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

As the payments industry continues to evolve at a lightning pace, one of the newest developments is the ability for payments companies to leverage card network services to “push” payments to cardholders. Earlier this year, the technology gained attention as a potentially safe and efficient way to transfer funds in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, as businesses shift to a remote environment, push-to-card services can provide benefits for both individuals and businesses, including for person-to-person (P2P) money transfer, funds disbursement, and bill payment, among other uses. And with the increased focus on “faster payments,” push technology has been discussed as a private sector means to speed up transaction settlement.
Continue Reading Pushing to the Forefront – Get Ready for Push-to-Card Payments

With much of the economy disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one area that continues to grow is automated clearing house (ACH) payments, according to data recently released by Nacha, the non-profit that governs ACH payments. While the recent jump in ACH volume was driven in part by the delivery of federal stimulus payments, it is reflective of a longer term trend of growth in the industry, as ACH becomes increasingly popular for consumer bill payment (rent and utilities), health care payments, payroll processing, and business account payables

Also contributing to the growth in ACH payments is the ability of banks to partner with “third-party senders” to facilitate the origination of ACH payments. Like a payment facilitator in the credit card space, a third-party sender can help a bank expand its ACH origination capabilities by signing up customers to receive the bank’s ACH services. Working with a third-party sender, however, can increase a bank’s exposure to legal, compliance, credit, and reputation risks. These risks are reflected in news articles last year about an ACH payroll processor in New York that allegedly absconded with almost $30 million of its clients’ payroll and tax payments.

As ACH continues to grow, it is critical for banks and their partners to understand the ins and outs of facilitating these payments. Accordingly, this article provides a brief overview of the ACH system, the roles and responsibilities of the key players, and best practices for minimizing risk when banks partner with third-party senders.
Continue Reading Managing Risks in Third-Party Sender ACH Processing

On October 19, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission issued its annual report to Congress regarding the FTC’s efforts to protect senior citizens from fraud and abuse. In the report, the FTC noted that adults over 60 are more likely to report losing money to certain types of alleged scams, including romance scams, imposter scams, and online shopping programs. Moreover, the FTC reports that seniors were more than six times more likely than younger consumers to report that they lost money because of tech support phishing activities, and three times more likely to report losing money because of lottery scams.

In a separate statement, Commissioner Rohit Chopra said the agency’s analysis suggests the need for two key actions. These actions, and Commissioner Chopra’s statement generally, indicate that the FTC is considering how to move forward in the face of the Supreme Court’s potential erosion of its favored enforcement tool—Section 13(b).  His comments also have important implications for payment processors and other financial intermediaries that are facing inquiries from the FTC.

First, he recommended that the agency focus its enforcement actions on “larger, established firms,” rather than “smaller-scale scammers.” As an example, he pointed to the FTC’s settlement with payment processor Fiserv (formerly known as First Data) as a “model[] for the entire agency.” Commissioner Chopra believes that such enforcement actions against larger corporations would be a “better use of resources” and “more likely to lead to effective relief and systemic impact.”
Continue Reading FTC Commissioner Warns Larger Companies and Payment Processors, Seeks Greater Financial Penalties

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Liu v. SEC, lower courts are starting to address the breadth of its applicability. On August 31, 2020, the District of Arizona welcomed the Supreme Court’s directives in Liu when denying Electronic Payment Solutions of America Inc.’s (EPS) bid for summary judgment against the FTC. To the extent other courts read Liu as similarly applicable, this could have broad implications for the FTC’s authority to obtain monetary relief.

In FTC v. Electronic Payment Solutions, No. 17-cv-2535-PHX-SMM (D. Ariz. Aug. 31, 2020), the FTC filed suit against EPS for playing a role in facilitating Money Now Funding’s alleged telemarketing scheme, and sought to recover approximately $4.67 million from EPS—the total amount EPS collected from credit card transactions for Money Now Funding minus refunds and chargebacks. EPS moved for summary judgment on the grounds that, in light of Liu, the FTC’s monetary claim should be limited to net profits. EPS argued that the FTC, despite alleging entitlement to several forms of monetary relief, was actually seeking disgorgement under several different names. Accordingly, EPS argued that Liu requires courts to limit disgorgement only to the amount of net profits that will be returned to consumers.


Continue Reading Following the Mone(tary Relief): District Court Limits the FTC’s Authority Post-Liu

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

Subscription merchants that take payment by Visa cards will have new acceptance, disclosure, and cancellation requirements imposed on their transactions beginning April 18, 2020. As Visa recently announced, the card brand is updating its rules for merchants that offer free trials or introductory offers as part of an ongoing subscription program.

The Visa rules follow on the heels of similar Mastercard rules that became effective earlier this year. However, while MasterCard’s rules focus on merchants selling subscriptions for physical goods, Visa’s rules apply to merchants selling either physical or digital products if the merchant offers a free trial or introductory offer that rolls into an ongoing subscription arrangement.

The new requirements are more specific than what the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) prescribes, and while they don’t have the force of law, noncompliance could put a merchant’s credit card processing capabilities at risk. Here are some of the components of the new Visa rules:


Continue Reading New Requirements for Subscription Merchants Accepting Visa Cards

We frequently hear about the “long arm of the law,” but, in the case of the Federal Trade Commission, just how far does that arm actually reach? The FTC recently filed an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California adding SIA Transact Pro, a Latvian payment processor, and its CEO as additional defendants in its case against Apex Capital Group, LLC and other parties. The amended complaint alleges that Apex Capital defrauded consumers, and that the newly added foreign-based payment processor helped its merchant, Apex Capital, avoid detection by consumers and law enforcement.

Specifically, according to the FTC, Apex Capital offered “free” trials of personal care products and dietary supplements for just the cost of shipping and handling—$4.95. However, approximately two weeks after a consumer ordered a “free” trial, the FTC alleges that Apex Capital would charge that consumer’s credit or debit card the full price of the product ($90) and enroll the consumer in an automatic renewal option—all without that consumer’s knowledge or consent.


Continue Reading Exactly How Long is the Long Arm of the Law? The FTC Seeks to Extend its Reach to Offshore Payment Processors

The Federal Trade Commission’s settlement with an online consumer lending platform, Avant LLC, highlights the importance of legal and regulatory compliance in the fintech space, including—perhaps most importantly—what happens after a loan is made.

According to the Commission’s complaint, Avant offered personal consumer loans through its website. The complaint notes that although the loans were formally issued through a bank partner, Avant handled all stages of the process, and all consumer interactions, including advertising, application processing, and all aspects of loan servicing and collection of payments.

The Commission’s allegations stem primarily from Avant’s collection activities, and Avant’s representations about the payment process, under the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Telemarking Sales Rule (TSR); and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E. The allegations include that Avant:


Continue Reading Online Lender Settles with FTC on UDAP, TSR, and EFTA Claims

As 2019 goes into full swing, it’s important for providers of payment processing services (referred to here as “acquirers”) and their merchants or submerchants to prepare for the various regulatory and industry changes coming this year. One such significant change comes in the form of Mastercard’s updated rules for negative option billing programs.

Set to take effect on April 12, 2019, Mastercard’s new rules will tighten consumer protection requirements for negative option merchants and their acquirers that process Mastercard transactions. Several laws such as the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, and various state laws already apply to negative option billing programs, but Mastercard’s new rules go even further. Among other things, the rules include a requirement for merchants to notify consumers at the end of a trial period before charging the consumer.

Applicability

Notably, the new rules cover any card-not-present transaction where the consumer purchases a subscription to automatically receive a physical product (such as cosmetics, healthcare products, or vitamins) on a recurring basis. Fully digital services are not covered.

This means the rules apply to free trial offers and most forms of negative option programs involving product sales. The negative option plan may be initiated by a free trial, nominally priced trial, or no trial at all. However, if a trial is used, special rules apply to ensure the consumer is aware of and consents to subsequent payments at the trial’s conclusion.


Continue Reading Mastercard Targets Negative Options In 2019 – Demands Transparency