On February 3, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced the first-ever enforcement action under its new structure against a student loan debt-relief company and an investigation into others. According to the order, DFPI alleges, among other things, that an Irvine-based debt-relief company violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL) by charging consumers fees ranging from $2,100 to $26,510 to “‘wipe away’ their student loans by getting them ‘dismissed’ or ‘discharged,’” which the company could not achieve. Moreover, consumers often financed the payment of the company’s fees, resulting in more debt and the company refused to issue refunds when requested by some consumers. DFPI alleges the company’s actions constitute unlawful and deceptive practices under the CCFPL and violated the TSR’s prohibition of charging fees before performing services. Lastly, DFPI alleges the company was required to obtain a license under the state’s Student Loan Servicing Act (SLSA) because its actions constitute “servicing” student loans under the statute. The order requires the company to refund the fees collected from 18 consumers by March 15 and to pay a civil penalty of $45,000.
DFPI also announced it issued subpoenas to four other student loan debt-relief companies to determine whether the companies engage in or have engaged in any unlawful, unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices and whether their activities require a license. Responses to the subpoenas are due in March.
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