Financial Services/CFPB

Game developers and platform providers are increasingly integrating non-fungible tokens (NFTs), virtual currencies, and digital marketplaces into their games and platforms, creating seamless, novel, and interactive experiences. While the industry has moved ahead quickly, federal and state regulators are taking a much closer look at how these technologies fit within existing legal frameworks.

In a recent webinar, partner Ellen Berge and associate Chris Boone of Venable’s Advertising Law and Payments groups explored the latest regulatory developments and addressed how to spot and avoid compliance and regulatory risks associated with NFTs, virtual currencies, and other platform-based monetization mechanics. We received insightful questions from members of the audience, which our lawyers answer below.


Continue Reading You Asked, We Answered: NFTs and Virtual Currency in Games: Compliance Issues and Legal Risks

On March 29, 2021, the FTC announced a settlement with Beam Financial Inc. (Beam) and its founder and CEO, Yinan Du, over allegations that the mobile banking app company deceived consumers about their access to funds and interest rates. The settlement included a far-reaching conduct ban. As the non-bank financial services continue to grow, the action and settlement underscore the role the FTC seeks to play in policing that sector.

By way of background, on November 18, 2020, the FTC filed a complaint against Beam, alleging that Beam and Mr. Du falsely promised users of their banking app that they would earn high interest rates on the funds maintained in their Beam accounts and have “24/7 access” to their funds. Beam was not a bank; rather, it promised to place funds at banks and provide consumers access to those funds through the app. The FTC alleged that Beam promised users would receive “the industry’s best possible rate”—at least 0.2% or 1%—when users actually received a much lower rate of 0.04% and stopped earning interest entirely after requesting that Beam return their funds. The FTC’s complaint also alleged that Beam misrepresented that consumers could easily move funds into and out of their accounts and that they would receive their requested funds within three to five business days. According to the FTC, users reported that their emails, texts, and phone calls to the company went unanswered; some users even allegedly waited weeks or months to receive their money, while others never received it. The FTC alleged that this was particularly difficult for consumers experiencing serious financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Continue Reading FTC Settlement Leads to a 24/7 Shutdown of a Mobile Banking App

On November 30, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had taken action against a debt collection company, Midwest Recovery Systems (“Midwest”), alleging that an alleged “debt parking” scheme caused more than $24 million in harm to consumers. While the complaint and settlement themselves are not that remarkable, the dissent filed by Commissioner Chopra is. Commissioner Chopra challenges the FTC’s approach to debt collection, suggesting the FTC refer such cases to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and that the FTC focus on other things. We have written previously about Commissioner Chopra’s other ideas for reshaping FTC approaches and priorities, and if Commissioner Chopra were to become the next Chair under President-elect Biden, things could get interesting at the agency.

First, a few words about the case. Also known as “passive debt collection,” debt parking is the practice of placing fake or questionable debts onto consumers’ credit reports to coerce them to pay. The “parked” bogus debt is often not discovered by a consumer until his or her credit report is accessed in connection with buying a car or home, opening a credit card, or seeking employment. Thus, although the debts may not be valid, consumers often feel pressured to pay them off—hence the millions of dollars allegedly hauled in by Midwest.


Continue Reading FTC Commissioner Encourages Partnership with CFPB and “Systemic” Change Following FTC Action against Debt Collection Scheme

Following a warning from earlier this year, the FTC recently filed a complaint against a group of corporate and individual defendants for allegedly misleading and deceiving small business “merchant cash advance” (MCA) customers. Structured properly, an MCA product offers an alternative to standard commercial credit under which the MCA provider purchases the right to receive a fixed amount of the customer’s receivables to be paid based on a percentage of the customer’s daily receipts.

Specifically, the FTC alleged that the defendants misrepresented the amount of financing small business customers would receive relative to their requests, misrepresented the necessity of collateral and personal guarantees, and engaged in unauthorized withdrawals from customers’ bank accounts even after receiving the agreed upon amount of the customers’ receivables. The complaint calls for permanent injunctive relief, rescission or reformation of the MCA contracts, restitution, refund and disgorgement.

The FTC’s enforcement action is just one of its recent efforts to police alleged unfair and deceptive practices targeting small businesses. Given the current economic disruptions caused by COVID-19, we can expect that the FTC will continue to attack both deception and improper debt collection aimed at small businesses.


Continue Reading FTC Follows up on Enforcement Priorities with Complaint Against Merchant Cash Advance Provider

The FTC continues policing business-to-business deception and its focus on small-business financing. On June 10, 2020, the FTC filed a Complaint in the Southern District of New York against two New York-based companies and several of their owners and officers for allegedly violating the FTC Act in connection with their business financing activities.

According to the Complaint, the defendants targeted small businesses, medical offices, non-profit organizations, and religious organizations. Since 2015, defendants allegedly deceived these consumers by misrepresenting terms of the merchant cash advances (MCAs) defendants provided, and subsequently used unfair collection practices to compel these entities to pay.


Continue Reading New York-Based Business Financing Companies Allegedly Deceive and Threaten Business Consumers

Financial services advertising and marketing occurs in an increasingly regulated and evolving legal landscape.  This quick hit with attorneys from Venable LLP explored the latest legal trends and developments in financial services advertising and marketing. Topics included:

  • COVID-19 impact on consumer and business lending advertising;
  • lead generation, influencer, and other emerging marketing methods;
  • regulatory outlook

This week, a group of financial services stakeholders submitted a joint petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for an expedited declaratory ruling, clarification, or waiver so that phone calls and text messages placed to consumers using autodialers and prerecorded voice messages about matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic would not be subject to onerous consent requirements under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

According to the petitioners, class action litigation risks under the TCPA limit banks and other financial services organizations in the communications they send to consumers, and without confirmation by the FCC that certain COVID-19 calls and texts are subject to the “emergency purposes” exception under the TCPA, financial institutions may not be able to effectively distribute messages about fee waivers, payment deferrals, mortgages, loan modifications, low-rate and zero-rate loans, and other accommodations made in light of the COVID-19 crisis.


Continue Reading Financial Services Stakeholders Request TCPA “Emergency Purposes” Exception for COVID-19 Calls

The staff of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection released a much-anticipated paper on small business financing that highlights enforcement dangers on February 26, 2020. The staff are sounding the alarm on FTC enforcement and its investigations of small business financing providers and their marketers, servicers, and collectors.


Continue Reading FTC Staff Perspectives on Small Business Financing Enforcement Dangers

Originally posted on Venable.com

Household and credit card debt is at an all-time high. So it should come as no surprise that debt-relief legal and regulatory issues are back in the spotlight. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) will host “Evolutions in Consumer Debt Relief” on March 10, 2020. The CFPB says the event will explore options for consumers facing unmanageable unsecured debt and limited credit options.

Generally speaking, debt relief services are any program or service that offers to change the terms of a debt between a person and one or more creditors or debt collectors, including a reduction of the loan balance, interest rate, or fees owed. Different kinds of companies may promote or offer to assist consumers in obtaining relief from different kinds of debt, including credit card debts, home mortgages (referred to by the CFPB and Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) as Mortgage Assistance Relief Services or “MARS”), student loans, payday loans, car loans, or tax debts. There are also different kinds of debt relief services, including credit counseling, debt management plans, debt settlement, debt negotiation, foreclosure prevention, or loan modification.

Debt relief services have long been one of the most highly regulated sectors in the United States, based on the role that the providers play in assisting consumers who by definition are in financial distress. Debt relief services are also provided against a backdrop of contractual obligations of consumers to their creditors to repay amounts owed, and laws and regulations that govern creditors and their collection activities.


Continue Reading Debt Relief Services Back in the Spotlight