On November 19, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against a ‘buy-here, pay-here’ auto dealer alleging unfair debt collection practices and the furnishing of inaccurate information about customers to credit reporting agencies. ‘Buy-here, pay-here’ auto dealers typically do not assign their retail installment sale contracts (RISCs) to unaffiliated finance companies or banks, and therefore are subject to the CFPB’s enforcement authority. Consistent with the position it staked out in CFPB Bulletin 2013-07, in this enforcement action the CFPB appears to have applied specific requirements of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to the dealer in its capacity as a creditor based on the CFPB’s broader authority over unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts practices.

Alleged Violations

The CFPB charges that the auto dealer violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. §§ 5531, 5536, which prohibits unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, by (i) repeatedly calling customers at work, despite being asked to stop; (ii) repeatedly calling the references of customers, despite being asked to stop; and (iii) making excessive, repeated calls to wrong numbers in efforts to reach customers who fell behind on their auto loan payments. Specifically, the CFPB alleges that the auto dealer used a third-party database to “skip trace” for new phone numbers of its customers. As a result, numerous wrong parties were contacted who asked to stop receiving calls. Despite their requests, the auto dealer allegedly failed to prevent calls to these wrong parties or did not remove their contact information from its system.

In addition, the CFPB alleges that the auto dealer violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by (i) providing inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies; (ii) improperly handling consumer disputes regarding furnished information; and (iii) not establishing and implementing “reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information relating to [customers] that it furnishes to a consumer reporting agency.” Specifically, the CFPB alleges that, since 2010, the auto dealer did not review or update its written furnishing policies, despite knowing that conversion to its third-party servicing platform had led to widespread inaccuracies in furnished information. Also, the consent order alleges that the auto dealer received more than 22,000 credit disputes per year, including disputes regarding the timing of repossessions and dates of first delinquency for charged-off accounts, but nevertheless furnished inaccurate information.

Resolution

The consent order requires the auto dealer to (i) end its alleged unfair collection practices; (ii) provide collection options to customers explaining how customers can limit the times of day that the auto dealer can contact them; (iii) provide affected customers with a free annual credit report from one or more of the credit reporting agencies which received inaccurate information; and (iv) pay an $8 million dollar civil money penalty.

Further, the auto dealer must (i) cease reporting inaccurate repossession information; (ii) correct inaccurate credit reporting information; (iii) implement an audit program to assess the accuracy of information furnished to credit reporting agencies on at least a monthly basis; and (iv) retain an independent consultant to review the auto dealer’s collection and furnishing policies, procedures, and practices and then implement any recommendations or explain in writing why it is not implementing a particular recommendation.

CFPB’s Continued Focus on Auto Finance

This action is the latest CFPB enforcement effort in connection with auto finance. In August, the CFPB fined a Texas auto finance company $2.5 million for allegedly failing to have reasonable policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of customer information furnished to the credit reporting agencies. This action also comes on the heels of the CFPB’s October proposed rule defining the larger participants of the automobile financing market. The comment period on the proposed rule ends December 8th. We anticipate additional CFPB auto finance-related actions as its authority expands.