Consumers with cell phones (i.e., just about everyone) are protected from robocalling annoyances under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. However, banks are trying to change the law, arguing such calls will allow them to fight identity theft and other forms of fraud.
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Consumer advocates argue the benefits are being significantly overstated. More likely, they assert, is this is simply an opportunity for large corporations to erode key protections for consumers.

Beyond the fact that robo-calling is an annoyance, it can cost money when it’s done on your mobile phone. That’s likely a large reason why more than 223 million Americans have registered their phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” registry.
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In the wake of the 2008 housing market collapse and economic meltdown that followed, it became clear that real change would have to be effected on Wall Street if we hoped to avoid a similar scenario down the road.
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In many respects, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has made that her mission. The Washington Post recently characterized her efforts as a “jihad against Wall Street.” Warren has worked hard to battle financial and corporate giants that bend or break the law for their own benefit, often protecting the masses from getting the short end of the stick.

The latest target of her efforts is Antonio Weiss. He is President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance. Warren notes Weiss’s resume includes toiling as an investment banker for Lazard and working to secure international merger deals in that role and others. Some of the bigger of those deals involve an $11 billion merger of Burger King with a coffee-and-doughnut manufacturer based in Canada.
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Sometimes, it pays to do the right thing.
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The former Countrywide Financial Corp. executive who blew the whistle on Bank of America’s widespread mortgage fraud, resulting in an almost $17 billion settlement, was recently awarded $57 million in his qui tam lawsuit.

Edwin O’Donnell reportedly contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan in advance of foreshadowed settlement deal with the banking giant to give the government greater leverage in its case. He alleged the company issued a series of toxic mortgages under a program known as the “High Speed Swim Lane,” also referred to as “HSSL” or “hustle.” Knowing the mortgages were likely to be defaulted on, the company then quickly sold them to the government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
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At the close of last summer, The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit journalism organization, published a feature detailing how Florida homeowners were being steamrolled by a legislative initiative intended to plow through the back log. The kicker was the program was funded by a federal mortgage fraud settlement that was secured specifically to help disenfranchised borrowers.
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Even in cases where banks and borrowers were requesting more time to prepare their cases, judges were having none of it. Many foreclosure defense lawyers were speaking out, arguing the state’s civil court system had been totally compromised in the interest of getting through these cases quickly.

Now, following this expose and several others, it seems state courts may be ready to change course. The Florida Supreme Court’s Local Rules Advisory Committee ruled in December that an order by a judge in Palm Beach County that essentially allowed banks to overcome homeowner efforts to fight foreclosures by simply ignoring their motions was a measure that proved beyond the scope of that judge’s authority.
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Certain types of debt collection activity against active duty soldiers and service members are illegal. That didn’t stop one retailer and two debt collection firms from partaking, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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The agency pursued action against the companies after learning the firms engaged in illegal tactics in order to collect debts against active-duty service members. Those actions included filing lawsuits illegally, debiting consumer accounts without proper authorization and contacting the commanding officers of service members.

For these actions, the CFPB reports, a federal court judge issued a final consent order requiring the firms and their owners to pay $2.5 million in restitution, plus a $100,000 civil penalty.
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Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating giant, is nearing a $1 billion settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations the company wrongly steered investors on the ratings of mortgage-backed securities prior to the subprime loan crisis.
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Insiders say a deal could be inked as early as the first quarter, though negotiations remain confidential.

Federal prosecutors have secured a number of settlements worth tens of billions of dollars over the last 24 months from banks and mortgage lenders who played a significant role in fueling the financial crisis of 2008. Those firms churned out piles of toxic mortgages that were then bundled and sold to investors as securities. Despite stellar investment ratings, those securities were in fact worthless.
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One in every three complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Americans over the age of 65 pertains to debt collection, according to a new report issued by the agency. buriedalive.jpg

The most common threads of complaints stem from relentless calls and harassment relating to:

  • Medical bills in dispute
  • Attempts to collect debt owed by deceased relatives
  • Threats to seize Social Security benefits and others

These actions are undoubtedly unethical and sometimes outright illegal. Still in many cases, seniors simply pay the tab – even when they don’t believe they owe the money – simply to get the callers off their backs. Despite the protections laid forth in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, some of these callers initiate contact after 9 p.m., use abusive and foul language and make legal threats when they are barred by law from doing so.
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The issue of “accounting control fraud,” also known as “mortgage appraisal fraud” has reared its ugly head once again, with a Wall Street Journal article indicating bank executives are alarmed about the issue.
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Reporters found from 2011 through 2014 – well after the housing bubble burst – one in seven appraisals inflated home values by 20 percent or more. This was according to data provided reported by Digital Risk Analytics, a mortgage-analysis and consulting firm based in Florida. It was recently hired by nearly two dozen of the country’s biggest lenders to review loan files, and some 200,000 mortgages were considered in the analysis.

However, William K. Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of, “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One,” takes issue with the article’s characterization of bank executives as paragons of virtue intent on weeding out bad practice. The reality, Black writes, is these executives are the ones running the show.
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When Thomas J. Curry, top regulator at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, wrote an article outlining standards expected of the banking industry, he opened by noting the charitable work done by banks and insisted that CEOS never actually intended to commit foreclosure fraud or break the law. Rather, he says, the management at these firms wasn’t cautious enough. They allowed a corrupt culture to pervade because they weren’t careful. stamp.jpg

However, there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest this isn’t factually accurate.

For example, reporters and courts have uncovered numerous internal banking memos and training materials that suggest much of the illegal conduct in which these companies engaged was deliberate. For example, PowerPoint presentations and videos show ways in which these firms taught workers how to bypass local jurisdictions and automate processes.
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Thomas J. Curry, now the Comptroller of the Currency in the U.S., recently penned an opinion piece on how public trust in banking, vital to a healthy economy, has largely been lost in recent years and how banks must rethink their corporate risk culture if they want to set things right. balance2.jpg

Of course, we’re all familiar with why people have lost trust. It has to do with poor debt collection practices. Weak oversight of trading actions. Bank Secrecy Act control lapses. Numerous mortgage foreclosure and servicing abuses. Collectively, penalties for these wrongs have climbed into the billions.

While Curry doubts any senior manager expressly approved these actions, he asserts these poor practices were the result of weak risk management and risk culture within large financial institutions. Ultimately, that is senior management’s job.
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