On July 13, the CFPB joined state attorneys general from Washington, Oregon, Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia in taking action against an education firm accused of engaging in deceptive marketing and unfair debt collection practices. California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is participating in the action as well.
Prior to filing for bankruptcy, the Delaware-based defendant operated a private, for-profit vocational training program for software sales representatives. The joint complaint, filed as an adversary proceeding in the firm’s bankruptcy case, alleges that the defendant charged consumers up to $30,000 for its programs. The complaint further alleges that the defendant encouraged consumers who could not pay upfront to enter into income share agreements, which required minimum payments equal to between 12.5 and 16 percent of their gross income for 4 to 8 years or until they had paid a total of $30,000, whichever came first.
The complaint asserts that the defendant engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting its income share agreement as not a loan and not debt, and mislead borrowers into believing that no payments would need to be made until they received a job offer from a technology company with a minimum annual income of $60,000. The defendant is also accused of failing to disclose important financing terms, such as the amount financed, finance charges, and annual percentage rates, as required by TILA and Regulation Z. The complaint also claims that the defendant hired two debt collection companies to pursue collection activities on defaulted income share loans.
One of the defendant debt collectors is accused of engaging in unfair practices by filing debt collection lawsuits in remote jurisdictions where consumers neither resided nor were physically present when the financing agreements were executed. The complaint further alleges the two defendant debt collectors violated the FDCPA and the CFPA by deceptively inducing consumers into settlement agreements and falsely claiming they owed more than they did.
According to the Bureau and the states, after the Delaware Department of Justice and Delaware courts began scrutinizing the debt collection lawsuits, the defendant unilaterally changed the terms of its contracts with consumers to force them into arbitration even though none of them had agreed to arbitrate their claims. Additionally, the complaint contends that settlement agreements marketed as being “beneficial” to consumers actually released consumers’ claims against the defendant and converted income share loans into revised “settlement agreements” that obligated them to make recurring monthly payments for several years and contained burdensome dispute resolution and collection terms.
The complaint seeks permanent injunctive relief, monetary relief, consumer redress, and civil money penalties. The CFPB and states are also seeking to void the income share loans.