OCC Assesses Penalty Against Wells Fargo; Orders Restitution for Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
WASHINGTON—The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) today assessed a $20 million civil money penalty against Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and ordered the bank to make restitution to servicemembers who were harmed by the bank’s violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
The OCC found that between approximately 2006 and 2016, the bank violated three separate provisions of the SCRA. The bank failed to: (i) provide the 6-percent interest rate limit to servicemember obligations or liabilities incurred before military service; (ii) accurately disclose servicemembers’ active duty status to the court via affidavits prior to evicting those servicemembers; and (iii) obtain court orders prior to repossessing servicemembers’ automobiles. The $20 million penalty reflects a number of factors, including the duration and frequency of violations, the financial harm to the servicemembers, deficiencies and weaknesses in the bank’s SCRA compliance program and ineffective compliance risk management. The penalty will be paid to the U.S. Treasury.
Servicemembers eligible for restitution include those who were financially harmed as a result of the violations. The OCC’s order also requires the bank to take corrective action to establish an enterprise-wide SCRA compliance program to detect and prevent future SCRA violations.
The OCC is taking this action in coordination with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which issued a separate order today related to the bank’s repossession-related SCRA violations.
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
400 7th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20219
The OCC charters, regulates, and supervises national banks and federal savings associations. The agency ensures that national banks and federal savings associations operate in a safe and sound manner, provide fair access to financial services, treat customers fairly, and comply with applicable laws and regulations. More information is available at http://www.occ.gov.
FTC to auto dealers: don’t toy with yo-yo financing
September 29, 2016
Consumer Education Specialist
Buying a car can be exciting, but what if there are strings attached? Some buyers told us that they financed a car through a dealership, signed a contract, and drove the car home, only to be told that the financing didn’t go through and they had to sign a new deal or lose their down payment. There’s a name for that: it’s called a “yo-yo” financing tactic. It’s just one of a trunk-load of charges the FTC is bringing against Sage Auto Group, a group of nine Los Angeles-based auto dealerships, and the three brothers who control them.
The FTC alleges that Sage Auto engaged in a host of yo-yo financing tactics. For example, Sage Auto allegedly told customers the contract was cancelled, but the dealer would keep their down payments or trade-ins if the customers refused to sign a new deal. The dealerships even threatened some customers with arrest, criminal prosecution, or vehicle repossession if they didn’t take the second deal – even when the original deal was still valid.
As if yo-yo financing isn’t egregious enough, the FTC also alleges the defendants packed on extra charges for aftermarket products and services, like extended warranties, guaranteed auto protection, and service plans, without customer consent. Sometimes, Sage Auto falsely claimed the products were required as part of the sale or financing or were being thrown in for free. In reality, Sage Auto was adding those charges into the amount financed by consumers.
The FTC’s complaint also says Sage Auto used phony online reviews to tout their dealerships and to try to discredit negative reviews about the company’s bad advertising, sales, and financing practices. Potential customers rely on online reviews to decide where to shop, and Sage Auto undermined that ability with phony reviews written by its employees and other people tied to the dealerships. The FTC’s lawsuit seeks a court order to require Sage Auto to stop these bad practices and give refunds to some customers.
Today’s action is part of the FTC’s continuing efforts to protect buyers from deceptive advertising in the auto marketplace. If you think you’ve been misled when buying a car, report it to the FTC.
If you’re in the market for a car, don’t let deceptive sales, financing, or leasing practices leave you spinning your wheels. To find your best deal, shop around and compare offers from different dealers and financing sources like banks or credit unions. And check out our free publications about buying and owning a carbefore you start shopping.
The Federal Trade Commission has charged nine Los Angeles-area auto dealerships and their owners with using a wide range of deceptive and unfair sales and financing practices. The FTC’s action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeks to end these practices and return money to consumers.
This is the FTC’s first action against an auto dealer for “yo-yo” financing tactics: using deception or other unlawful pressure tactics to coerce consumers who have signed contracts and driven off the dealership lots into accepting a different deal. The FTC also alleges that the defendants packed extra, unauthorized charges for “add-ons,” or aftermarket products and services, into car deals financed by consumers.
“The car-buying process is a two-way street,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC expects dealers to honor their contractual obligations, and will pursue those who use yo-yo financing tactics and pack unwanted costly add-ons onto consumers’ contracts.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants entice consumers, particularly financially distressed and non-English speaking consumers, into their dealerships with print, internet, radio and television ads that make an array of misleading claims, including that vehicles are generally available for the advertised terms and that consumers can buy vehicles for low prices, finance with low monthly payments, or make low down payments. Other allegedly misleading claims include that consumers can finance the purchase of vehicles – when in fact they are lease offers – and that the defendants will pay off consumers’ trade-in vehicles, despite the fact that consumers ultimately are responsible for paying off any amount owed on the trade-in.
The FTC also alleges that the defendants use phony online reviews to tout their dealerships and discredit negative reviews that highlighted their unlawful practices. They and their employees or agents allegedly post positive, five-star online reviews that purport to be from objective or independent reviewers without disclosing their relationship to the dealerships.
In addition to the deceptive advertising and marketing allegations, the FTC has charged that several financing tactics of the defendants are deceptive and unfair. As part of the sales and financing process, the defendants offer add-ons such as extended warranties, guaranteed auto protection (GAP), and maintenance or service plans. The FTC alleges the defendants have violated the FTC Act by charging some consumers for add-ons without their consent or falsely claiming the products were required or were free.
And according to the complaint, in some instances after the consumers have signed contracts, the defendants falsely represent that consumers are required to sign a new contract with different terms. In other instances, the defendants tell consumers who have completed finance contracts that the contracts are cancelled and falsely represent that the defendants are permitted to keep consumers’ down payments or trade-ins. When consumers request compliance with the terms of the contract or refuse the defendants’ demands, the defendants, in some instances, have falsely represented that consumers will be liable for legal action, including lawsuits, repossession, or criminal arrest for a stolen vehicle.
The FTC’s complaint also charges the defendants with violating the Truth In Lending Act and Regulation Z, and the Consumer Leasing Act and Regulation M, for failing to clearly disclose required credit information and lease information in their advertising.
The defendants are Universal City Nissan, Inc., also d/b/a Universal Nissan; Sage Downtown, Inc., also d/b/a Kia of Downtown Los Angeles; Glendale Nissan/Infiniti, Inc., also d/b/a Glendale Infiniti and Glendale Nissan; Valencia Holding Co., LLC, also d/b/a Mercedes-Benz of Valencia; West Covina Auto Group, LLC, also d/b/a West Covina Toyota and West Covina Toyota/Scion; West Covina Nissan, LLC; Covina MJL, LLC, also d/b/a Sage Covina Chevrolet; Sage North Hollywood, LLC, also d/b/a Sage Pre-Owned; and Sage Vermont, LLC, also d/b/a Sage Hyundai.
Also charged are Joseph Schrage, a/k/a Joseph Sage; Leonard Schrage, a/k/a Leonard Sage; and Michael Schrage, a/k/a Michael Sage; Sage Holding Company Inc.; and Sage Management Company Inc..
The Commission vote authorizing the filing of the complaint against the Sage Auto Group defendants was 2-1, with Commissioner Ohlhausen dissenting.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
Online Scheme Charged Consumers $29.95 for Credit Monitoring They Never Ordered, Generating More Than 200,000 Complaints
The Federal Trade Commission will return almost $20 million to more than 145,000 consumers across the country who were victimized by One Technologies LP and its two partner companies, in an online scheme that lured consumers with “free” access to their credit scores and then billed them a recurring $29.95 monthly fee for credit monitoring they never ordered.
“It’s our goal whenever possible to put money back in the hands of hard-working American consumers who have been victimized,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We are pleased to announce that $20 million in refunds are going to back to consumers this week.”
The FTC and the states of Illinois and Ohio secured the consumer redress as part of a settlement of charges against One Technologies in January 2014. The defendants marketed their credit monitoring programs, MyCreditHealth and ScoreSense, through at least 50 websites, including FreeScore360.com, FreeScoreOnline.com, and ScoreSense.com. According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants bought advertising on search engines such as Google and Bing so that ads for their websites neared the top of search results when consumers looked for terms such as “free credit report.” The most prominent ad stated, “View your latest Credit Scores from All 3 Bureaus in 60 seconds for $0!”
The FTC alleged that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), which prohibits charging consumers for goods or services sold online via a negative option unless the seller clearly discloses all material terms before obtaining the consumer’s billing information, obtains the consumer’s express informed consent before making the charge, and provides a simple way to stop recurring charges. They were also charged with violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act.
The amount of each check that will be mailed to affected consumers will vary based on how much each person lost. People who receive checks should deposit or cash them within 60 days. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide account information to cash refund checks.
For consumers considering a credit report or credit score service, here are a few things to consider:
To get a copy of your free credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer free credit reports, free credit scores, or free credit monitoring are not part of the free annual credit report program under federal law.
CONTACT: Office of Communications
Tel: (202) 435-7170
CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU ORDERS LENDUP TO PAY $3.63 MILLION FOR FAILING TO DELIVER PROMISED BENEFITS Online Lender Did Not Help Consumers Build Credit or Access Cheaper Loans, As It Claimed
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took action against online lender Flurish, Inc., doing business as LendUp, for failing to deliver the promised benefits of its products. The CFPB found that the company did not give consumers the opportunity to build credit and provide access to cheaper loans, as it claimed to consumers it would. The Bureau has ordered the company to provide more than 50,000 consumers with approximately $1.83 million in refunds. The company will also pay a civil penalty of $1.8 million.
“LendUp pitched itself as a consumer-friendly, tech-savvy alternative to traditional payday loans, but it did not pay enough attention to the consumer financial laws,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The CFPB supports innovation in the fintech space, but start-ups are just like established companies in that they must treat consumers fairly and comply with the law.”
Flurish, Inc., doing business as LendUp, is an online lending company based in San Francisco, Calif. that offers single-payment loans and installment loans in 24 states. The company began marketing its loans in 2012 as a way for consumers to build credit and improve credit scores, and it offered consumers who participated in the program the ability to progress to loans with more favorable terms, including lower rates and longer repayment periods, over time. The company advertised this opportunity as the ability to move up the “LendUp Ladder.”
According to today’s enforcement action, LendUp did not deliver on its promises. Some of its product offerings weren’t available to consumers where they were advertised. In addition, for a time, the company did not properly furnish information to the credit reporting companies, denying consumers the promised opportunity to improve their creditworthiness. LendUp’s conduct violated multiple federal consumer financial protection laws, including the Truth in Lending Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Specifically, the CFPB found that the company:
Misled consumers about graduating to lower-priced loans: Many of the benefits the company advertised as available to consumers who moved up the LendUp Ladder were not actually available. Despite the fact that LendUp advertised all of its loans nationwide, loans at the higher levels were not available outside of California for most of the company’s existence. Therefore, borrowers outside of California were not eligible to move up the “LendUp Ladder” and obtain lower-priced loans and other benefits.
Hid the true cost of credit: LendUp gave some consumers inaccurate information about the true cost of the loans offered. The company used banner ads on Facebook and other Internet search results that included “slider bars” allowing consumers to view various loan amounts and repayment terms, but it did not disclose the annual percentage rate as required by law.
Reversed pricing without consumer knowledge: With one particular loan product, borrowers had the option to select an earlier repayment date. Borrowers who selected an earlier repayment date received a discount on the origination fee. But if a borrower later extended the repayment date, the company would reverse the discount given at origination. The company did not disclose this and, in three states, the company’s loan agreement specifically stated that it would not charge any fees to extend the repayment period. In addition, if a borrower defaulted, any discount received at origination was reversed and added to the amount sent to collections.
Understated the annual percentage rate: LendUp offered services that allowed consumers, for a fee, to obtain their loan proceeds more quickly. The company passed along the fee to a third party, but LendUp also retained a portion of the fee from loans made between May 2013 and March 2016. In many instances, these retained fees should have been included in the annual percentage rate calculation; because they were not, the company inaccurately disclosed the finance charges.
Failed to report credit information: Although the company began making loans in 2012 and advertised its loans as credit building opportunities, the company did not furnish any information about any loans to credit reporting companies until at least February 2014. Before April 2015, LendUp also failed to have any written policies and procedures about the accuracy and integrity of information furnished to consumer reporting agencies.
Enforcement Action Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has 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 order released today, LendUp is required to:
Provide approximately $1.83 million in redress to victims: The company is ordered to pay about $1.83 million to over 50,000 consumers. Consumers are not required to take any action. The company will contact consumers in the coming months about their refunds.
End deceptive loan practices: LendUp must stop misrepresenting the benefits of borrowing from the company, including what loan products are available to consumers and whether the loans will be reported to credit reporting companies. The company must also stop mispresenting what fees are charged, and it must include the correct finance charge and annual percentage rate in its disclosures.
End unlawful advertisements: The company must regularly review all of its marketing material to ensure it is not misleading consumers.
Ensure accuracy of pricing: The company must regularly test annual percentage rate calculations and disclosures to ensure it complies with the Truth in Lending Act.
Pay a $1.8 million civil penalty: LendUp will pay $1.8 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.
CFPB Fines Titlemax Parent Company $9 Million for Luring Consumers Into More Costly Loans
Lender Also Illegally Exposed Borrowers’ Debt Information to Employers, Friends, and Family
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today took action against TitleMax parent company TMX Finance LLC for luring consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about the deals’ terms and costs. The lender also used unfair debt collection tactics that illegally exposed information about debts to borrowers’ employers, friends, and family. The Bureau ordered TMX Finance to stop its unlawful practices and pay a $9 million penalty.
“TMX Finance lured consumers into more expensive loans with information that hid the true costs of the deal,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “They then followed up with intrusive visits to homes and workplaces that put consumers’ personal information at risk. Today we are making it clear that these actions were unacceptable and illegal.”
TMX Finance, which is based in Savannah, Ga., is one of the country’s largest auto title lenders, with more than 1,300 storefronts in 18 states. TMX Finance offers title and personal loans through a host of state subsidiaries under the names TitleMax, TitleBucks, and InstaLoan. Single-payment auto title loans are usually due in 30 days, with some carrying an annual percentage rate of up to 300 percent. To qualify for the loan, a consumer must bring in a lien-free vehicle and its title as collateral.
The CFPB found that store employees, as part of their sales pitch for the 30-day loans, offered consumers a “monthly option” for making loan payments. They then offered consumers a “Voluntary Payback Guide” that showed how to repay the loan with smaller payments over a longer time period. But the guide and sales pitch did not explain the true cost of the loan if the consumer renewed it multiple times. TMX Finance employees also unlawfully exposed sensitive personal information during “field visits” to consumers’ homes, references, and places of employment in attempts to collect debt. Today’s order addresses a period from July 21, 2011 to the present. Specifically, the Bureau found that TMX Finance:
Presented consumers with misleading information about loan terms: TMX Finance employees asked consumers how much they wanted to pay each month or how long they wanted to take to pay off the 30-day loan. The guide and sales pitch distracted consumers from the fact that repeatedly renewing the loan, as encouraged by TMX Finance employees, would dramatically increase the loan’s cost. The guide does not calculate fees or the total cost to consumers of repeatedly renewing the loan instead of repaying it in 30 days. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a consumer to compare costs for renewing the loan over a given period,
Exposed information about consumers’ debts to co-workers, neighbors, and family members: Some TMX Finance employees revealed information about consumers’ past-due debt while visiting consumers’ homes, references, or places of employment. TMX Finance also made in-person debt collection attempts despite knowing that visitors were not permitted at the consumer’s workplace. Such visits can damage consumers’ reputations, interfere with their ability to do their jobs, and trigger disciplinary action or firing.
Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB has the authority to take action against institutions violating consumer financial laws, including engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. Under the order, TMX Finance is required to:
Stop abusive loan-repayment policies: TMX Finance cannot use any payback guide or similar document and cannot misrepresent the terms, length, or cost of the loan. It also cannot encourage consumers to take longer to pay than the term of the original loan.
Stop intrusive visits to consumers’ homes or workplaces: TMX Finance cannot make in-person visits to the homes of consumers or their workplaces to collect payments. To make sure the company follows through, TMX Finance must submit a compliance plan for the Bureau’s approval within 60 days of the order.
Pay a $9 million penalty: TMX Finance will pay a penalty of $9 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.
Court Finds Marketers Lacked Reliable Scientific Evidence to Back up Claims
A U.S. district court judge has ruled that COORGA Nutraceuticals Corporation and its principal Garfield Coore violated the law by claiming their “Grey Defence” dietary supplements reversed or prevented gray hair. The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint challenging the claims as unfounded in May 2015.
Based on this ruling, the court has issued a judgment prohibiting COORGA and Coore from making gray hair-reversal or prevention claims and other health claims, unless they are not misleading and are supported by reliable scientific evidence. The court also ordered the defendants to pay $391,335, which may be used to provide refunds to defrauded consumers.
“If a company says a product can get rid of gray hair or have some other miraculous result, they need the science to support that,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re pleased that the court agreed with the Commission that strong product claims require strong evidence backing them up.”
The court granted the FTC’s motion for summary judgment last month. It held that no reliable scientific evidence supports COORGA’s advertising claims that Grey Defence supplements prevent or reverse gray hair, and claims that the products are scientifically proven to do so are false.
The court also found that a customer survey the defendants conducted was not well-designed or scientifically controlled. Finally, the court found that Coore oversaw and directed every aspect of COORGA’s business and either knew, or was recklessly indifferent about, the misrepresentations and false claims made for Grey Defence.
CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU SUES CREDIT REPAIR COMPANY FOR MISLEADING CONSUMERS AND CHARGING ILLEGAL FEES
CFPB Alerts Consumers About Potentially Misleading Credit Repair Services
Washington, D.C. – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed a lawsuit in federal district court yesterday against the credit repair company Prime Marketing Holdings, LLC, which allegedly charged consumers a series of illegal advance fees as well as misrepresented the cost and effectiveness of its services. The CFPB is seeking to halt the company’s harmful conduct and to obtain relief for consumers, including refunds of fees paid to the defendant. The Bureau is also releasing a consumer advisory today with tips for consumers who are working to improve their credit history or who are dealing with credit repair services.
“Today we are taking action against Prime Marketing Holdings for luring consumers with misleading claims about its ability to repair credit files and then charging illegal fees,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are also alerting consumers to watch out for problematic credit repair practices. All consumers have a right to a free annual credit report and to dispute inaccurate information. This is a key step to building and maintaining good credit.”
Prime Marketing Holdings is a credit repair company that is incorporated in Delaware with an office in Van Nuys, Calif. Prime Marketing Holdings has operated under various names including Park View Credit, National Credit Advisors, and Credit Experts. Since 2014, Prime Marketing Holdings has marketed, offered, and provided credit repair services to consumers across the country.
Some credit repair services promise to improve consumers’ credit scores by challenging items on their credit reports, regardless of whether the information is accurate. According to the CFPB complaint, Prime Marketing Holdings lured consumers with misleading, unsubstantiated claims that it could remove virtually any negative information from their credit reports and could boost credit scores by significant amounts. The company attracted customers through its website and sales calls, at times targeting consumers who had recently sought to obtain a mortgage, loan, refinancing, or other extension of credit. The company would then charge consumers a variety of illegal advance fees for its services.
The Bureau’s complaint alleges that the company violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts and practices in the marketing and promotion of its services. The company also allegedly violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by charging illegal advance fees and making deceptive statements. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendant:
Charged illegal advance fees: Federal law bars telemarketers and certain companies from requesting or collecting fees for credit repair services until certain conditions are met around the delivery of services. Prime Marketing Holdings, however, charged a variety of fees for its services before demonstrating that the promised results had been achieved as required by law. Specifically, the company charged consumers initial fees that it at times claimed were required to obtain special credit reports for consumers. The company also charged set-up fees totaling hundreds of dollars and monthly fees that often equaled $89.99 per month.
Misled consumers about the costs of their services: In some cases, Prime Marketing Holdings failed to disclose to consumers during sales calls that they would be charged a monthly fee. At other times, the company represented that a monthly fee would be charged only if the consumer affirmatively elected to continue services beyond 60 days. In reality, those consumers were charged the monthly fee automatically.
Failed to disclose limits on “money-back guarantee”: Prime Marketing Holdings represented that it offered a money-back guarantee for certain services. The company failed to disclose that the guarantee has significant limits, including that the consumer must pay for at least six months of the service to be eligible for the guarantee.
Misled consumers about the benefits of their services: Prime Marketing Holdings misrepresented that its credit repair services would, or likely would, result in the removal of negative entries on consumers’ credit reports. The company also misrepresented to customers that its credit repair services would, or likely would, result in a substantial increase to consumers’ credit scores. The company lacked a reasonable basis for making these claims.
Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB can take action against institutions or individuals engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws. The complaint filed today seeks monetary relief, injunctive relief, and penalties. The Bureau’s complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.
The FTC’s complaint against Commercial Recovery Systems Inc. (CRS), its president Timothy Ford, and its vice president David Devany, filed on its behalf by the Department of Justice in January 2015, alleged that the company’s collectors falsely claimed the company would sue debtors, garnish their wages, levy their bank accounts, or seize their property unless their debts were paid, in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
In April 2016, the court entered summary judgment against CRS and Ford, banning them from debt collection and prohibiting them from misrepresenting material facts about any good or service. The federal court will determine the amount of civil penalties against Ford.
Under the stipulated final order announced today, Devany is subject to the same prohibitions as CRS and Ford. The order imposes a $496,000 civil penalty judgment that will be partially suspended upon Devany’s payment of $10,000. The full judgment will become due immediately if he is found to have misrepresented his financial condition.
The action against CRS and its officers is part of Operation Collection Protection, an ongoing federal-state-local crackdown on collectors that use deceptive and abusive collection practices.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the stipulated order for permanent injunction as to defendant Devany was 3-0. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division entered the order on September 21, 2016.
NOTE: Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge
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