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    CFPB Eyes Loan Servicer Rules

    Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

    CFPB Eyes Loan Servicer Rules

    September 30, 2015
    (Inside Higher Ed)

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau formally announced Tuesday that it will explore new regulations on student loan servicing companies, calling for changes in an industry it says is bedeviled by widespread failures that are harming borrowers.

    Officials at the consumer agency issued a new report that outlines some of those problems, which include poor customer service, surprise fees and a lack of assistance for borrowers struggling to make payments or enroll in income-based repayment programs.

    The report draws on more than 30,000 comments the bureau received over the past several months as part of its public inquiry into the student loan servicing market. It follows years of growing scrutiny of student loan servicers, by the CFPB, other federal agencies, consumer groups and members of Congress.

    “With one out of four student loan borrowers struggling to repay their loans or already in default, cleaning up the servicing market is critical,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “Today’s report underscores the need for marketwide student loan servicing reforms to halt harmful practices and boost assistance for distressed borrowers.”

    The bureau confirmed Tuesday that it “intends to explore potential industrywide rules to increase borrower protections.” Officials also said that they have prioritized enforcement efforts against companies that engage in illegal servicing practices.

    Any new regulations from the CFPB would likely cover loan servicers for both private and federal student loans. But the Obama administration has roundly criticized in recent years, often from lawmakers in its own party, for how the Education Department oversees federal student loan servicers.

    Maura Dundon, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, an advocacy group that studies student loan issues, said that a good set of regulations would both “outlaw specific unfair practices and set in place specific procedures that will help people be successful in repayment.”

    Dundon said that it was important for the CFPB to set “legally enforceable basic standards” for loan servicing even as the Education Department plans to revamp next year how it structures its contracts with federal loan servicers.

    “It won’t be left up to the discretion of the Department of Education,” she said. “It will be a rule with the force of law.”

    The CFPB on Tuesday also joined with the Departments of Education and Treasury to produce a “joint statement of principles” for ways to improve student loan servicing.

    The document calls for more consistency in how loan servicers operate and process payments for borrowers, as well as making sure that the companies provide accurate information about borrowers’ repayment options. And it also says the public needs greater access to information about the performance of private and federal student loans, including the performance of the companies that service those loans.

    CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU TAKES ACTION AGAINST FIFTH THIRD BANK FOR AUTO-LENDING DISCRIMINATION AND ILLEGAL CREDIT CARD PRACTICES

    Monday, September 28th, 2015

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
    September 28, 2015

    CONTACT:
    Office of Communications
    Tel: (202) 435-7170

    CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU TAKES ACTION AGAINST FIFTH THIRD BANK FOR AUTO-LENDING DISCRIMINATION AND ILLEGAL CREDIT CARD PRACTICES
    Company to Pay $18 Million to Minority Auto Borrowers, $3 Million to Credit Card Customers

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced two separate actions against Fifth Third Bank, for discriminatory auto loan pricing and for illegal credit card practices. The joint CFPB and Department of Justice (DOJ) auto-lending enforcement action requires Fifth Third to change its pricing and compensation system to minimize the risks of discrimination, and to pay $18 million to harmed African-American and Hispanic borrowers. The CFPB’s action against Fifth Third’s deceptive marketing of credit card add-on products requires the bank to provide an estimated $3 million in relief to eligible harmed consumers and pay a $500,000 penalty.

    “We are committed to promoting fair and equal access to credit in the auto finance marketplace,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Fifth Third’s move to a new pricing and compensation system represents a significant step toward protecting consumers from discrimination. We are also obtaining millions of dollars in relief today for consumers affected by deceptive marketing of credit add-on products.”

    “We commend Fifth Third for its commitment to treating all of its customers fairly without regard to race or national origin and its leadership in agreeing to impose lower caps on discretionary markups,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “This agreement shows that the indirect auto lending industry is moving toward a model of dealer compensation that fairly compensates dealers for their work related to loans, while limiting the dealer markup that leads to discriminatory pricing.”

    “Consumers deserve a level playing field when they enter the marketplace, especially when financing an automobile,” said U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart of the Southern District of Ohio.  “This settlement prevents discrimination in setting the price for auto loans.”

    Fifth Third Bank is a regional bank and insured depository institution. It is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, primarily serving states in the Midwest and Southeast. The bank operates approximately 1,300 branches in 12 states, offering financial services including credit cards, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and auto loans.

    Auto-Lending Enforcement Action
    Auto loans are the third-largest source of outstanding household debt in the United States, after mortgages and student loans. When consumers finance automobile purchases from an auto dealership, the dealer often facilitates indirect financing through a third-party lender like Fifth Third, which is the ninth largest depository indirect auto lender in the United States.

    As an indirect auto lender, Fifth Third sets a risk-based interest rate, or “buy rate,” that it conveys to auto dealers. The bank then allows auto dealers to charge a higher interest rate when they finalize the deal with the consumer. This is typically called “dealer markup.” Markups can generate compensation for dealers while giving them the discretion to charge consumers different rates regardless of consumer creditworthiness. Over the time period under review, Fifth Third permitted dealers to mark up consumers’ interest rates as much as 2.5 percent.

    Today’s enforcement action is the result of a CFPB examination that began in January 2013. The examination evaluated Fifth Third’s indirect auto-lending program for compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits creditors from discriminating against loan applicants in credit transactions on the basis of characteristics such as race and national origin. The CFPB and DOJ’s joint investigation concluded that Fifth Third’s policies:

    • Resulted in minority borrowers paying higher dealer markups: Fifth Third violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by charging African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher dealer markups for their auto loans than non-Hispanic white borrowers. These markups were without regard to the creditworthiness of the borrowers.
    • Injured thousands of minority borrowers: Fifth Third’s illegal discriminatory pricing and compensation structure meant thousands of minority borrowers from January 2010 through September 2015 were charged, on average, over $200 more for their auto loans.

    The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and federal fair lending laws authorize the CFPB and DOJ to take action against creditors engaging in illegal discrimination. The CFPB’s order was filed today as an administrative action, and DOJ’s proposed order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The measures provided in the orders will help ensure that illegal discrimination does not increase the cost of auto loans for consumers on the basis of race and national origin. Under the CFPB order, Fifth Third must:

    • Substantially reduce or eliminate entirely dealer discretion: Fifth Third will reduce dealer discretion to mark up the interest rate to only 1.25 percent above the buy rate for auto loans with terms of 5 years or less, and 1 percent for auto loans with longer terms. Fifth Third also has the option under the order to move to non-discretionary dealer compensation. The Bureau did not assess penalties against Fifth Third because of the proactive steps the company is taking that directly address the fair lending risk of discretionary pricing and compensation systems by substantially reducing or eliminating that discretion altogether.
    • Pay $18 million in damages for consumer harm: Fifth Third will pay $12 million into a settlement fund that will go to harmed African-American and Hispanic borrowers whose auto loans were financed by Fifth Third between January 2010 and September 2015. Based on a determination by the DOJ and the CFPB, Fifth Third will receive credit of between $5 million and $6 million for remediation it has already provided to harmed consumers whose auto loans were financed by Fifth Third from January 2010 through June 2015. Fifth Third will then pay any additional funds necessary into the settlement fund to bring its total payment to harmed consumers to $18 million.
    • Pay to hire a settlement administrator to distribute funds to victims: A settlement administrator will contact consumers, distribute the funds, and ensure that borrowers who were harmed receive compensation. The Bureau will provide contact information for the settlement administrator once that person is chosen to address questions that consumers may have about potential payments.

    In March 2013, the CFPB issued a bulletin explaining that it would hold indirect auto lenders accountable for unlawful discriminatory pricing. The bulletin also made recommendations for how indirect auto lenders could ensure that they were operating in compliance with fair lending laws. In September 2014, the Bureau issued an edition of Supervisory Highlights that explained that the Bureau’s supervisory experience suggests that significantly limiting discretionary pricing adjustments may reduce or effectively eliminate pricing disparities. Substantial limits on discretionary pricing like those imposed by today’s order can address the type of fair lending risk identified in the CFPB’s bulletin and Supervisory Highlights.

    Today’s auto lending action is part of a larger joint effort between the CFPB and DOJ to address discrimination in the indirect auto lending market. Most recently, in July 2015, the CFPB and DOJ took an action against American Honda Finance Corporation requiring Honda to pay $24 million in consumer restitution and take the same steps to substantially reduce or eliminate entirely dealer discretion.

    The full text of the CFPB’s consent order in the auto lending matter is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201509_cfpb_consent-order-fifth-third-bank.pdf

    The DOJ simultaneously filed a complaint and proposed consent order to settle the auto lending matter. The DOJ’s announcement is available at: http://www.justice.gov/justice-news

    Credit Card Enforcement Action
    The CFPB is also taking action today against Fifth Third for violations of the Dodd-Frank Act for deceptive acts or practices in the marketing and sales of its “Debt Protection” credit card add-on product. This is the 11th credit card add-on enforcement action the Bureau has taken against companies for illegal practices in the marketing or administration of add-on products and services. From 2007 through February 2013, Fifth Third marketed and sold the product to its customers during telemarketing calls and online. The product promised to allow enrolled cardholders to request the cancellation of credit card payments if they experienced certain hardships such as job loss, disability, and hospitalization. Depending on the version of the product, consumers who enrolled were charged a monthly fee of either 0.81 percent or 0.89 percent of their card balance. In September 2012, Fifth Third ceased telemarketing the product and ceased all other enrollments in February 2013.

    The Bureau found that Fifth Third’s telemarketers deceptively marketed the add-on product during calls. For example, telemarketers did not tell some cardholders that by agreeing to receive information about the product, they were being enrolled and would be charged a fee. In addition, from December 2011 through September 2012, Fifth Third sent cardholders product “fulfillment kits” that contained incorrect descriptions of the product’s cost, benefits, exclusions, terms, and conditions. Among other things, Fifth Third’s illegal practices included: misrepresenting costs and fees for coverage; misrepresenting or omitting information about eligibility for coverage; and illegal practices in the enrollment process.

    The CFPB’s order was filed today as an administrative action. The CFPB’s order requires that Fifth Third provide $3 million in relief to roughly 24,500 customers, cease engaging in illegal practices, and pay a $500,000 penalty to the CFPB civil penalty fund.

    The full text of the CFPB’s consent order in the credit card add-on matter is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201509_cfpb_consent-order-fifth-third-bank-add-on.pdf

    Student loan borrowers have options (Government Accountability Office report)

    Sunday, September 27th, 2015

    FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS:

    Education Could Do More to Help Ensure Borrowers Are Aware of Repayment and Forgiveness Options

    GAO-15-663: Published: Aug 25, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2015.

    Additional Materials:

    Contact:

    Melissa Emrey-Arras
    (617) 788-0534
    emreyarrasm@gao.gov
     

    Office of Public Affairs
    (202) 512-4800
    youngc1@gao.gov

    What GAO Found

    Many eligible borrowers do not participate in the Department of Education’s (Education) Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn repayment plans for Direct Loans, and Education has not provided information about the plans to all borrowers in repayment. These plans provide eligible borrowers with lower payments based on income and set timelines for forgiveness of any remaining loan balances. While the Department of the Treasury estimated that 51 percent of Direct Loan borrowers were eligible for Income-Based Repayment as of September 2012, the most recent available estimate, Education data show 13 percent were participating as of September 2014. An additional 2 percent were in Pay As You Earn. Moreover, Education has reported ongoing concerns regarding borrowers’ awareness of these plans. Although Education has a strategic goal to provide superior information and service to borrowers, the agency has not consistently notified borrowers who have entered repayment about the plans. As a result, borrowers who could benefit from the plans may miss the chance to lower their payments and reduce the risk of defaulting on their loans.

    Repayment Plan Participation of Direct Loan Borrowers in Active Repayment, September 2014

    Repayment Plan Participation of Direct Loan Borrowers in Active Repayment, September 2014

    Few borrowers who may be employed in public service have had their employment and loans certified for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and Education has not assessed its efforts to increase borrower awareness. Beginning in 2017, the program is to forgive remaining Direct Loan balances of eligible borrowers employed in public service for at least 10 years. As of September 2014, Education’s loan servicer for the program had certified employment and loans for fewer than 150,000 borrowers; however, borrowers may wait until 2017 to request certification. While the number of borrowers eligible for the program is unknown, if borrowers are employed in public service at a rate comparable to the U.S. workforce, about 4 million may be employed in public service. It is unclear whether borrowers who may be eligible for the program are aware of it. Although Education has a strategic goal to provide superior information and service to borrowers and provides information about Public Service Loan Forgiveness through its website and other means, it has not notified all borrowers in repayment about the program. In addition, Education has not examined borrower awareness of the program to determine how well its efforts are working. Borrowers who have not been notified about Public Service Loan Forgiveness may not benefit from the program when it becomes available in 2017, potentially forgoing thousands of dollars in loan forgiveness.

    Why GAO Did This Study

    As of September 2014, outstanding federal student loan debt exceeded $1 trillion, and about 14 percent of borrowers had defaulted on their loans within 3 years of entering repayment, according to Education data. GAO was asked to review options intended to help borrowers repay their loans.

    For Direct Loan borrowers GAO examined: (1) how participation in Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn compares to eligibility, and to what extent Education has taken steps to increase awareness of these plans, and (2) what is known about Public Service Loan Forgiveness certification and eligibility, and to what extent Education has taken steps to increase awareness of this program. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; September 2014 data from Education and its loan servicer for Public Service Loan Forgiveness; Treasury’s eligibility estimates; and 2012 employment data (most recent available) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. GAO also interviewed officials from three loan servicers that service about half of Education’s loan recipients.

    What GAO Recommends

    GAO recommends Education consistently notify borrowers in repayment about income-driven repayment, and examine borrower awareness of Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Education generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations, but it believed the report overstated the extent to which borrowers lack awareness of income-driven repayment. GAO modified the report to clarify this issue.

    For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.

    Sued or dunned on a National Collegiate Student Loan Trust private loan?

    Friday, September 25th, 2015

    Are you being sued or dunned on a private student loan allegedly held by National Collegiate Student Loan Trust? (updated)

    Until 2015, about 125 lawsuits per month were  filed to collect National Collegiate Student Loan Trust (” NCT”)  loans in Cook County alone, with more in other Illinois counties.  We defended a number of these cases.  Most of those we have defended have been dismissed, with or without prejudice.  As a result, the filing of new cases has virtually ceased.

    Some important dos and don’ts with respect to these loans:

    DO NOT  allow NCT to get a judgment against you by failing to respond to a summons and complaint.  NCT has obtained hundreds of judgments against people who did not bother to defend themselves even though they had valid defenses.  If you fail to respond, NCT can get a default judgment against you and then garnish your non-exempt wages, seize your non-exempt assets and put liens on your real property.

    DO NOT agree to a judgment with an agreement that you will pay a small sum per month for six months or so.  NCT tries to get people to agree to this.  If  you do this you have waived your right to dispute the debt and at the end of that period the judgment  can be enforced against your nonexempt assets and up to 15% of your wages.   Judgments are enforceable for 20-27 years in Illinois, and bear interest at 9%.  Some of these agreements don’t even pay the interest on the judgment.  Any agreement should completely resolve the debt, with a substantial discount.

    DO NOT  make the mistake of calling NCT or its attorneys or debt collectors before speaking to an attorney.  We will review your documents and facts and consult with you without charge, and advise you whether you have a defense, whether we will take your case and what our fees will be.

    DO NOT ASSUME THAT NCT IS ENTITLED TO COLLECT without having an attorney familiar with these loans examine potential defenses.  We believe that most NCT cases have serious problems with them, for multiple reasons.

    • First, we believe that virtually all of the lawsuits filed on these loans are filed in violation of Illinois law.
    • Second, NCT sometimes cannot prove that it has the right to collect on the student loan debt at issue. In at least one case, National Collegiate filed suit on a loan that had been assigned to another entity and paid in full to that entity.
    • Sometimes National Collegiate cannot prove  the amount due.  NCT loans are actually serviced by Transworld/ NCO Financial, an organization which has a long history of consent orders and government investigations.   Transworld is currently under investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; this casts doubt on the accuracy of any records it produces.
    • Some suits appear to be filed beyond the statute of limitations.  We have obtained rulings that these loans are governed by the five-year Illinois statute of limitations, not the ten year statute as NCT claims.
    • The interest rates on some of the loans may be unlawful.
    • Finally, we believe that many or all of the obligations of cosigners under these loans may not be enforceable.

    We have lots of experience defending claims on these private loans.  We have also brought a number of affirmative claims challenging NCT’s  collection practices, as both individual and (more than half a dozen) class actions.  Many of these collection practices, including many NCT collection letters, violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other laws.

    If you are currently being sued or dunned on a private student loan allegedly held by NCT, please call us immediately.

    Also, please send us any collection letters seeking to collect National Collegiate loans.

    National Collegiate trusts

    Friday, September 25th, 2015

    Please contact us if you have received letters seeking to collect private student loans allegedly held by National Collegiate.

    Encore, PRA Reach Settlement with the CFPB, Agree to Hefty Fines

    Thursday, September 10th, 2015

    CFPB Takes Action Against the Two Largest Debt Buyers for Using Deceptive Tactics to Collect Bad Debts

    Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates Must Refund Millions of Dollars and Overhaul Debt Collection and Litigation Practices

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took action against the nation’s two largest debt buyers and collectors for using deceptive tactics to collect bad debts. The Bureau found that Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates bought debts that were potentially inaccurate, lacking documentation, or unenforceable. Without verifying the debt, the companies collected payments by pressuring consumers with false statements and churning out lawsuits using robo-signed court documents. The CFPB has ordered the companies to overhaul their debt collection and litigation practices and to stop reselling debts to third parties. Encore must pay up to $42 million in consumer refunds and a $10 million penalty, and stop collection on over $125 million worth of debts. Portfolio Recovery Associates must pay $19 million in consumer refunds and an $8 million penalty, and stop collecting on over $3 million worth of debts.

    “Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates threatened and deceived consumers to collect on debts they should have known were inaccurate or had other problems,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Now, the two biggest debt buyers in the market must refund millions and overhaul their practices. We will continue to take action to protect consumers from illegal and obnoxious debt collection practices.”

    Encore Capital Group, Inc. is headquartered in San Diego, Calif. Its subsidiaries also named in today’s action are Midland Funding LLC, Midland Credit Management, and Asset Acceptance Capital Corp. Together, they form the nation’s largest debt buyer and collector. Portfolio Recovery Associates is the nation’s second largest debt buyer and collector. Portfolio Recovery Associates is a Delaware for-profit corporation headquartered in Norfolk, Va. and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PRA Group, Inc.

    As debt buyers, Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates purchase delinquent or charged-off accounts for a fraction of the value of the debt. Although they pay only pennies on the dollar for the debt, they may attempt to collect the full amount claimed by the original lender. Together, these two companies have purchased the rights to collect over $200 billion in defaulted consumer debts on credit cards, phone bills, and other accounts.

    The CFPB found that Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates attempted to collect debts that they knew, or should have known, were inaccurate or could not legally be enforced based on contractual disclaimers, past practices of debt sellers, or consumer disputes. The companies also filed lawsuits against consumers without having the intent to prove many of the debts, winning the vast majority of the lawsuits by default when consumers failed to defend themselves. These practices violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

    Collecting Bad Debts

    Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates illegally attempted to collect debt that they knew, or should have known, may have been inaccurate or unenforceable. Specifically, the CFPB found that the companies:

    • Attempted to collect on unsubstantiated or inaccurate debt: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates stated incorrect balances, interest rates, and payment due dates in attempting to collect debts from consumers. The companies purchased large portfolios of consumer debt with balances that sellers claimed were “approximate” or that otherwise did not reflect the correct amount owed by the consumer. Sellers also warned the companies that some of the debts they were buying may not have the most recent consumer payments deducted from the balance. Some sellers also represented that documents were not available for some of the accounts. The companies continued purchasing from these sellers and then collecting on that debt without first conducting any investigation to determine whether the debts were accurate and enforceable.

    Illegal Litigation Practices

    Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates collected debts through lawsuits and threats of legal action in unlawful ways. Specifically, the companies:

    • Misrepresented their intention to prove debts they sued consumers over: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates regularly attempted to collect on debts by suing consumers in state courts across the country. In numerous cases, the companies had no intention of proving these debts. They placed tens of thousands of debts with law firms staffed by only a handful of attorneys and in many cases made no effort to obtain the documents to back up their claims. Instead, the companies relied on consumers not filing a defense and winning the lawsuits by default.
    • Relied on misleading, robo-signed court filings to churn out lawsuits: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates filed affidavits that contained misleading statements in debt collection lawsuits across the country. For example, they both used affidavits that misrepresented that the affiants had reviewed original account-level documentation confirming the consumers’ debts when they had not. The companies also submitted affidavits with documents attached that they claimed were the consumers’ specific account contracts or records when they weren’t. These shortcuts allowed the companies to churn through lawsuits without doing the research and due diligence required to obtain a legitimate judgment.
    • Sued or threatened to sue consumers past the statute of limitations: From at least July 21, 2011 to March 31, 2013, Encore sent thousands of letters offering a time-limited opportunity to “settle” without revealing that the debt was too old for litigation. From January 2009 to March 2012, Portfolio Recovery Associates sent similar letters to consumers. Both of the companies also filed cases past the applicable statute of limitations.
    • Pressured consumers to make payments using misrepresentations: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates made other inaccurate statements to consumers to press them to make additional payments. Specifically:
    • Encore falsely told consumers the burden of proof was on them to disprove the debt: In sworn affidavits, Encore falsely told consumers and courts that the debt should be assumed to be valid because the consumer had not disputed it within a certain time period. In fact, Encore had the burden to first prove the debt was owed and accurate before the consumer had to challenge it.
    • Portfolio Recovery Associates falsely claimed an attorney had reviewed the file and a lawsuit was imminent: The company’s collectors, who identified themselves as from the “Litigation Department,” misrepresented to consumers that litigation against them was planned, imminent, or even underway. In reality, in many cases, an attorney had not reviewed the account and the company had not decided whether to file suit.

    Other Illegal Collection Practices

    • Encore disregarded or failed to adequately investigate consumers’ disputes: If a consumer disputed their debt more than 45 days after Encore started collecting, Encore would require the consumer to produce specific documents or other “proof” to support their dispute or it would not conduct the legally-required investigation of the issues raised by the consumer.
    • Encore farmed out disputed debts to law firms without forwarding required information: In numerous instances, Encore assigned disputed debt to law firms and third-party debt collectors without informing them that the debt was disputed. As a result, law firms evaluating Encore accounts for litigation did not know which accounts were disputed.
    • Encore made harassing collection calls to consumers: Encore called consumers repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass them into paying. Encore’s subsidiary, Asset Acceptance, made thousands of calls to consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. and called hundreds of consumers more than 20 times in a two-day period.
    • Portfolio Recovery Associates misled consumers into consenting to receive auto-dialed cell phone calls: For approximately a year, and ending in August 2013, Portfolio Recovery Associates told consumers that they could only prevent collection calls to their cell phones before 9 a.m. if they consented to receive calls on their cell phones from a dialer. The company penalized representatives who failed to adhere to this policy.

    Enforcement Action

    Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has the authority to take action against institutions or individuals engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws. Under the terms of the CFPB orders released today, Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates are required to:

    • Stop reselling debts: The companies are prohibited from reselling the debts they buy to other debt collectors. This will protect consumers from the potential harm that results when debt collectors continue to sell and resell debts that may be inaccurate or lack the business records and information needed to collect them.
    • Refund millions of dollars to consumers:
    • Encore must pay up to $42 million in refunds: The company must provide refunds where it collected payments by misrepresenting that it could sue on a time-barred debt or by misrepresenting in court that a debt was assumed valid because the consumer did not previously dispute it.
    • Portfolio Recovery Associates must pay $19 million in refunds: The company must provide refunds where it collected payments by misrepresenting that an attorney had reviewed a debt or that collectors were calling on behalf of attorneys, and where it collected payments on judgments that it should not have obtained because they were barred by the statute of limitations from suing to collect the debt.
    • Cease collections on millions of dollars of debt:
    • Encore must stop collecting on $125 million of debt: The company must release or move to vacate all judgments and dismiss all lawsuits where it misrepresented that a debt was assumed valid, and stop any attempts to enforce or collect on these judgments. The face value of this debt is estimated at over $125 million.
    • Portfolio Recovery Associates must stop collecting on $3 million of debt: The company must release or move to vacate all judgments and dismiss all pending lawsuits it filed past the statute of limitations and stop any attempts to enforce or collect on those judgments, estimated to have a face value of $3.4 million.
    • Stop collecting debts they can’t verify: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates can’t collect unsubstantiated debt. Under the order, they must review original account-level documents verifying a debt before collecting on it when, for example, a consumer has disputed it, the seller didn’t promise it was accurate or valid, or the debt was part of a portfolio they knew included unsupportable or inaccurate information.
    • Ensure accuracy when filing lawsuits: The companies cannot file lawsuits to enforce debts unless they have specific documents and information showing the debt is accurate and enforceable.
    • Provide consumers information before filing suit: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates must provide consumers with information about a debt, such as the name of the creditor and charge-off balance, and offer to provide consumers with original documents relating to the account before they are allowed to file a lawsuit or threaten to file suit to collect the debt.
    • Use accurate affidavits: The companies cannot use affidavits to collect debts unless the statements contained in the affidavits specifically and accurately describe the signer’s knowledge of the facts and the documents attached.
    • Reform collection of older debts: Encore and Portfolio Recovery Associates are prohibited from suing or threatening to sue to collect on time-barred debt. They also cannot collect on such debt unless they disclose to consumers that they can’t sue to collect it.
    • Pay civil money penalties:
    • Encore must pay a penalty of $10 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.
    • Portfolio Recovery Associates must pay a penalty of $8 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

    The Encore consent order can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201509_cfpb_consent-order-encore-capital-group.pdf

    The Portfolio Recovery Associates consent order can be found at:http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201509_cfpb_consent-order-portfolio-recovery-associates-llc.pdf

    ###

    First Financial Investment

    Monday, September 7th, 2015

    Please contact us if First Financial Investment Fund is attempting to collect an old Illinois medical bill from you.