Earlier this week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) released a blog post touting its 2023 successes in safeguarding “household financial stability” through the levying of fines and filing of lawsuits. The Bureau highlighted seven enforcement cases:
- Protecting Servicemembers from Illegal High-Interest Loans and False Advertising: In February 2023, the CFPB ordered an auto title loan lender and several affiliated entities to pay a total of $15 million in penalties and consumer redress to resolve allegations that the entities violated the Military Lending Act. That same month, the CFPB permanently banned a California-based mortgage lender from the mortgage lending industry and imposed a $1 million penalty on the lender for repeatedly violating a 2015 consent order by, among other things, allegedly continuing to send advertisements to military families that led recipients to believe the company was affiliated with the U.S. government.
- Taking Action for Illegally Charging Junk Fees, Withholding Credit Card Rewards, and Operating Fake Bank Accounts: In July 2023, the CFPB ordered a national bank to pay a more than $190 million in penalties and consumer redress to resolve allegations that the bank double dipped on insufficient funds fees imposed on customers, withheld reward bonuses promised to credit card customers, and misappropriated sensitive personal information to open accounts without customer knowledge or authorization. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) also found that the bank’s double-dipping on insufficient funds fees was illegal and ordered the bank to pay $60 million in penalties.
- Intentional Illegal Discrimination Against Armenian Americans: In November 2023, the CFPB ordered a national bank to pay $25.9 million in fines and consumer redress for allegedly “intentionally and illegally discriminating against credit card applicants the bank identified as Armenian American.”
- Taking Action to Stop Loan Churning: In August 2023, the CFPB sued a high-cost installment loan lender and several of its wholly owned, state-licensed subsidiaries, for allegedly violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act by “illegally churning loans to harvest hundreds of millions in loan costs and fees.”
- Illegal Rental Background Check and Credit Reporting Practices: In October 2023, the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) sued a rental screening subsidiary of a national consumer credit reporting agency for allegedly violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to take steps to ensure the rental background checks that landlords use to decide who gets housing were accurate and withholding from renters the names of third parties that were providing the inaccurate information. The resulting court order required the company to pay $15 million in penalties and make significant improvements to how it reports evictions. Separately, the CFPB ordered the national consumer reporting agency to pay $8 million in consumer redress and penalties for failing to timely place or remove security freezes and locks on consumer credit reports and for falsely telling certain consumers that their requests were processed.
- Stopping unlawful junk advance fees for credit repair services: In August 2023, the CFPB entered into a settlement with a credit repair service conglomerate that imposed a $2.7 billion judgment and banned the companies from telemarketing credit repair services for 10 years.
The CFPB touted that in 2023 it secured over $3.5 billion in total fines and compensation from financial services “lawbreakers” in 2023. The CFPB largely attributed these cases to the creation of a “team of technologists” working on emerging technologies to “enforce the law when emerging technologies harm consumers.”
Why is this Important?
The CFPB filed 29 enforcement actions in 2023 but selected the seven highlighted above, possibly signaling that junk fees, fair lending, servicemember protections, and credit reporting, among others, remain on the Bureau’s radar. We do not expect the CFPB to issue any sort of accounting covering enforcement cases which it dropped in 2023.
Interestingly, the CFPB also used this post to recruit new “cross-disciplinary” employees (both attorneys and non-attorneys) for its Office of Enforcement and reiterated that the Bureau is “significantly expanding [its] enforcement capacity in 2024 to build on [its] achievements so far.” The roles are located in the Bureau’s Washington, D.C. headquarters and its regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. The last of the associated employment information virtual sessions occurred on January 30, 2024. Strangely, the CFPB only released this blog post the day before the last of these three sessions and it is not known how that late notice may impact application numbers.
What Do You Need to Do?
Given that the CFPB is telegraphing those issues that are top of mind for the Bureau as well as its emphasis on ramping up enforcement in 2024, now is a good time for companies to review their compliance management programs and make any necessary enhancements to policies, procedures, processes, and systems to ensure compliance with all applicable consumer financial laws and regulations. In particular, institutions should revisit their compliance monitoring programs to determine whether any updates are needed to minimize enforcement risk.