FTC Charges Lending Club with Deceiving Consumers

FTC, here.

"Defendant conducts a credit pull on applicants’ credit reports. Defendant then immediately rejects those consumers that it determines do not meet certain baseline criteria. Defendant refers to this step as “front-end” denial..."Although Defendant tells consumers that its loans contain “No hidden fees,” Defendant nevertheless charges consumers an up-front fee that is not clearly and conspicuously disclosed. This fee is calculated as a percentage—on average, approximately 5 percent—of the consumer’s requested loan amount, and often amounts to more than a thousand dollars...Defendant deducts the hidden up-front fee from the promised “Loan Amount” before disbursing the loan funds to the consumer. As a result, the amount of money that Defendant disburses to a consumer’s bank account is always substantially smaller than the promised “Loan Amount.” And because consumers must pay interest on the entire “Loan Amount,” including the fee, Defendant’s hidden fee leaves consumers paying interest on principal that they never received...Defendant has ignored these warnings. Rather than improving over time, Defendant’s violations have become more egregious over the years: when redesigning the application flow in the winter of 2014, Defendant increased the prominence of the “No hidden fees” representation and decreased the prominence of the tooltip...On desktops and mobile phones, after consumers agree to the loan terms and enter bank account information, they then click a “Done!” button and are taken to a screen that has stated, in large type: “Your [amount requested] loan is on the way. What’s next?” The amount that Defendant promises is “on the way” is the same “Loan Amount” that Defendant promised the consumer on the Loan Offer page. For example, a consumer who was promised a $10,000 loan amount will see on this screen a representation that “Your $10,000 loan is on the way...Although Defendant has told each consumer who completed a loan application that his or her “loan is on the way,” a consumer’s application in fact must undergo two additional processes after completion in order to receive final approval. First, an application must attract sufficient investor backing, and second, an application must pass Defendant’s stringent “back-end” credit review—so called to distinguish it from the lighter, “front-end” review that Defendant conducts while the consumer’s application is still in progress...If a consumer has garnered investor funding—but before Defendant has finished the “back-end” review of their applications—Defendant has sent such consumers various email messages communicating that the consumers will receive loans...In reality, however, many consumers who received such emails were subsequently rejected based on Defendant’s “back-end” credit review and never received a loan from Defendant. For example, of the at least approximately 196,000 consumers who received the above email, at least approximately 43,000 were subsequently rejected. The “back-end” credit review is searching and often involves, inter alia, an additional credit inquiry, a phone call to the consumer, requests for additional documentation, and detailed review of the consumer’s tax and bank records...Defendant’s default method of receiving consumers’ scheduled monthly payments is automatic electronic bank account withdrawal via ACH transfer. In numerous instances, Defendant has withdrawn money from consumers’ bank accounts without consumers’ authorization, or in amounts in excess of the amount consumers authorized Defendant to withdraw...As a result of Defendant’s unauthorized charges, many consumers are forced to pay overdraft fees, while other consumers are unable to pay other bills because they do not have access to the money that Defendant improperly withdrew...Defendant’s conduct is governed by the Privacy Rule prior to October 28, 2014, and by Reg. P after that date. The GLB Act authorizes both the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission to enforce Reg. P. 15 U.S.C. § 6805...Defendant failed to comply with the requirements of the Privacy Rule and Reg. P. Specifically, Defendant failed to deliver the initial privacy notice so that each customer can reasonably be expected to receive actual notice. 16 C.F.R. § 313.9; 12 C.F.R. § 1016.9. For example, until at least the end of 2016, Defendant did not require customers to acknowledge receipt of the notice as a necessary step to obtaining a particular financial product or service. 16 C.F.R. § 313.9, and Reg. P, 12 C.F.R. § 1016.9. Instead, Defendant required customers to agree only to Defendant’s Terms of Use, which itself included only a link to Defendant’s privacy policy. In order to reach the privacy notice that Defendant was required to provide to customers, a customer would need to click on a link that did not indicate it was related to privacy, and then further find a link to Defendant’s privacy policy within the lengthy document to which the link led. Customers were not provided a clear and conspicuous privacy notice before they submitted nonpublic personal information to Defendant...Customers were only provided a link leading directly to the notice after they had applied for a personal loan. Defendant’s own compliance group had recommended repeatedly that the company require customer acknowledgment in the years prior to the 2016 change...Consumers have suffered and will continue to suffer substantial injury as a result of Defendant’s violations of the FTC Act and the Privacy Rule. In addition, Defendant has been unjustly enriched as a result of their unlawful acts or practices. Absent injunctive relief by this Court, Defendant is likely to continue to injure consumers, reap unjust enrichment, and harm the public interest."

Why did it take so long for the FTC to act? And what about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau re privacy issues? See FTC FinTech Series: Marketplace Lending June 9, 2016 Transcript, here.  See also here, June 9 2016 ("8 of 15 mention “No Hidden Fees”).

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