On September 12, the FTC announced two separate suits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against various entities and individuals who allegedly engaged in deceptive practices when promoting student loan debt relief schemes.
In the first complaint, filed jointly with the Minnesota Attorney General, a debt relief company and its owners (collectively, the “Minnesota defendants”) were alleged to have violated the FTC Act, TILA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and various state laws, by charging consumers who sought student loan payment reduction programs an advance fee of over $1,300 while falsely representing that the payment would go toward their student loans. The advance fee, the FTC contends, was allegedly financed through high-interest loans from a third-party finance company identified as a co-defendant in both complaints. The stipulated order entered against the Minnesota defendants prohibits them from, among other things: (i) making material misrepresentations related to their financial products and services, or any other kind of product or service; (ii) making unsubstantiated claims about their financial products and services; (iii) engaging in unlawful telemarketing practices; or (iv) collecting payments on accounts sold prior to the order’s date. The stipulated order also requires the Minnesota defendants to notify its customers that none of their prior payments have gone towards a Department of Education repayment program or towards their student loans, and orders the payment of $156,000, with the total judgment of approximately $4.2 million suspended due to inability to pay.
The FTC filed a second complaint against a separate student loan debt relief operation for allegedly engaging in deceptive and abusive practices through similar actions, including charging consumers advance fees of up to $1,400 and enrolling consumers in the same finance company’s high-interest loan program. The action against the second student loan debt relief operation is ongoing.
Both complaints also charge the finance company with violating the assisting and facilitating provision of the TSR by providing substantial assistance to both sets of defendants even though it knew, or consciously avoided knowing, that they were engaging in deceptive and abusive telemarketing practices. The FTC also alleges that the finance company violated TILA when it failed to clearly and conspicuously make certain required disclosures concerning its closed-end credit offers. Separate stipulated orders were entered by the FTC in each case (see here and here) against the finance company. The orders’ terms require the finance company to pay a combined $1 million out of a nearly $28 million judgment, with the rest suspended due to inability to pay, as well as relinquish its rights to collect on any outstanding loans. Among other things, the orders also permanently ban the finance company from engaging in transactions involving secured or unsecured debt relief products and services or making misrepresentations regarding financial products and services.