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Real reason behind CFPB’s new payday regs

posted on 2015-06-03 by Brian J. Wise

Last month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a “framework” for a rule that seeks to make it more difficult for consumers to obtain short-term or “payday loans.”  

At first glance, it defies explanation that the financial regulator would act so aggressively against a product that has high customer satisfaction rates and accounts for less than 5 percent of consumer complaints to the CFPB. It defies explanation until you understand who benefits the most; and it’s not the consumer. 

The CFPB’s rule is actually the culmination of a complex campaign executed by a network of political operatives under the direction, and for the benefit, of major Democrat Party operative Martin Eakes. Eakes is the chief executive officer, and co-founder, of Self-Help Enterprises. By severely limiting the ability for payday lenders to operate, it dramatically increases the market share for a portfolio of alternative products offered by Eakes and the numerous affiliated companies of Self-Help Enterprises. 

Put simply, the rule is designed to increase profits for Self-Help Enterprises (and Eakes) by making the CFPB, DOJ, and FDIC effectively serve as a front for Eakes’ network of “financial reform” organizations. Ultimately, taxpayers will foot the bill for the windfall.  

The products that Eakes offers are not unlike those of your typical storefront payday lender. The biggest difference comes in the form of Self-Help’s genius marketing and branding, and the unique business model that allows them to be profitable. While simultaneously vilifying the payday loan industry, Eakes offers his own subprime consumer loan products and charges overdraft fees - often at significantly higher rates than your standard payday loan. 

Eakes can offer these loans at a lower cost than free-market payday lenders because businesses connected with Eakes are the largest recipients of taxpayer funds through the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund - over $300 million in the last 10 years. This taxpayer money subsidizes these types of loans to low-income families.  

Over the years, Eakes has relied on a front group he co-founded, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), as well as government agencies, to ensure that his pockets stay full and his companies stay successful. Between 2008 and 2010, CRL spent at least $2.1 million on Washington lobbyists. Of course, plenty of private companies invest in government outreach and lobbying. However, most aren’t so influential that they can orchestrate near complete control of government agencies like the CFPB and FDIC; and use those agencies to destroy their competition. 

Eakes makes no secret of the interconnected web of his non-profit and for-profit service providers including Self-Help Ventures, the Center for Community Self-Help, Self Help Credit Union, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, Self-Help Enterprises, his preferred front group, the Center for Responsible Lending, and his most powerful asset yet, the CFPB.  

For example, the first president of CRL, Mark Pearce, was appointed by President Obama to head the consumer protection division at the FDIC. Pearce has since been implicated as one of the masterminds behind Operation Choke Point, the Obama administration program that targets legal businesses by intimidating banks into cutting off their banking relationships with certain industries (including payday lenders and gun dealers). 

Eakes’ connections to the CFPB extend at least as high as Steve Antonakes, deputy director of the CFPB, whose personal relationships with both Mike Calhoun, president of CRL, and Eakes, extend back to his time as Massachusetts’s Banking Commissioner. Antonakes’ work in Massachusetts also centered around limiting or destroying the ability for consumers to access credit. 

Between the CFPB’s forthcoming rule on payday lending and Operation Choke Point (at the direction of Mark Pearce), Eakes’ network of operatives in the government’s most powerful agencies are poised to realize his objective – taking down the short-term loan industry and replacing it with products from his own network of service providers.   

If the free-market short-term lending industry is eliminated through regulatory action, the consumer need for such products will still exist. Eakes is poised to fill that need with taxpayer subsidized consumer loans, offered through his vast network of organizations throughout the country.

The Center for Responsible Lending is widely credited with advocating for, and developing the CFPB alongside one of its most closely aligned advocates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). It isn’t hard to see why Eakes, and CRL’s funders Herb and Marion Sandler, invested so much time and money into the inclusion of the consumer bureau in the Dodd-Frank legislation. 

There is no better way to manipulate the market for a product than to control the competition. And there is no better way to control the competition than through the heavy hand of an “independent” and unaccountable regulatory agency like the CFPB.   

In an interview about CRL, Martin Eakes said, “It’s an affiliated research and policy organization that started because we got really angry at the financial services sector, and in 2002 started this organization that has hired fifty lawyers, PhDs, and MBAs to basically terrorize the financial services industry.” There is no doubt that Martin Eakes has not only terrorized the financial services industry, but American consumers as well, threatening to deprive them of the ability to access the products and services that they want and need.

Wise is the senior adviser to the U.S. Consumer Coalition. (www.USConsumers.org). @USConsumers




Are Debt Collectors Sending You Texts?

posted on 2015-05-27 by Bob Sullivan

Debt collectors reportedly have a new strategy to get consumers’ attention: text messages.

“YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD ****-****-****-5463 . . . CALL 866.256.2117 IMMEDIATELY,” reads one such text, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The agency has temporarily halted three debt collection operations that allegedly misused texts and is attempting to permanently ban the activity as part of its “Messaging for Money” enforcement sweep.

New York-based Unified Global Group sent the text above, and others like it, the FTC says. Some consumers who received such texts hadn’t set up any card payment with the firm; and the firm failed to identify itself as a debt collector in the message, a violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, according to the FTC.

“Legitimate debt collectors know the rules,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They can’t harass or lie to you, whether they send a text, email, or call you.”

The FTC also obtained restraining orders against New York-based Premier Debt Acquisitions and Georgia-based Primary Group, accusing each of sending texts and making phone calls that violated federal law.

The FTC alleges that Premier impersonated state or law enforcement officials, falsely threatened consumers with a lawsuit or arrest, and falsely threatened to charge some consumers with criminal fraud, garnish their wages, or seize their property. The FTC says the firm claimed in text messages that it would sue the consumers and threatened to seize their possessions unless they paid.

Primary Group was also accused of sending illegal texts. One example provided by the FTC: “I’m a process server w/ Primary Solutions, appointed to serve you papers for case [eight digit number]. Would you like delivery at [consumer’s home address]?”

Premier did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. A website listed for Primary Group was no longer in operation, and contact information for the firm was not immediately available. The same was true for Unified Group.

According to the FTC, Premier Debt Acquisitions also sent deceptive emails claiming that making a payment would help a consumer’s credit report, but the defendants had no ability to make good on that claim.

“They also kept trying to collect after consumers challenged the debt or its amount, without investigating the dispute,” the FTC said. “In one instance, they persisted despite written evidence that the debt was a result of identity theft and a prior debt collector had marked it fully paid. In other instances, the defendants tried to collect a payment even after they had received it, and hounded one person for two years about someone else’s debt.”

When a debt collector – or a party claiming to be one – contacts you, it’s important to do your research before you pay them. Ask the party to provide written verification of the debt they’re attempting to collect on. It’s also a good idea to get your credit reports to see if there are any collection accounts listed, and if there are any errors. You can get your free credit reports every year from AnnualCreditReports.com, and you can get a free credit report summary every month from Credit.com to watch for changes that could signal a problem that needs your attention.




Fraud Worries: Debit vs. Credit Cards

posted on 2015-05-20 by Karen Damato

Finding fraudulent purchases on your credit-card account is bad enough. Having a thief gain access to your bank balance is much worse.

Criminals are stealing card data from U.S. automated teller machines at the highest rate in two decades, preying on ATMs while merchants crack down on fraud at the checkout counter.

Meanwhile, the risk of unauthorized bank withdrawals is weighing on consumers deciding whether to make purchases with debit cards, which are connected to a bank account, versus credit cards, for which accountholders get a bill to pay later.

If fraudulent transactions are made on your credit-card account, there is no immediate financial hit while you straighten things out, notes Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at website Bankrate.com.

By contrast, if a thief is able to withdraw dollars from your bank account, “the horse is out of the barn,” he says. The money is gone from your account until you are able to get it restored.

Mr. McBride says he generally recommends credit cards over debit cards, but principally for benefits such as more-generous rewards programs.

Website CardHub.com says fraud concerns are one reason it suggests consumers use a credit card as their “primary spending vehicle.”

CardHub Chief Executive Odysseas Papadimitriou says he has personally experienced credit-card fraud and a fraudulent $3,000 withdrawal from his bank account. The credit-card problem was annoying but when money disappeared from his bank account, he says, “I got really, really stressed out. It was very painful to see that.”

Here’s a look at your fraud-related liability on credit and debit cards:

Credit cards

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that if your credit-card number—not your physical credit card—is stolen, “you are not responsible for unauthorized charges under federal law.”

If the actual credit card is stolen, you are liable for no more than $50 in unauthorized charges as long as you report it to the card issuer. But “most card issuers don’t even hold you to the $50,” Mr. McBride says.

The Visa V -0.38% and MasterCard MA -0.25% networks and big issuers Discover Financial Services DFS -0.45% and American Express AXP -0.10% all have a zero-liability policy on fraudulent credit-card transactions, according to a recent study by CardHub.

Debit cards

Many banks have instituted a zero-liability policy on their debit cards, says Mr. McBride, because “they want people to use their debit cards.”

But issuing banks usually have some discretion to determine if the customer promptly reported the theft. And different types of debit-card transactions may be treated differently.

Federal rules allow significant liability for fraudulent debit-card transactions that aren’t reported in a timely manner.

With debit cards, the CFPB says that “if an unauthorized transaction appears on your statement (but your card or PIN has not been lost or stolen), under federal law you will not be liable for the debit if you report it within 60 days after your account statement is sent to you.”

The rules are different if the card or PIN has been lost or stolen: Report the problem within two business days and liability is limited to $50 of unauthorized charges. Then the maximum liability rises to $500.

“If any unauthorized charges go unreported for more than 60 days,” the CFPB says, “your money, and future charges by the same person, could be lost.”

While financial-industry policies can be more generous than the U.S. requires, that can also vary with the type of debit-card transactions involved, the CardHub report says.

For instance, CardHub says Visa and MasterCard both provide for zero liability on signature-based transactions on their debit cards. Also, there’s no liability on a PIN-based Visa debit-card transaction processed through the Visa network—and the same for MasterCard transactions on that network. (But a consumer “has no way of knowing what network transactions are processed on and therefore how much coverage they have,” the CardHub report says.)

Meanwhile, on ATM withdrawals, CardHub says coverage is at the discretion of the individual bank that issued the card.

The Federal Trade Commission has a handy summary of the rules and advice on how to report card fraud on its website.




Virginia Governor Signs Directive Requiring Enhanced Card Payment Security

posted on 2015-05-15 by By H. Scott Kelly and Michael E. Lacy

On May 5, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive directive which sets enhanced security requirements for the purchase card program used by state agencies, including the implementation of “chip and pin” technology by December.  The directive further instructed Virginia’s treasurer, comptroller, and secretaries of finance and technology to implement enhanced payment technologies that “meet or exceed” federal standards for the state’s prepaid debit card, merchant, and purchase card programs.

“Ensuring the safety of citizen data is a critical responsibility of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the Governor stated in the executive directive.  “In the face of ever-increasing cybersecurity attacks on consumer and business-related entities, I am committed to ensuring that transactions conducted between citizens and the Commonwealth meet the highest level of transactional security standards.”

The security features have been a hot issue for the Obama administration.  The President recently signed two executive orders that attempt to spur greater collaboration between the public and private cybersecurity sectors and encourage enhanced payment card technology.  The executive directive issued by Governor McAuliffe builds on both orders by making Virginia the first to apply the principles at the state level.

“I am keenly aware of the need for best practices and models to help spur states to advance their cybersecurity position and make it more difficult for hackers to gain access to our sensitive data,” McAuliffe said.  “We must partner with the federal government, the private sector and other states to push innovation and adoption of enhanced electronic payment technologies — by our agencies, our merchants and our citizens — to help reduce credit card fraud.  This directive will ensure the highest level of security for transactions conducted between citizens and state agencies.”




CFPB Extends CARD Act Comment Period Regarding Four Areas of Interest

posted on 2015-05-15 by Ethan G. Ostroff, H. Scott Kelly and Michael E. Lacy

As we discussed in March, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is soliciting public comment on how the credit card market is functioning and the impact of credit card protections on consumers and issuers.

To allow interested persons additional time to consider and submit their responses, the CFPB announced it is extending the comment period on four of the specific areas of interest noted in the original Request for Information, including online disclosures, grace periods, add-on products, and debt collection.

The 90-day comment period for these four areas will now end on June 17, 2015.  The original 60-day comment period for the other eight specific areas on which the CFPB is requesting information will end on May 18, 2015.





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