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FTC Files Complaint Against Independent Sales Organization and Sales Agents for Alleged Credit Card Laundering Charges
On August 7, the FTC issued a press release announcing charges against 12 defendants, comprised of an independent sales organization (ISO), sales agents, payment processors, and identified principals, for allegedly violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by laundering credit card transactions on behalf of a “telemarketing scam” operation (operation) through fictitious merchant accounts. According to a July 28 complaint filed by the FTC, the defendants engaged in a scheme with the operation to process credit card charges through merchant accounts set up by the operation under fictitious company names instead of processing charges through a single merchant account under the operation’s name. This type of practice, the FTC claims, is known as “credit card laundering” or “factoring” and violates the TSR. The defendants purportedly (i) underwrote and approved the operation’s fictitious companies; (ii) set up merchant accounts with its acquirer for the fictitious companies; (iii) used sales agents to market processing services to merchants; (iv) processed nearly $6 million through credit card networks; and (v) transferred sales revenue from the transactions to companies controlled by the defendants. The FTC seeks “permanent injunctive relief, recession or reformation of contracts, restitution, the refund of monies paid, disgorgement of ill-gotten moneys, and other equitable relief.”
Notably, in 2013, the FTC accused the same “telemarketing scam” operation of allegedly promoting “worthless business opportunities” to consumers and falsely promising that they would earn thousands of dollars. A 2015 summary judgement resulted in over $7 million in consumer injury. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On July 20, the CFPB released its Spring 2017 rulemaking agenda. The agenda was last updated in Fall 2016. The summer release date, and the fact that certain deadlines listed in the updated agenda have already passed, indicates that the agenda’s release may have been delayed after the CFPB drafted it. The following aspects of the updated agenda are particularly noteworthy:
- Regulation Reviews: The Bureau plans to begin “the first in a series of reviews of existing regulations that we inherited from other agencies through the transfer of authorities under the Dodd-Frank Act,” noting that “other federal financial services regulators have engaged in these types of reviews over time, and believe that such an initiative would be a natural complement to our work to facilitate implementation of new regulations.” The Bureau has formed “an internal task force to coordinate and deepen the agency’s focus on concerns about regulatory burdens and projects to identify and reduce unwarranted regulatory burdens….” The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through September 2017. Separately, the Bureau notes its ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of the Mortgage Servicing Rules, the Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, and the Remittance Transfer Rule pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act’s five-year lookback provision.
- Small Dollar Lending: The Bureau reports that it received more than one million comments on its June 2016 proposed rule to impose ability-to-repay requirements for payday, vehicle title, and similar installment loans. The Bureau states that it “continue[s] to believe that the concerns articulated in the [proposed rule] are substantial” but does not provide an expected release date for a final rule.
- “Larger Participants” in Installment Lending: The agenda lists September 2017 as the expected release date for “a proposed rule that would define non-bank ‘larger participants’ in the market for personal loans, including consumer installment loans and vehicle title loans.” Designation as a larger participant brings a non-bank entity within the CFPB’s supervisory jurisdiction. The agenda indicates that a companion rule requiring payday, vehicle title lenders, and other non-bank entities to register with the Bureau is also underway, as noted below.
- Debt Collection: In July 2016, the Bureau released an outline of proposals under consideration for debt collection and convened a panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration’s Chief Counsel for Advocacy to consult with representatives of small businesses that might be affected by the rulemaking. The Bureau notes that, “[b]uilding on feedback received through [that] panel, we have decided to issue a proposed rule later in 2017 concerning debt collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.” The agenda states that a proposed rule is expected in September 2017. The Bureau also states that, in a departure from the July 2016 outline of proposals, the Bureau “intend[s] to follow up separately at a later time about concerns regarding information flows between creditors and FDCPA collectors and about potential rules to govern creditors that collect their own debts.”
- Overdrafts: The Bureau states that the current opt-in regime “produces substantially different opt-in rates across different depository institutions” and that its “supervisory and enforcement work indicates that some institutions are aggressively steering consumers to opt in.” The Bureau reports that it is “engaged in consumer testing of revised opt-in forms and considering whether other regulatory changes may be warranted to enhance consumer decision making.” The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through June 2017.
- Small Business Lending: The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” on the implementation of the small business data reporting provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act as continuing through June 2017. Specifically, the agenda states that, at this juncture, the CFPB “is focusing on outreach and research to develop its understanding of the players, products, and practices in the small business lending market and of the potential ways to implement section 1071.”
- HMDA & ECOA Amendments: The agenda lists October 2017 as the expected release date for the April 2017 proposed ECOA amendments to clarify requirements for collecting information on ethnicity, race, and sex, but does not list an expected release date for finalization of the April 2017 proposed technical corrections to the 2015 HMDA rule, or the July 2017 proposed amendments to the 2015 HMDA rule’s requirements for reporting home equity lines of credit.
- TRID/Know Before You Owe Amendments: The agenda lists March 2018 as the expected release date for finalization of the July 2017 proposed rule addressing the “black hole” issue, which is discussed in our special alert.
- Mortgage Servicing Amendments: The Bureau states that it expects to issue a proposal in September 2017 “to make one or more substantive changes to the rule in response to . . . concerns” raised by the industry.
- Arbitration: Interestingly, the agenda states that the Bureau’s final rule on mandatory arbitration clauses, which was released this month to significant controversy, was not expected until August.
- Non-Bank Registration: The Bureau states that it is “considering whether rules to require registration of [installment lenders] or other non-depository lenders would facilitate supervision, as has been suggested to us by both consumer advocates and industry groups.”
- Prepaid Cards: The agenda does not provide an expected release date for finalization of the June 2017 proposed amendments addressing error resolution and limitations on liability, application of the rule’s credit-related provisions to digital wallets, and other issues.
- Credit Card Agreement Submission: The Bureau is “considering rules to modernize our database of credit card agreements to reduce burden on issuers that submit credit card agreements to us and make the database more useful for consumers and the general public.” The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through October 2017.
On June 30, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve issued its sixth payments study entitled The Federal Reserve Payments Study 2016: Recent Developments in Consumer and Business Payment Choices. The study includes data on business and consumer noncash payments made in the United States in 2015. Among other things, the study details the differences between business and consumer payments in 2015 compared to those from 2000, general-purpose payment card use in 2015, and increases in use of alternative payment methods.
According to the report, the most popular noncash payment types among consumers were, in descending order: non-prepaid debit cards, general-purpose credit cards, checks, and finally, ACH debit transfers. For businesses, however, ACH credit transfers were the most popular, then checks, general-purpose credit cards, and non-prepaid debit cards. Consumers wrote fewer than half the number of checks in 2015 than they did in 2000 but almost doubled the number of noncash payments that they made. Businesses also cut check-writing by more than half but differed from consumers by more than doubling the number of ACH transfers that they initiated during the same period.
General-purpose or “network-branded” cards accounted for more than 65 percent of noncash payments in 2015. The data showed that 60 percent of these card accounts carried revolving debt, while 40 percent of accounts were paid in full each month.
Information on fraudulent payments also was collected and should be available in the third quarter of this year.
On June 27, the CFPB released its monthly complaint report, highlighting complaints from around the country. According to the Bureau, it has handled over 1.2 million complaints from 2011 through June 1 of this year. The report shows nationwide complaint statistics and statistics for service members and older consumers. In addition, the report breaks down statistics on the state level covering financial products and services, company responses to complaints, as well as number of complaints. The vast majority of consumers report high company response rates to complaints averaging in the high 90 percent range, although the volume of complaints is trending upward. The top five products receiving complaints across the country in descending order are: (i) debt collection; (ii) mortgages; (iii) credit reporting; (iv) credit cards; and (v) bank accounts or services.
On June 5, 15 state attorneys general issued a joint letter to an e-commerce hosting company refuting the company’s assertion in its FAQ provided to online retailers that they are not obligated to notify customers of a data breach in situations where credit card CVV numbers were not disclosed. According to claims made by the attorneys general, the company erroneously stated that, pursuant to the identified states’ data breach notification laws, “there is no obligation to notify in those states . . . if your customers’ CVV data was not exposed.” The attorneys general argued that this is incorrect and stated, “[t]he CVV number does not have to be disclosed to trigger our states’ notification obligations.” The letter noted as an example, New York General Business Law § 899-aa(1)(b)(3), which stipulates that companies must provide notification of a data breach to affected customers when a credit or debit card number plus “any required security code, access code, or password” that would permit access to the account is obtained by an unauthorized party. The attorneys general stated that a CVV code is not a required access code because the card can be used without it. The company is required to provide clarification regarding its FAQ to affected client retailers.
As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB issued a notice and request for information seeking public comments regarding the consumer credit card market. The request, which closed for public comment on June 8, received 32 public comments from consumer education groups as well as retail industry groups.
The Financial Services Roundtable and the Consumer Bankers Association (the Associations). On June 8, the Associations—one representing integrated financial services companies, and the other representing retail banking and personal banking services—submitted a joint comment letter addressing a number of the issues in the CFPB’s request. The Associations put forth the following recommendations, among others, for consideration:
- “With respect to deferred interest products, we encourage the Bureau to rely on the existing, robust regulatory regime and to not take further action on these products”;
- “hold third-party comparison sites making representations about credit cards responsible for their interactions with consumers”;
- “streamline processes for consumers to elect to receive electronic disclosures”;
- “credit card rewards programs have successfully developed under an effective self-regulatory construct, and that consumers with variable interest rate products are generally aware of the current interest rate environment, negating the need for additional regulations in both regards”; and
- “strong debt collection rules are important for consumers and issuers alike, and burdensome restrictions on communications should be avoided”.
Consumer Action (CA). Also on June 8, the CA—advocating for underrepresented consumers—submitted a comment letter to the CFPB request for information suggesting that the Card Act has been mostly effective “to keep credit card issuers in check” but that “some practices . . . have worsened over time.” Specifically, among other things, the CA provided the following recommendations:
- “retailers and cards that offer deferred interest not be allowed to apply interest until the end of the deferral period, and that retroactive interest be prohibited, and that the interest charged when a deferred interest period ends be on a going forward basis only”;
- “the clause alerting applicants that the terms, rates, and fees ‘are subject to change at any time for any reason’ remains in some card notices . . . While technically legal, this one-sided contract that penalizes consumers who [do] not perfectly abide by account terms and conditions yet gives card issuers a pass on committing to its end of the contract remains an unfair business practice and should be prohibited by the Bureau “;
- “consider requiring more prominent disclosure of a financial link between comparison sites and card issuers”;
- “true secured cards are remarkably risk-free. One danger is when the issuer does not report payment history to credit bureaus. Most consumers want a secured card to build credit and failure on the part of the issuer to report to credit bureaus means the customer is captive to the secured issuer. Users should be educated beforehand as to the proper use of a secured card so they can see it as a tool to help them graduate to an unsecured card eventually. For example, they should be aware that cash advances carry very high interest rates and start accruing interest on transactions immediately”; and
- “we also strongly support the Bureau’s planned prohibition on class-action bans in arbitration clauses and hope to see the Bureau release a final rule shortly.”
CFPB Encourages Alternatives to Deferred Interest Promotional Offers to Provide Transparency to Consumers
On June 8, the CFPB reported that it sent letters encouraging top retail credit card companies to consider consumer financing promotions that are more transparent than the often-used deferred-interest credit card. These deferred-interest cards offer no interest on the promotional balance, but only if it is paid off by the end of the promotional period. If any promotional balance remains when the promotional period ends, consumers are charged retroactive interest on the entire promotional balance from the time of purchase.
The CFPB suggests that a zero percent introductory interest rate is a better option for consumers who are sometimes confused by the retroactive interest in the deferred-interest products. Unlike with deferred interest, under 0% interest promotions, consumers are not assessed interest retroactively if the promotional balance is not paid in full by the end of the promotional period. As previously reported in InfoBytes, some consumers may have difficulty understanding the different credit terms when comparing deferred-interest promotions to zero interest promotions. According to the letters, because deferred-interest programs may be more difficult to understand than zero interest promotions, they require credit card companies to have robust compliance management systems and third party oversight measures to ensure consumers are fully informed of the true costs of the promotional financing.
In a blog post from June 8, the CFPB explains the differences between zero interest promotions and deferred-interest promotions, and offers examples of each promotion.
Connecticut Law Expands Credit Card Fraud Statutes, Addresses Penalties for Rent Collections on Foreclosed Property
On June 6, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law Public Act No. 17-26, which expands the statutes on credit card fraud to cover crimes involving debit cards—including payroll and ATM cards—and outlines larceny penalties for collecting rent on foreclosed property. Paper and electronic checks or drafts are excluded from the definition of debit card under revised measure. Additionally, the law specifies changes pertaining to how “notice of a card’s revocation must be sent for purposes of these crimes and expands certain credit card crimes to cover falsely loading payment cards (credit or debit cards) into digital wallets.” Regarding larceny penalties, the law provides that a “previous mortgagor of real property against whom a final judgment of foreclosure has been entered” cannot continue to collect rent after the final judgment if there is no lawful right to do so. Penalties vary from a class C misdemeanor to a class B felony depending on the amount involved. The law takes effect October 1.
On May 27, Texas passed legislation that bans surcharges on credit card transactions. Existing Texas law prohibits businesses from increasing the price charged for goods or services for buyers who pay with a debit card or stored value card. With the passage of S.B. 560 , the prohibition on such surcharges will now extend to credit card transactions as well. The law takes effect September 1, 2017. Any person who violates the law can incur a civil penalty of up to $500 for each incident.
On June 8, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced a Filipino national to over five years in prison and two years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud last year. The defendant operated a $9 million international cybercrime operation that utilized stolen credit and debit accounts to process unauthorized financial transactions, according to an investigation led by the District of New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office. To obtain credit and debit card account information, the defendant engaged in computer hacking and ATM skimming, whereby millions of dollars were “monetized” through a “global network of ‘cashers’” who encoded the data onto counterfeit cards and then used the cards to withdraw money and make purchases.
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Aaron C. Mahler to discuss "Regulation B/fair lending" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Heidi M. Bauer and Dan Ladd to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Tim Lange to discuss "Update from 2019 NMLS Conference" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality & Compliance Committee webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Transaction management-issues surrounding purchase & sale agreements, post acquisition integration & trailing docs" at the Investment Management Network Residential Mortgage Servicing Rights Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- 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 "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
- 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
- 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