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On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in a consolidated appeal, affirmed summary judgment in favor of a debt collector in actions alleging that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by naming the “original creditor” and the “client” in its collection letters, but declining to identify the current owner of the debt. According to the opinion, two consumers received collection letters naming an online payment processor as the “client” and a bank as the “original creditor,” and stating that, “upon the debtor’s request, [the collector] will provide ‘the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.’” The consumers filed class actions against the debt collector, alleging that it violated, among other things, Section 1692g(a)(2) of the FDCPA by failing to disclose the current creditor or owner of the debt in the initial collection letters. In both cases, the respective district court granted summary judgment for the debt collector, concluding that the letter not only includes the original creditor—the bank—but also provides additional information for the unsophisticated consumer by including the online payment processor so that the consumer could better recognize the debt.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit agreed with the lower courts and concluded that the letters did not violate the FDCPA. The appellate court noted that “the letter identifies a single ‘creditor,’ as well as the commercial name to which the debtors had been exposed, allowing the debtors to easily recognize the nature of the debt.” The appellate court rejected the consumers’ argument that calling the bank the “original creditor” instead of the “current creditor” creates confusion, because the letter contained language that notified consumers that the original and current creditors may be one and the same. Because the letter “provides a whole picture of the debt for the consumer,” the court concluded it is not abusive or unfair and does not violate Section 1692g(a)(2) of the FDCPA.
On June 6, twenty six Democratic Senators sent a letter to the CFPB requesting that the Bureau reconsider the recent debt collection rulemaking proposal to “pursue more meaningful reforms that put consumers . . . first.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the CFPB released its highly anticipated debt collection rulemaking, which regulates debt collection communications and disclosures and addresses related practices by debt collectors. Among other things, the proposed rule would (i) require debt collectors to provide consumers with a validation notice containing specific information regarding the debt; (ii) restrict debt collectors from calling consumers regarding a particular debt more than seven times within a seven-day-period and prohibit telephone contact for seven days after the debt collector has had a conversation with the consumer; (iii) allow for consumers to unsubscribe from various communication channels with debt collectors, including text or email; and (iv) prevent debt collectors from contacting consumers on their workplace email addresses or through public-facing social media platforms.
In the letter, the Senators argue that the proposed rule as currently written “will only exacerbate and increase troubling harassment tactics” by debt collectors. The Senators note that the Bureau received 81,500 consumer debt collection complaints, and the FTC received nearly 458,000 such complaints in 2018, and argue that the proposed rule does not do enough to address the particular abusive practices that those complaints raised. The Senators allege that the proposed rule “permits collectors to overwhelm consumers with intrusive communications” because it allows for unlimited text messages and emails and allows for collectors to call consumers seven times per week, per debt. Additionally, the Senators argue that the proposed rule “could encourage collectors to practice willful ignorance about the status of the debt they collect,” as it only “prohibits filing or threatening to file a lawsuit if the collector ‘knows or should know’ that the debt is not enforceable.” Lastly, the Senators assert that the Bureau should hold attorneys who engage in debt collection to a “higher standard, [they should] not be granted a safe harbor to engage in abusive and deceptive practices.”
On June 10, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter FIL-30-2019 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Oklahoma affected by severe weather from May 7 through the present. The FDIC is encouraging institutions to consider, among other things, extending repayment terms and restructuring existing loans to borrowers affected by the severe weather. Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.
On June 6, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2018 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report—which the Bureau requested for its use in preparing its 2018 Annual Report to Congress—covers the FTC’s enforcement activities regarding Regulation Z (the Truth in Lending Act or TILA), Regulation M (the Consumer Leasing Act or CLA), and Regulation E (the Electronic Fund Transfer Act or EFTA). Highlights of the enforcement matters covered in the report include:
- Auto Lending and Leasing. The report discusses two enforcement matters related to deceptive automobile dealer practices. The first, filed in August 2018, alleged that a group of four auto dealers, among other things, advertised misleading discounts and incentives in their vehicle advertisements, and falsely inflated consumers’ income and down payment information on financing applications. The charges brought against the defendants allege violations of the FTC Act, TILA, and the CLA. The FTC sought, among other remedies, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, restitution, and disgorgement. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage of the filing is available here.) In the second, in December 2018, the FTC mailed over 43,000 checks, totaling over $3.5 million, to consumers allegedly harmed by nine dealerships and owners engaged in deceptive and unfair sales and financing practices, deceptive advertising, and deceptive online reviews. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage is available here.)
- Payday Lending. The report covers two enforcement matters, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s December 2018 decision upholding the $1.3 billion judgment against defendants responsible for operating an allegedly deceptive payday lending program. The decision is the result of a 2012 complaint in which the FTC alleged that the defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act by making false and misleading representations about costs and payment of the loans. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage is available here.) The report also indicates that, in February 2018, the FTC issued over 72,000 checks totaling more an $2.9 million to consumers stemming from a July 2015 settlement, that alleged that online payday operators used personal financial information purchased from third-party lead generators or data brokers to make unauthorized deposits into and withdrawals from consumers’ bank accounts, regardless of whether the consumer applied for a payday loan. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage is available here.)
- Negative Option. The report covers six enforcement matters related to alleged violations of the EFTA and Regulation E for “negative option” plans, including three new filings against online marketers for allegedly advertising “free trial” offers for products that enrolled consumers in expensive, ongoing plans without their knowledge or consent. The report notes that, in 2018, the FTC reached a settlement with one entity and obtained a court judgment against another, both resulting in injunctive relief and monetary settlements (which were suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay). The report also notes that the FTC mailed 2,116 refund checks totaling more than $355,000 to people who bought an allegedly deceptive “memory improvement” supplement.
Additionally, the report addresses the FTC’s research and policy efforts related to truth in lending and leasing, and electronic fund transfer issues, including (i) a study of consumers’ experiences in buying and financing automobiles at dealerships; and (ii) the FTC’s Military Task Force’s work on military consumer protection issues. The report also outlines the FTC’s consumer and business education efforts, which include several blog posts warning of new scams and practices.
On June 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced an approximately $400,000 settlement with a global money services business for alleged violations of the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the company’s processing of certain transactions totaling roughly $1.275 million. According to OFAC, the transactions were paid out to third-party, non-designated beneficiaries who collected their remittances from a company sub-agent in The Gambia that OFAC designated pursuant to the GTSR in December 2010. In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating and aggravating factors, including the fact that the company voluntarily self-disclosed the issue to OFAC.
On June 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Iran’s largest petrochemical holding group for providing financial support to an engineering conglomerate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13382. In addition, OFAC designated the holding group’s network of 39 subsidiary petrochemical companies and foreign-based sales agents. According to OFAC, profits derived from the holding group’s activities “support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction . . . and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad.”
As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from transacting with them. Moreover, OFAC warned foreign financial institutions that they may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated entities. OFAC further issued a reminder that as of November 5, 2018, purchasing, acquiring, selling, transporting, or marketing petrochemical products from Iran is sanctionable under E.O. 13846 (covered by InfoBytes here).
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On June 6, the New York Attorney General announced a $65,000 settlement with an online retailer resolving allegations that the company failed to provide notice of an online data breach to over 39,000 customers, including nearly 3,000 New Yorkers, for over three years. According to the announcement, unauthorized parties placed malicious code designed to steal credit card information in the company’s software in September 2014. The company discovered the code in November 2014, but did not remediate it until January 2015 (or February 2015, after the code was mistakenly reintroduced and permanently deleted). The Attorney General alleges that the company did not notify its affected customers until May 2018, and that, because the company did not notify New York authorities or its affected customers “in an expedient time-period, and without unreasonable delay,” it violated New York’s General Business Law § 899-aa.
The company offered potentially affected customers two years of free credit monitoring, fraud consultation, and identity theft restoration services, which is not required by law. In addition to the penalty, the settlement requires the company to conduct trainings for appropriate employees and conduct thorough investigations of any future data security breaches involving private information to ensure compliance with state law.
On June 5, the Nevada governor signed AB 466, requiring the State Treasurer to create a pilot program, authorized to operate from October 1, 2019 through June 30, 2023, for the establishment of one or more closed-loop payment processing systems that enable certain persons to engage in financial transactions relating to marijuana.
The closed-loop payment processing system established under the pilot program must be designed to, among other things: (i) provide marijuana establishments and medical marijuana establishments a safe, secure and convenient method of paying state and local taxes; (ii) prevent revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and drug cartels, and; (iii) prevent lawful financial transactions relating to marijuana from being used as a cover or pretext for unlawful activities. The bill requires the State Treasurer to adopt regulations to carry out the pilot program and requires that the State Treasurer submit a report concerning the pilot program on or before December 1, 2020, and every 6 months thereafter.
On June 6, the Maine governor signed S.P. 275/L.D. 946, which requires certain broadband Internet access services to receive express, affirmative consent from a customer before disclosing, selling, or permitting access to a customer’s personal information. Among other things, the provisions stipulate that a customer may revoke his or her consent at any time, and forbid providers from refusing service or charging a penalty or offering a discount based on the customer’s decision to provide or not provide consent. Furthermore, providers must include a “clear, conspicuous and nondeceptive notice at the point of sale,” as well as on the provider’s public website, concerning the provider’s obligations and the customer’s rights. Requirements for safeguarding customers’ personal information are also outlined. The Act applies only to providers operating in Maine that provide Internet access service to customers that are physically located and billed for services received in Maine. The new law will take effect July 1, 2020.
On June 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to decertify a class of callers claiming their cellphone calls were unlawfully recorded, holding that the class representative lacked standing as to its individual claim. According to the opinion, customers of a concrete supplier alleged that calls placed to a phone system that the company began using in 2009 failed to inform callers that their cellphone calls were being recorded. In 2013, the company changed the recording to state that the calls maybe be “monitored or recorded.” The class representative sought to certify a class of all persons whose calls were recorded between the time that the company started using the call recording system in 2009 to when it updated the recording. The district court initially denied certification under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23’s predominance requirement, and later—after certifying the class based on evidence presented concerning the timing of certain recorded calls—decertified the class for failing to satisfy the “commonality” and “predominance” requirements once the concrete supplier identified nine customers who claimed they had actual knowledge of the recording practice during the class period. In addition, the court concluded that the class representative lacked standing to seek damages on its individual claim or injunctive relief because it lacked standing under the 2016 Supreme Court opinion Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which required that it show a concrete or particularized injury as a result of the concrete supplier's alleged violation.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected the class’s argument that it “has standing to appeal the decertification order notwithstanding the adverse judgment against it on the merits” due to the following two exceptions to the mootness doctrine that may permit a class representative to appeal decertification even if its individual claims have been mooted: (i) the class representative “retains a ‘personal stake’ in class certification”; or (ii) “the claim on the merits is ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review,’” even though the class representative has lost “his personal stake in the outcome of the litigation.” The appellate court concluded that “neither of these mootness principles can remedy or excuse a lack of standing as to the representative's individual claims.”
- Buckley Webcast: Hot topics in debt collection — An analysis of recent federal FDCPA litigation
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "How to succeed in law school" at the SEO Law DC Panel Discussions
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Henry Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates an Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference