On the 10th anniversary of the federal Do Not Call Registry, the Federal Trade Commission announced the largest fine ever collected by the agency for alleged violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
Mortgage Investors Corporation agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a complaint that it made false money savings claims to more than 5.4 million current and former members of the Armed Forces who were registered on the Do Not Call list. The defendant – one of the nation's leading refinancers of veterans' home loans – also failed to remove consumers from its internal Do Not Call list upon request, according to the complaint. The case was also the first brought under the Mortgage Acts and Practices – Advertising Rule (MAP Rule), which allows the agency to collect civil penalties for deceptive mortgage ads.
During calls, telemarketers for the defendant were alleged to have misled service members by quoting no-cost, low-rate, fixed-interest mortgage rates that were purportedly fixed for the entire term of the mortgage, the FTC said. But the only home loans offered by Mortgage Investors were actually adjustable-rate mortgages, pursuant to which borrowers would see increasing payments over time and have to pay closing costs.
In addition to the record $7.5 million civil penalty, Mortgage Investors is prohibited from calling numbers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry and from denying consumer requests that they be placed on an internal Do Not Call list. The company also agreed not to misrepresent any terms related to mortgage credit products, such as rates, closing costs and fees.
Continuing the anniversary celebration, the FTC also announced the first settlements brought under last year's multiagency sweep against illegal prerecorded calls from "Cardholder Services." Three of the five cases have reached settlements, the agency said, with penalties ranging from permanent bans on robocalls and marketing to more than $4 million in suspended judgments.
To read the complaint in U.S. v. Mortgage Investors Corporation, click here.
To read the stipulated final order, click here.
Why it matters: Since the Do Not Call Registry took effect 10 years ago, the agency has taken 105 enforcement actions and has been awarded almost 300 injunctions and millions of dollars in civil penalties. The FTC's record-breaking Mortgage Investors settlement on the registry's anniversary acts as a reminder that the Do Not Call Registry and TSR remain priorities for the agency. "Since the advent of Do Not Call, the FTC has been aggressive in cracking down on violators and preventing annoying, illegal calls to consumers," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. "Today's settlements leave no doubt that DNC enforcement remains a top priority." The settlements also reflect the agency's interest in protecting consumers, particularly those who may be in financial distress.