Just into the new year, the FTC notched its first success in a creative theory to extend its monetary penalty authorities, which the Supreme Court trimmed back last year. In FTC v. RCG Advances, the FTC settled allegations that a small-business financing firm and its principals violated Section 521(a) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Originally
Court Dismisses Challenge to CFPB Payday Rule Repeal
A district court has dismissed a challenge to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (“CFPB”) repeal of the underwriting provisions of its 2017 payday rulemaking. The CFPB’s payday lending rule has a long and tortured history. First promulgated in 2017, the rule had two main prohibitions—a prohibition on making payday loans without assessing a borrower’s ability…
Chopra Makes a Statement About Markets (Both Literally and Figuratively)
On October 19, 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued its first enforcement action under newly-confirmed Director Rohit Chopra, taking aim at a company that the CFPB found to misuse its position of market dominance. The nature of the CFPB’s claims and the manner in which they were presented is telling of the CFPB’s likely approach to enforcement under Chopra. The agency issued a consent order against JPay, LLC, which the order describes as a company that contracts with federal, state and local departments of corrections (“DOCs”) around the country to provide various products and services, including debit cards provided to individuals upon their release from incarceration. The debit cards may contain the consumer’s own funds from commissary or other accounts and may also contain Gate Money—funds provided by the government to the individual to help ease the transition upon release from incarceration. The consent order focuses on the company’s practices related to such debit cards.
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Abusiveness: Muddying the Waters
A little more than a month after rescinding its prior Policy Statement on abusive acts or practices, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has brought its first post-rescission abusiveness claim. In a complaint against a debt settlement company, the CFPB alleged that the company’s alleged practice of prioritizing the settlement of debts owed to affiliated lenders constituted an abusive act or practice. The complaint against the company quotes its website as stating that the company’s “‘skilled negotiators work to get your creditors to agree to discounted lump sum payoff amounts’” and quotes its sales scripts as saying that the company is “‘not owned or operated by any of your creditors.’” In reality, according to the complaint, the company’s owner was also the owner of one of the prioritized creditors and the owner of the other prioritized creditor was a former employee of the company’s owner. Taking these facts together, the CFPB alleged that the company violated the prong of the abusiveness prohibition that prohibits acts or practices that take unreasonable advantage of a consumer’s reasonable reliance on a company to act in the interests of the consumer.
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CFPB Rescinds Policy Statement on Abusiveness
On March 11, 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) rescinded its January 24, 2020 Statement of Policy Regarding Prohibition on Abusive Acts or Practices (“Policy Statement”). The Acting Director of the CFPB, David Uejio, has been working quickly to reverse Kraninger-era policies, and the Policy Statement is the latest victim. Under the original Policy Statement, the CFPB said that it would: (1) generally rely on the abusiveness standard to address conduct only where the harm to consumers outweighs the benefit, (2) avoid making abusiveness claims where the claims rely on the same facts that the Bureau alleges are unfair or deceptive, and (3) not seek certain types of monetary relief against a covered person who made a good-faith effort to comply with a reasonable interpretation of the abusiveness standard.
In rescinding the Policy Statement, the CFPB highlighted the Policy Statement failed to (1) provide clarity to regulated entities on the abusiveness standard and (2) prevent consumer harm. In reality, the rescinded guidance is unlikely to have a major impact on the Bureau’s supervisory and enforcement efforts. Below, we highlight key takeaways from the announcement.
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A New Day Dawns at the CFPB
With President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the Nation’s 46th President, change is coming to Washington. And that change will be felt quickly and acutely at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). At President Biden’s request, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger submitted her resignation on Wednesday, clearing the way for the President to appoint current FTC Commissioner and former CFPB official Rohit Chopra as the next Director of the agency. Given the CFPB’s single Director structure, the new Director will have significant opportunities to shape the direction of the CFPB over the next four years. Below we address what we can expect to see from CFPB under the new administration.
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New Name, Same Initiative? Federal and State Regulators Partner (again) to Limit Abusive Debt Collection Practices
On September 29, 2020, the CFPB, FTC, and state and federal law enforcement agencies announced a new initiative, called Operation Corrupt Collector, to address certain abusive and threatening debt collection practices, including “phantom” debt collection. If the partnership sounds familiar, it is. Operation Corrupt Collector was essentially announced almost exactly five years after the FTC announced Operation Collection Protection. Though the programs have different names, the goals appear to be the same: bring cases against debt collectors who engage in abusive debt collection practices.
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CFPB Announces Policy Regarding Prohibition on Abusive Acts or Practices
On Friday, January 24, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“Bureau” or “CFPB”) published a Policy Statement clarifying how it intends to exercise its authority to prevent abusive acts or practices under the Dodd-Frank Act. According to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger, the purpose of the Policy Statement is to promote clarity, which in turn should encourage both compliance with the law and the development of beneficial financial products for consumers. The Policy Statement describes how the Bureau will use and develop the abusiveness standard in its supervision and enforcement work, pursuant to a three-part, forward-looking framework. Under the framework, the Bureau will: (1) generally rely on the abusiveness standard to address conduct only where the harm to consumers outweighs the benefit, (2) avoid making abusiveness claims where the claims rely on the same facts that the Bureau alleges are unfair or deceptive, and (3) not seek certain types of monetary relief against a covered person who made a good-faith effort to comply with a reasonable interpretation of the abusiveness standard. The Policy Statement suggests that the Bureau will use its abusiveness authority even less frequently than it has in the past. While that may be welcome news to regulated parties, it is also likely to mean slower development of meaningful guideposts as to what constitutes abusive conduct.
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Abusiveness Isn’t Dead Yet
Many thought that with former Director Richard Cordray’s resignation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) would stop using its abusiveness authority in enforcement actions. After all, claims of abusiveness were the epitome of what critics derided as “regulation by enforcement,” as abusiveness was a new concept whose contours were not well defined. While that has largely proven true, there have been some exceptions. Last October, under then-Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, the CFPB issued a Consent Order against a payday lender that also offered check cashing services, which contained a single claim of abusiveness. That claim was based on the entity’s practice, when providing check-cashing services, of using check proceeds to pay off outstanding payday loan debts and providing only the remaining funds to the consumer. That, however, was the only abusiveness claim among the ten enforcement actions of the Mulvaney era (although the Mulvaney-led CFPB did continue to litigate abusiveness claims filed under Cordray).
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