CFPB Proposes Public Disclosure of Consumer Complaint Narratives

Will the CFPB start disclosing consumers’ gripes and rants? Would it provide endless hours of salacious reading, like complaints posted on popular online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List? Could it become a platform for publicizing unverified or, in worst cases, false and defamatory allegations which could harm compliant and conscientious businesses?

We may find out soon, as the CFPB recently published a notice of proposed policy statement detailing such plans.

The CFPB has been soliciting and compiling complaint data from consumers for a few years, but it previously disclosed only aggregated and non-narrative information from those complaints. Under the proposal, the CFPB’s public database would be expanded to contain narrative complaints of consumers who “opt-in” to make their stories public. The CFPB promises to take “all reasonable steps” to remove personal identifying information before it is publicly accessible. Finally, rather than verifying consumers’ complaints before publication, the CFPB proposes to permit companies to publish their own responses and “let the public decide”.

CFPB Issues Electronic-Closing Pilot Guidelines and Seeks to Use Technology to Improve Mortgage Closing Experience

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently announced that it is launching an electronic-closing (e-Closing) Pilot program designed to address some of the most common concerns relating to the mortgage closing process. CFPB states that electronic closing has the potential to address current challenges by shifting the closing experience toward a more paperless process and by facilitating other consumer-friendly improvements. Common consumer concerns relating to the current mortgage closing process include: Continue reading this entry

Eleventh Circuit Further Muddies the Waters for Collectors

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s safe harbor for calls made with the prior express consent of the called party is destroyed the moment the debtor says, “Stop calling me!” So too, a collector can be liable for autodialed calls to a third party even though a debtor gives that number as her own. These are the conclusions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the Osorio v. State Farm  decision issued last month. They are sure to prompt creditor and collectors everywhere to reevaluate their dialer practices and procedures.

Here are the facts. Clara Betancourt opened a State Farm credit card account to pay her car insurance premium. During the account opening process State Farm alleged Betancourt said the telephone number she provided was her own. When Betancourt failed to pay timely the minimum balance due on her card, State Farm placed 327 autodialed calls to the number Betancourt provided in an attempt to collect. The problem for State Farm was the number Betancourt gave was not her own. It belonged to her life partner, Freddie Osorio, with whom she lived and had a child. When State Farm’s collection agency FMS, Inc. called to collect, Osorio answered the telephone and stated on two occasions, “Please stop calling.” Continue reading this entry

When Is a Debt Not a Debt? The Supreme Court May Need to Decide

A recent decision by the Seventh Circuit has held that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) is violated when a debt collector sends a dunning letter seeking to settle a time-barred debt, even when no litigation is threatened. The Third and Eighth Circuits have disagreed. This sets up a split in the Circuits that the Supreme Court may need to resolve.

All three cases involved letters sent by debt collectors asking debtors to settle debts that could no longer be enforced by legal action. None of the letters threatened legal action, but neither did they disclose that the debts were time-barred.

The FDCPA prohibits the use of “any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. Sec.1692e. This statute sets out a nonexclusive list of prohibited practices, including: false representation of the character, amount, or legal status of any debt Sec. 1692e(2)(A); the threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken, Sec. 1692e(5); and the use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt, 1692e(10). Continue reading this entry

Statements Rendered Credit Report Reseller a Credit Repair Organization

Sounding a cautionary note to the hypercompetitive credit report resale and monitoring industry, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held that a reseller’s statements on its website and in television advertisements made it a “credit repair organization” under the federal Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), 15 U.S.C. sec. 1679 et seq. (Title IV of the Consumer Credit Protection Act).

The case, Stout v. FreeScore, LLC, No. 10-56887 (9th Cir., Feb. 21, 2014), is a putative class action which alleges that FreeScore, LLC d/b/a FreeScore.com, a consumer credit report reseller,  violated certain requirements of CROA and made misleading statements.  FreeScore successfully moved to dismiss the case, with the U.S. District Court ruling that FreeScore was not a credit repair organization because it “did not make any promises of credit improvement” but merely “promise[d] to provide a consumer with his or her credit score….”  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the case and remanded it for further proceedings, finding that “FreeScore falls squarely within the CROA’s definition of a ‘credit repair organization.’”  Continue reading this entry