on the data include: (i) the total number of originated loans decreased by roughly 12.6 percent; (ii) refinance originations decreased by 23.1 percent; (iii) the share of refinance loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers increased from 22.9 percent to 30 percent; and (iv) nondepository, independent mortgage companies accounted for 57.2 percent of first-lien owner-occupied home purchase loans (up from 56.1 percent in 2017).
On the same day, the CFPB also released two data point articles describing mortgage market activity based on data reported under HMDA. The first article presents a report providing a “first look” at mortgage application and origination trends within the 2018 HMDA data. The second article introduces a report introducing the “new and revised data points in the 2018 HMDA data” and discussing the Bureau’s initial observations on the mortgage market based upon those new or revised data points.
On August 29, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD issued disaster relief guidance related to Hurricane Dorian. Fannie Mae reminded servicers of available mortgage assistance options for homeowners impacted by the hurricane: (i) qualifying homeowners are eligible to stop making mortgage payments for up to 12 months without incurring late fees and without having delinquencies reported to the credit bureaus; (ii) servicers may immediately suspend or reduce mortgage payments for up to 90 days without any contact with homeowners believed to have been affected by a disaster; and (iii) foreclosures and other legal proceedings for homeowners believed to be impacted by a disaster are temporarily suspended. Freddie Mac similarly reminded servicers of these mortgage relief options.
The same day, HUD released Mortgagee Letter ML 2019-14 (ML 2019-14), which updates Handbook 4000.1 and expands its “Disaster Standalone Partial Claim” loss mitigation option which “allow[s] borrowers in Presidentially Declared Major Disaster Areas (PDMDAs) with delinquent FHA-insured mortgages to bring their mortgages current without increasing their interest rates or principal and interest payments.” The mitigation option, introduced last year, “covers missed mortgage payments up to 30 percent of Unpaid Principal Balance” through an interest-free second loan on the mortgage without a required trial payment plan. The second loan will become payable only when the borrower sells the home or refinances. Additionally, the loss mitigation option will streamline income documentation and other requirements to expedite relief to eligible borrowers struggling to pay their mortgages while recovering from disasters.
Separately on August 30, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, to close offices affected by Hurricane Dorian’s severe weather conditions at their discretion “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” In issuing the proclamation, the OCC noted that it expects that only those bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions will close and that they should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address the banking needs of their customers. The proclamation directs institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on natural disasters and other emergency conditions.
On August 27, the CFPB released its fourth biennial report on the state of the credit card market as required by Section 502 of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD Act). The 2019 report covers the credit card market for the 2017-2018 period. In opening remarks, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger notes that with the passage of time, it has become “increasingly difficult to correlate the CARD Act with specific effects in the marketplace that have occurred since the issuance of the Bureau’s last biennial report, and, even more so, to demonstrate a causal relationship between the CARD Act and those effects,” and therefore, future reports will focus more on overall market conditions. Key findings of the report include, (i) total outstanding credit card balances continue to grow; (ii) total cost of credit stood at 18.7 percent at the end of 2018, which is the highest overall level observed by the Bureau in its biennial reports; (iii) total credit line across all consumer credit cards reached $4.3 trillion in 2018, which is largely due to the increase in unused credit lines held by superprime score consumers; and (iv) consumers are increasingly using their cards through digital portals, including those accessed via mobile devices.
Regarding current trends, the report notes that over the last few years, the total amount of credit card spending has grown “much faster” than the total volume of balances carried on the cards. In addition, while cardholders with prime or superprime credit scores still account for most debt and spending, lower credit score consumers have been increasing their debt at a faster rate than cardholders with higher credit scores. Notably, delinquency and charge-off rates still remain lower than they were prior to the recession, even though they have slightly increased in recent years. Additionally, since the last report, issuers have lowered their daily limits on debt collection phone calls for delinquent accounts and average daily attempts remain “well below” stated limits. Issuers are also beginning to supplement communications for account servicing with email and text messages.
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "BSA/AML culture of compliance roundtable" at the FiSCA Annual Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Is there a better way to fight money laundering" at the FiSCA Annual Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "What's trending in enforcement" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention & Expo
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Today's regulatory environment - Are you in the know?" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Annual Convention
- Buckley Webcast: Smoke and mirrors: Navigating the regulatory landscape in banking the marijuana industry
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "CMS - Components of a successful monitoring program" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Tim Lange to discuss "Temporary authority to operate - Are you prepared? Hear what the states are doing" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "Cybersecurity" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Hot topics in mortgage origination" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "CCPA: Countdown to compliance – A discussion of common questions and what is next on the CA privacy horizon" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Adapting to the rapidly changing compliance landscape involving marijuana and marijuana-related businesses" at an ACAMS webinar
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference