Mortgage company refusing to release lien after the consumer makes final payment
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought an enforcement action against a mortgage company based on allegations, described below, that the company repeatedly failed to release liens after consumers fully paid the amount due on their mortgages.
- Substantial injury. Consumers sustained the economic injury when the mortgage servicer did not release the liens on their properties after the consumers had repaid the total amount due on the mortgages.
- Not outweighed by benefits. Countervailing benefits to competition or consumers did not result from the servicer’s alleged failure to appropriately service the mortgage loan and release the lien promptly.
- Not reasonably avoidable. Consumers had no way to know in advance of obtaining the loan that the mortgage servicer would not release the lien after full payment. Moreover, consumers generally cannot avoid the harm caused by an improper practice of a mortgage servicer because the servicer is chosen by the owner of the loan, not the borrower. Thus, consumers cannot choose their loan servicer and cannot change loan servicers when they are dissatisfied with the quality of the loan servicing
Credit card issuer dishonoring convenience checks without notice
The Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) brought enforcement actions against a credit card issuer that sent convenience checks with stated credit limits and expiration dates to customers. For a significant percentage of consumers, the issuer reduced credit lines after the checks were presented, and then the issuer dishonored the consumers’ checks.
- Substantial injury. Consumers paid returned-check fees and may have experienced a negative impact on credit history.
- Not outweighed by benefits. The card issuer later reduced credit limits based on credit reviews. Based on the particular facts involved in the case, the harm to consumers from the dishonored convenience checks outweighed any benefit of using new credit reviews.
- Not reasonably avoidable. Consumers reasonably relied on their existing credit limits and expiration dates on the checks when deciding to use them for a payment. Consumers had received no notice that the checks they used were being dishonored until they learned from the payees. Thus, consumers could not reasonably have avoided the injury.
Bank maintaining relations with third parties who engage in fraudulent activities
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) brought an enforcement action in a case involving a bank that maintained deposit account relations with telemarketers and payment processors, based on the following allegations. The telemarketers regularly deposited large numbers of remotely created checks drawn against consumers’ accounts. A large percentage of the checks were not authorized by consumers. The bank failed to establish appropriate policies and procedures to prevent, detect, or remedy such activities.
- Substantial injury. Consumers lost money from fraudulent checks created remotely and drawn against their accounts.
- Not outweighed by benefits. The cost to the bank of establishing a minimum level of due diligence, monitoring, and response procedures sufficient to remedy the problem would have been far less than the amount of injury to consumers that resulted from the bank’s avoiding those costs.
- Not reasonably avoidable. Consumers could not avoid the harm because the harm resulted principally from transactions to which the consumers had not consented.
Inaccurate representation of home value estimates on marketing materials
In 2021, the CFPB took action against a reverse mortgage lender for using inflated and deceptive home estimates to lure consumers into taking out reverse mortgages. According to the CFPB, the reverse mortgage lender deceptively inflated home values in their marketing materials, made deceptive representations about the accuracy of home estimates, and violated a previous administrative consent order from 2016.
- Practice likely to mislead. The CFPB claimed that the company’s use of “Est[imated] Home Value” at the top of many of its marketing materials was likely to mislead consumers about the value of their home.
- Reasonable consumer perspective. A reasonable consumer would believe that the consumer had more equity in their home than was actually available and could reap more proceeds from the reverse mortgage than were actually available.
- Material representation. Misrepresentations were material because a consumer would likely enter into negotiations with the company based on the inflated estimate of their home value.
Inadequate disclosure of material lease terms in television advertising
The FTC brought actions against vehicle leasing companies alleging that their television advertisements represented that consumers could lease vehicles for “$0 down” when advertising a monthly lease payment. However, the FTC alleged that the “blur” of “unreadable fine print” that flashed on the screen at the end of the advertisement disclosed costs of at least $1,000.
- Representation or omission likely to mislead. The television advertisements featured prominent statements of “no money down” or “$0 down” at lease signing. The advertisement also contained, at the bottom of the screen, a “blur” of small print in which disclosures of various costs required by Regulation M (the Consumer Leasing Act) were made. The FTC alleged that the disclosures were inadequate because they were not clear, prominent, or audible to consumers.
- Reasonable consumer perspective. A reasonable consumer would believe that they did not have to put any money down and that all he owed was the regular monthly payment.
- Material representation. The stated “no money down” or “$0 down” plus the low monthly lease payment were material representations to consumers. The fact that the additional, material costs were disclosed at signing of the lease did not cure the deceptive failure to disclose in the television advertising, the FTC claimed.
Misrepresentation about loan terms
In 2004, the FTC sued a mortgage broker advertising mortgage refinance loans at “3.5% fixed payment 30-year loan” or “3.5% fixed payment for 30 years,” implying that the offer was for a 30-year loan with a 3.5% fixed interest rate. Instead, the FTC claimed that the broker offered adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) with an option to pay various amounts, including a minimum monthly payment that represented only a portion of the required interest. As a result, unpaid interest was added to the principal of the loan, resulting in negative amortization.
- Practice likely to mislead. The FTC claimed that the advertisements were misleading because they compared payments on a mortgage that fully amortized to payments on a non-amortizing loan with payments that increased after the first year. In addition, the FTC claimed that after application, the broker provided Truth in Lending Act (TILA) disclosures that misstated the annual percentage rate (APR) and that failed to state that the loan was a variable rate loan.
- Reasonable consumer perspective. It was reasonable for consumers to believe that they would obtain fixed-rate mortgages, based on the representations.
- Material representation.The representations were material because consumers relied on them when making the decision to refinance their fully amortizing 30-year fixed loans. As a result, the consumers ended up with adjustable rate mortgages that would negatively amortize if they made payments at the stated 3.5% payment rate.