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On March 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-19-07, requesting relief for homeowners impacted by severe weather in Alabama. Among other things, the Circular encourages loan holders to (i) extend forbearance to borrowers in distress because of the wildfires; (ii) establish a 90-day moratorium from the date of the disaster on initiating new foreclosures on affected loans; (iii) waive late charges on affected loans; and (iv) suspend reporting affected loans to credit bureaus. The Circular is effective until April 1, 2020. Mortgage servicers and veteran borrowers are also encouraged to review the VA’s Guidance on Natural Disasters.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.
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.
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.
On March 7, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee entitled “Putting Consumers First? A Semi-Annual Review of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2018 through September 30, 2018. Kraninger was confirmed as Director in December 2018, and this was her first testimony before the Committee in that role. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Maxine Waters expressed concern with the changes that took place at the Bureau under former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s time in office and announced a draft bill titled the “Consumers First Act,” which directs the Bureau to, among other things, “promptly reverse all anti-consumer actions taken during Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure.” In her opening testimony, Kraninger emphasized that she is committed to “stability, consistency, and transparency” in the Bureau’s actions and believes the Bureau’s focus should be on the prevention of harm, specifically emphasizing the importance of the Bureau’s mission to educate consumers. Additionally, highlights of Kraninger’s testimony include:
- Supervision and Enforcement. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that supervision is an important tool in the Bureau’s toolkit to assist companies working to comply with laws and regulations. She asserted that enforcement is a tool that should only be used for bad actors who have “no intention” to comply with the law, and should not be used against entities seeking to comply and self-report compliance concerns. When asked to discuss the Bureau’s reported 35 open enforcement investigations, which include investigations opened under former Director Richard Corday, Kraninger noted that she reviews the actions as they come to a decision point but believes that the Bureau’s enforcement staff is carrying out the agency’s mission and following her guidance on how to proceed.
- Office Reorganizations. Kraninger fielded a number of questions regarding former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s actions, including the reorganization of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity and the dismantling of the Office of Students and Younger Consumers. As for fair lending, Kraninger emphasized that moving the office to be part of the Office of the Director helps to facilitate its policy interests across the Bureau and enhances the mission of fair lending. Concerning the Bureau’s work regarding student loans, Kraninger noted that there is still dedicated staff working on student loan issues in the Bureau’s Consumer Education and Engagement section and that they are currently looking to fill the vacant role for the Student Loan Ombudsman.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger reiterated her position that she does not believe Dodd-Frank gives the Bureau the authority to supervise for compliance with the Act under Section 1024(b)(1)(C)—which many state Attorneys General and Democratic congressional leaders have contended it does—and repeated her request for Congress to grant the Bureau with the clear authority to do so (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
- UDAAP. Kraninger noted that the Bureau’s regulatory agenda includes a consideration of a pre-rulemaking activity covering the definition of “abusive,” stating that while the current statute has a definition that prevents companies from taking “unreasonable advantage” of a consumer, she believes there should be clarity on what is considered a “reasonable” advantage.
- Congressional Changes to CFPB. Kraninger stated that she will continue to undertake the responsibilities allocated to the Director under Dodd-Frank but welcomes Congressional action that would provide additional “accountability and transparency” to the agency.
The second part of the hearing consisted of testimony from industry and consumer group representatives in which they discussed the CFPB’s previous actions and their suggestions for actions Bureau leadership should take going forward. Copies of each witnesses’ testimony are available here.
On February 28, the Federal Reserve Board announced an enforcement action against a bank holding company for alleged internal control deficiencies, resulting in unsafe and unsound practices in violation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act that caused a financial loss to the company. The consent order acknowledges that the company has since addressed the deficiencies that contributed to the loss and implemented additional improvements in its internal controls and audit programs. The Federal Reserve Board assessed a civil money penalty of $1,012,500.
On March 4, bipartisan bill, H.R. 1491, was introduced by its co-sponsors to provide federal financial regulatory clarity for fintech startups. According to a press release issued by Congressman David Scott (D-GA), the FINTECH Act of 2019 would: (i) mandate federal financial regulators harmonize and coordinate conflicting regulations that would cover fintech operations; and (ii) establish a Fintech Council to service as a “single point of entry” into the federal financial regulatory system, assigning approved fintechs to one or more designated regulators. The bill was introduced by Scott and by Congressman Barry Loudermilk. Both Congressmen are members of the House Financial Services Committee and co-chair the Fintech and Payments Caucus. The full text of the bill is not yet publicly available.
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.
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.
On March 5, U.S. Senate Democrats issued a letter urging CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger, to resume reviews for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA) during routine lender examinations. The Senators argue that the existing statutory authorities for the Bureau “are more than sufficient to justify including MLA compliance in routine examinations,” in an apparent response to Kraninger’s January request to Congress to grant the Bureau “clear authority” to conduct the examinations. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The Senators cite to Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which states that the Bureau “shall require reports and conduct examinations on a periodic basis . . . for purposes of . . . detecting and assessing risks to consumers and to markets for consumer financial products and services,” and asserts that charging servicemembers and their families more than 36 percent in violation of the MLA is “clearly a risk” to consumers. Concluding that the CFPB has all the authority it needs to include the MLA in routine examinations, the Senators request the Bureau provide a full justification of the leadership’s decision to not review for compliance with the MLA by March 8.
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.
- Buckley Webcast: Maintaining privilege in cross-border internal investigations
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Buckley Webcast: The future of the Community Reinvestment Act
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Buckley Webcast: Amendments to the CFPB's proposed debt collection
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
- John C. Redding to discuss "TCPA compliance in the era of mobile" at the Auto Finance Risk Summit
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program