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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Fannie and Freddie issue selling policy changes

    Federal Issues

    On February 6, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each issued selling policy updates through SEL-2019-01 and Bulletin 2019-4, respectively. According to Fannie Mae’s Selling Guide announcement, the Guide has been updated to include (i) a change from the Quality Assurance System to the Loan Quality Connect platform for post-purchase reviews; (ii) changes to reflect the retirement of the Cost of Funds Index in January 2020; and (iii) a clarification that completion escrow accounts, which are required for construction that is not complete when the related mortgage is delivered to Fannie Mae, must be custodial accounts that satisfy the criteria in the Fannie Mae Servicing Guide.

    Freddie Mac’s Bulletin included selling updates regarding, among other things, (i) changes to the Condominium Project requirements; (ii) updates to commission income treatment based on tax law changes; and (iii) updates to the Certificate of Incumbency forms for sellers and servicers.

    Federal Issues Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Selling Guide Mortgages

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  • University settles whistleblower FCA claims

    Federal Issues

    On February 11, the DOJ announced a $2.5 million settlement with a South Carolina university to resolve allegations that the university violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting false claims to the U.S. Department of Education. According to the announcement, between 2014 and 2016, the university hired a company, which was partially owned by the university, to recruit students to the university and paid the company based on the number of students who enrolled in university programs, in violation of the prohibition on paying incentive compensation in Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The co-owner of the company originally brought a qui tam lawsuit against the university and will receive $375,000 from the settlement.

    Federal Issues DOJ Whistleblower Department of Education False Claims Act / FIRREA Incentive Compensation Settlement

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  • OFAC amends Venezuela-related General Licenses and FAQs on sanctioned oil company

    Financial Crimes

    On February 11, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended two General Licenses (GL) and issued three revised FAQs regarding sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company pursuant to Executive Order 13850. GL 3C, which supersedes GL 3B, authorizes transactions related to, provision of financing for, and other dealings in certain bonds, provided the divestment or transfer (including the facilitation) of any holdings of these bonds are to a non-U.S. person. GL 9B, which supersedes GL 9A, authorizes certain transactions related to securities issued prior to August 25, 2017 by the oil company and its subsidiaries. Additionally, OFAC issued revised FAQs 650, 661, and 662 to provide additional clarification on expected levels of due diligence, as well as implications for U.S. and non-U.S. persons.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Venezuela Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • OFAC designates Turkish individual as “Foreign Sanctions Evader” in relation to settlement resolving alleged Iranian sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On February 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $13,381 settlement with a Virginia-based corporation on behalf of its Turkish affiliate for six alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the Turkish affiliate’s alleged practice of dispatching employees to Iran to fulfill service agreements and providing products, parts, and services while knowing that they were going to Iranian end-users. OFAC’s findings included that the Turkish affiliate willfully took steps to continue its Iranian business despite the Virginia corporation’s “extensive efforts to ensure [the affiliate] complied with the ITSR,” and “fraudulently certified” that no Iranian business was continuing.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following aggravating factors: (i) the Turkish affiliate violated Iranian sanctions by “willfully provid[ing] goods and services to Iran”; (ii) the Turkish affiliate’s management was aware of and directed its employees’ actions; (iii) the Turkish affiliate’s management took actions to delete and falsify records in an attempt to conceal the apparent violations; and (iv) the violations economically benefitted Iran.

    OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including (i) neither the Virginia corporation nor the Turkish affiliate had received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (ii) the Virginia corporation voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations and conducted an extensive internal investigation; and (iii) the Virginia corporation took “extensive preventative and remedial” measures.

    In a concurrent action the same day, OFAC sanctioned a Turkish individual as a “Foreign Sanctions Evader,” pursuant to Executive Order 13608, for allegedly instructing the Turkish affiliate to violate the Iranian sanctions. According to OFAC, the sanctioned individual “regularly and fraudulently” certified to the Virginia corporation that no products were being sent to Iran. Additionally, OFAC claims that upon learning of the corporation’s internal investigation, the individual and other members of the Turkish affiliate’s management team attempted to conceal the apparent violations. As a result, all direct and indirect transactions involving the individual intended for the U.S., or provided by or to U.S. persons, are prohibited. Moreover, U.S. financial institutions are instructed to reject payments involving the identified individual.

    View here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Settlement Iran Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • Global Financial Innovation Network seeking cross-border testing applications


    On January 31, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced that the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN) officially launched and is now seeking cross-border testing applications. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August 2018, the FCA announced the creation of the GFIN in collaboration with 11 other global financial regulators, including the CFPB. The network has now expanded to include 29 organizations, including financial regulators and other related entities, committed to supporting financial innovation. The GFIN has three primary functions: (i) to collaborate on innovation and to provide accessible regulatory contact information for firms; (ii) to provide a forum for joint regulation technology work; and (iii) to provide firms with an environment in which to trial cross-border solutions.

    The announcement states that the network has opened a one month application window for firms interested in joining a pilot cohort for cross-border testing for new technologies. Firms interested in participating are required to meet the application requirements of all the jurisdictions in which they would like to test. Each applicable regulator will decide whether the firm’s proposed test meets the screening criteria and ensure safeguards are in place in their jurisdiction for testing. The deadline for testing applications is February 28.

    Fintech Financial Conduct Authority CFPB Regulatory Sandbox International Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • D.C. act provides eviction and foreclosure relief to federal employees and contractors impacted by shutdown

    State Issues

    On February 6, the Mayor of the District of Columbia signed Act 23-5 (B23-0080) to protect federal workers, contractors, and employees of the District of Columbia Courts from eviction and foreclosure during federal government shutdowns. Among other things, the D.C. Superior Court will have the ability to grant motions to stay foreclosure and eviction proceedings for eligible impacted workers or their household members. The temporary stay would run until the earlier of “(i) 30 days after the effective date of an appropriations act or continuing resolution that funds a federal worker’s government agency; or (ii) 90 days after the date of the federal worker’s first unpaid payday” for government employees, with analogous terms for contractors. The act is effective immediately and expires on May 7.

    State Issues State Legislation Shutdown Relief Consumer Finance Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • District Court temporarily stops debt collection operation at FTC’s request


    On February 8, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina had issued a temporary restraining order and asset freeze regarding a debt collection operation allegedly collecting phantom debts. According to the FTC, the debt collection operation deceptively claimed to be attorneys, or to be affiliated with attorneys, to pressure consumers into paying debts which they did not owe, including threatening legal action if they did not pay, in violation of the FTC Act and the FDCPA. The order names 10 companies and six individuals as defendants and temporarily prohibits the defendants from, among other things, (i) misrepresenting information as it relates to collection efforts; (ii) threatening to take unlawful action; (iii) communicating with third parties without having obtained prior consent, other than to determine a consumer’s location; and (iv) failing to provide consumers with written debt information five days after initial contact.

    Courts FTC FDCPA Debt Collection FTC Act

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  • 7th Circuit holds arithmetic does not affect a debt’s character under the FDCPA


    On February 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that arithmetic does not affect a debt’s “character” under the FDCPA, reversing the district court’s judgment against a debt collector. A debt collector reported to a credit bureau that the debtor had nine unpaid bills of $60, rather than one aggregate debt of $540. The debtor filed suit, arguing that the debt collector violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on making a “false representation” about “the character, amount, or legal status of any debt.” The district court agreed with the debtor, determining that the debt collector should have reported the amount in the aggregate and imposing a $1,000 penalty for the violation.

    On appeal, the 7th Circuit noted a lack of authoritative or persuasive guidance discussing whether aggregation of all amounts owed to a creditor “concerns the ‘character’ of a debt” under the FDCPA. The appeals court concluded that the number of specific transactions between a debtor and a creditor “does not affect the genesis, nature, or priority of the debt” and, therefore, does not concern its character. Moreover, the court noted that “‘amount’ rather than the word ‘character’ is what governs reporting the debt’s size”; otherwise, there would be no distinction in the FDCPA’s prohibition on false representations about the “character, amount, or legal status” of a debt. Because it was undisputed that the debtor incurred nine debts of $60 each to a single creditor, the debt collector did not misstate the “character” of the debt under the FDCPA.

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Credit Report

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  • District Court holds debt collector’s actions not harassment or abuse under FDCPA


    On January 30, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas granted a debt collector’s motion for summary judgment, finding that no reasonable jury could conclude the debt collector’s conduct gave “rise to an intent to annoy, harass, or oppress” under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, the debt collector mistakenly had assigned the plaintiff’s phone number to a debtor in its system. The collector contacted the plaintiff five times between July 2016 and May 2017, after which the plaintiff informed the collector several times that she was not the intended recipient of the calls; despite placing the plaintiff on its Do Not Call list, the collector proceeded to contact the plaintiff again. The plaintiff filed suit against the debt collector alleging violations of various state laws and the FDCPA’s prohibition on engaging in conduct to “harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt” and from using any “unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.”

    The debt collector moved for summary judgment, and the court determined that no reasonable jury could conclude the conduct gave rise to a violation, noting that the actions of the collector were a “far cry from the type of conduct Congress held up as harassment or abuse” in the FDCPA. Specifically, the court concluded that calling twice after being verbally asked to stop does not give rise to an intent to annoy, abuse, or harass as Congress chose to make it a per se violation to communicate after written requests to stop, but not any cease request. The court similarly rejected plaintiff’s claim that the collector’s conduct was unfair or unconscionable under the FDCPA.

    Courts Debt Collection FDCPA

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  • OCC praises CFPB’s payday rule proposal

    Federal Issues

    On February 11, the OCC released a statement from Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting supporting the CFPB’s proposed rule rescinding certain requirements relating to underwriting standards for short-term small-dollar loans. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Calling the proposal “important and courageous,” Otting praised the Bureau, noting that it was “[t]he shrinking supply and steady demand” that “drove up prices and promoted much less favorable terms.” He continued to state that a framework of rules that allows responsible lenders to compete in the market will make the market “work better for everyone.”

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May 2018, the OCC released a Bulletin encouraging banks to meet the credit needs of consumers by offering short-term, small-dollar installment loans subject to the OCC’s core lending principles.

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance CFPB OCC Installment Loans Payday Rule Underwriting

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