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For-Profit College Settlement Cancels $500M in Student Debt

The State of Utah Department of Commerce released the following after Utah and 48 Attorneys General signed a multi-state case with Career Corporation, a for-profit education company, who agreed to stop collecting student loans, bringing $493.7 million in debt relief to CEC students across the U.S.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 9, 2019

Career Education Corporation, a for-profit company, agrees to stop collecting student loans in agreement with Utah, 48 Attorneys General

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Francine A. Giani, Executive Director of the Department of Commerce, announced today that the Utah Division of Consumer Protection will receive settlement funds for students as the result of a 493.7M nationwide lawsuit against Career Education Corporation (CEC), a for-profit education company. In the court filing, CEC agreed to reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgo collecting about $493.7 million in debts owed by 179,529 students nationally, in a settlement with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed through the Utah Attorney General and 48 other attorneys general.

“This case is a triumphant win for CEC students whose for-profit school failed to deliver on empty promises. Often these institutions prey on a vulnerable population, working parents and students who are looking find careers outside traditional college degrees. Utah hopes this case sends a message to the industry that our attorneys will actively pursue cases to defend student’s consumer rights,” stated Francine A. Giani.

The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance filed January 3, 2019 caps a five-year investigation. CEC agrees to forgo any and all efforts to collect amounts owed by former students living in the states participating in the agreement. In Utah, 399 students will get relief totaling $980,547.39. Nationally, the average individual debt relief will be about $2,750. CEC has also agreed to pay $5 million to the states. Utah’s share will be $50,000 which will go to the Consumer Protection Education and Training Fund.

CEC is based in Schaumburg, Ill., and currently offers primarily online courses through American InterContinental University and Colorado Technical University.

CEC has closed or phased out many of its schools over the past 10 years. Its brands have included Briarcliffe College, Brooks Institute, Brown College, Harrington College of Design, International Academy of Design & Technology, Le Cordon Bleu, Missouri College, and Sanford-Brown.

A group of attorneys general launched an investigation into CEC in January 2014 after receiving several complaints from students and a critical report on for-profit education by the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. That investigation revealed evidence demonstrating that:

  • CEC used emotionally charged language to pressure them into enrolling in CEC’s schools;
  • CEC deceived students about the total costs of enrollment by instructing its admissions representatives to inform prospective students only about the cost per credit hour without disclosing the total number of required credit hours;
  • CEC misled students about the transferability of credits into CEC from other institutions and out of CEC to other institutions by promising on some occasions that credits would transfer;
  • CEC misrepresented the potential for students to obtain employment in the field by failing to adequately disclose the fact that certain programs lacked the necessary programmatic accreditation; and,
  • CEC deceived prospective students about the rate that graduates of CEC programs got a job in their field of study, thereby giving prospective students a distorted and inaccurate impression of CEC graduates’ employment outcomes. For instance, CEC inaccurately claimed that its graduates were “placed” who worked only temporarily or who were working in unrelated jobs.

As a result of the unfair and deceptive practices described above, students enrolled in CEC who would not have otherwise enrolled, could not obtain professional licensure, and were saddled with substantial debts that they could not repay nor discharge. CEC denied the allegations of the attorneys general but agreed to resolve the claims through this multistate settlement.

Robert McKenna, former Washington state attorney general and current partner at the San Francisco-based law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, will independently monitor the company’s settlement compliance for three years and issue annual reports.

Highlights of the agreement

Under the agreement, CEC must:

  • Make no misrepresentations concerning accreditation, selectivity, graduation rates, placement rates, transferability of credit, financial aid, veterans’ benefits, or licensure requirements.
  • Not enroll students in programs that do not lead to state licensure when required for employment, or that due to their lack of accreditation, will not prepare graduates for jobs in their field. For certain programs that will prepare graduates for some but not all jobs, CEC will be required to disclose such to incoming students.
  • Provide a single-page disclosure to each student that includes: a) anticipated total direct cost; b) median debt for completers; c) programmatic cohort default rate; d) program completion rate; e) notice concerning transferability of credits; f) median earnings for completers; and g) the job placement rated.
  • Require students before enrolling to complete an Electronic Financial Impact Platform Disclosure, which provides specific information about debt burden and expected post-graduation income. CEC is working with the states to develop this platform.
  • Not engage in deceptive or abusive recruiting practices and record online chats and telephone calls with prospective students. CEC shall analyze these recordings to ensure compliance. CEC shall not contact students who indicate that they no longer wish to be contacted.
  • Require incoming undergraduate students with fewer than 24 credits to complete an orientation program before their first class that covers study skills, organization, literacy, financial skills, and computer competency. During the orientation period, students may withdraw at no cost.
  • Establish a risk-free trial period. All undergraduates who enter an online CEC program with fewer than 24 online credits shall be permitted to withdraw within 21 days of the beginning of the term without incurring any cost. All undergraduates who enter an on-ground CEC program shall be permitted to withdraw within seven days of the first day of class without incurring any cost.

Relief Eligibility

CEC has agreed to forgo collection of debts owed by students who either attended a CEC institution that closed before Jan. 1, 2019, or whose final day of attendance at AIU or CTU occurred on or before Dec. 31, 2013.

Former students with debt relief eligibility questions can contact CEC here; Toll Free Number: 844-783-8629

Local Number: 847-783-8629

The email is CECquestions@careered.com

The CEC investigation was led by Iowa, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. The agreement also covers the District of Columbia and  the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Protecting Utah Consumers: Wells Fargo Settlement

January 1, 2019

On Friday, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $575 million after investigations and lawsuits from all 50 states and the District of Columbia for account fraud and other illegal business practices. Utah will receive $10 million.

Investigations started in 2016 after Wells Fargo admitted employees opened over 3.5 million fraudulent bank accounts in consumers’ names, without their knowledge or consent. Further investigation revealed improper practices involving insurance, auto loans, financing, and mortgages.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office worked alongside the Division of Consumer Protection and 49 other attorneys general to reach an appropriate settlement. From the press release:

“To date, this settlement represents the most significant engagement involving a national bank by state attorneys general acting without a federal law enforcement partner.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes stated, “We appreciate the efforts Wells Fargo has made to address these important consumer issues. We all share the same goal: to enjoy a strong economy where consumers’ privacy, choices, and funds are protected. To this end, the Division of Consumer Protection, our assistant AG’s and sister-state Attorneys General acted with vigilance and I am grateful for their hard work.”

This settlement agreement follows previous settlements and fines paid by Wells Fargo. “This agreement underscores our serious commitment to making things right in regard to past issues as we work to build a better bank,” said Tim Sloan, Chief Executive Officer and President of Wells Fargo, in Wells Fargo’s press release.

The $10 million that Utah receives will go to the Division of Consumer Protection Education Fund.

Read more:

Press release: Utah Division of Consumer Protection to receive $10M in multi-state settlement

The settlement agreement (82-page PDF)

Salt Lake Tribune: Wells Fargo pays $575 million to settle state investigations over fake accounts and other shady practices; $10 million will go to Utah

Deseret News: Wells Fargo pays $575 million to settle state investigations

New York Times: Wells Fargo Agrees to Pay $575 Million to Resolve State Investigations

 

 

 

Photo by Mike Mozart

Utah AG Reyes Works to Combat Robocalls

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 11, 2018

  

UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL SEAN D. REYES WORKS TO COMBAT ROBOCALLS
Utah AG joins 40 state attorneys general to review technology solutions

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes announced today that he has joined a bipartisan group of 40 state attorneys general to stop or reduce annoying and harmful robocalls. This coalition is reviewing the technology major telecom companies are pursuing to combat illegal robocalls.

“To be clear, we are not talking about first amendment protected robocalls like political messages or calls from bona fide charities. While some find these calls annoying, they are legal,” stated Attorney General Reyes. “However, if the recording is a sales pitch and you have not provided authorization, the call is illegal. To trick you into answering a call, many robocalls fake the caller ID information you see on your phone. This is called spoofing and is also illegal. It is these practices and types of robocalls we are focused on stopping. Over 187 million illegal robocalls were made to Utahns in 2017 alone. These calls often harm our most vulnerable populations with scams and improper business practices. It is my hope and belief that this bipartisan group will be able to find real solutions to help protect not just Utahns, but all Americans. I am grateful for Francine Giani, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce, and her team, for their dedicated efforts to address these abuses in our state.”

The Utah Department of Commerce consistently receives reports of robocalls to Utahns. The Department investigates complaints and has in some instances successfully taken legal action against callers pitching student loan debt consolidation, vacation packages, solar energy, and timeshare resales, among other areas. While the Department takes action when it can identify the caller, many robocalls originate overseas or use spoofed numbers to evade enforcement.  

“Consumers are bombarded by robocalls faking local numbers and originating overseas,” stated Utah Department of Commerce Executive Director Francine Giani. “When consumers are scammed through these calls, it is very difficult if not impossible for the Department of Commerce to find the perpetrator and get the consumers’ money back. We support the Attorneys General and other efforts to combat robocalls before they make it to consumers’ phones.”

Since its formation, the multistate group has had in-depth meetings with several major telecom companies. These productive meetings have led to greater information sharing about the technological capabilities currently in existence or in development to fight these calls.

Utah Attorney General Reyes and his colleagues are working to:

  • Develop a detailed understanding of what is technologically feasible to minimize unwanted robocalls and illegal telemarketing,
  • Engage the major telecom companies to encourage them to expedite the best possible solutions for consumers, and
  • Determine whether states should make further recommendations to the FCC.

Utah joins the coalition, led by Attorney General Josh Stein (NC), Attorney General Curtis Hill (IN), and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald (NH), and includes attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

# # #

 
 NOTES:

  1. AG Reyes recently joined 34 other state AGs and sent a letter urging the FCC to explore ways to combat fraudulent calls. Deputy Attorney General David Sonnenreich spoke with KSL-TV about that letter, robocalls, spoofing, and a new technology seeking to address this issue. You can find that letter and interview here: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/battling-illegal-robocalls-spoofing/.
  2. The Utah Department of Commerce provides resources when dealing with illegal robocalls and telemarketing. Find more information on that here: https://dcp.utah.gov/registrations/telemarketing.html.

Federal & state leaders bring down Utah Ponzi scheme

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Securities released the following after charging a Salt Lake City precious metals dealer for allegedly defrauding over 200 individuals in a Ponzi scheme.  A special thank you to Assistant AGs Robert Wing, Tom Melton, Jennifer Korb, and Paula Faerber for their hard work and commitment on this case as they serve our partners, clients, and the people of Utah.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2018

 

CFTC and State of Utah Charge Salt Lake City Precious Metals Dealer and His Company with Engaging in $170 Million Precious Metals Ponzi Scheme

Washington, DC — The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Securities, through its Attorney General, jointly filed a civil enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division, against Defendants Gaylen Dean Rust (Rust) and Rust Rare Coin, Inc. (RRC) of Layton, Utah and Salt Lake City, Utah, respectively.  The Complaint charges Rust and his company RRC  with defrauding at least 200 individuals — from Utah and at least 16 other states — and fraudulently obtaining more than  $170 million from investors since May 2013 in a precious metals Ponzi scheme. 

According to the complaint, the Defendants’ fraud, as alleged, is ongoing.  In the first eight months of 2018, the Defendants received at least $42 million from investors in a pool that purportedly bought and sold silver.   The Defendants also attempted to solicit new investors in this pool at least as recently as October 8, 2018, as alleged in the Complaint.   

Court Freezes Defendants’ Assets and Appoints a Temporary Receiver
On November 15, 2018, the Honorable Tena Campbell, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Utah, entered a restraining order freezing the assets of the Defendants and the Relief Defendants and permitting the CFTC and the State of Utah to inspect all relevant records of the Defendants and the Relief Defendants.  The Court also appointed Jonathan O. Hafen as a temporary receiver to take control of RRC and the corporate Relief Defendants, as well as the assets of Rust and the individual Relief Defendants.  

CFTC Director of Enforcement Comments
Director of Enforcement James McDonald commented, “As alleged, for at least a decade, the Defendants defrauded their friends, customers, and business associates out of more than $170 million. The Defendants allegedly concealed their fraud with false account statements and Ponzi payments; however, their scheme was brought to light through the combined efforts of the CFTC and our law enforcement partners.  This is yet another example of the CFTC’s commitment to coordinate with our law enforcement partners both to protect our markets from fraud and to ensure that wrongdoers are held accountable.  I’m grateful to the Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Securities and Utah’s Attorney General and their staffs for their assistance in this matter.

Defendants’ Deceptive and Fraudulent Precious Metals Scheme
According to the Complaint, from at least as early as 2008 and continuing through the present, the Defendants tricked investors into believing that the Defendants were pooling investor money for the purpose of entering into contracts of sale for silver, a commodity in interstate commerce (Silver Pool).  As alleged, the Defendants told investors and prospective investors that they would sell silver held in the pool as market prices rose and buy silver for the pool as market prices fell; thereby increasing the amount of silver held in the Silver Pool, as well as the value of each investor’s share in that pool.

 As alleged in the Complaint, the Silver Pool was a sham. The Defendants falsely told investors and prospective investors in the Silver Pool that by trading silver in this manner, they generated extraordinarily high profits, averaging 20 to 25 percent per year and sometimes as high as 40 percent per year or more. The Defendants provided investors with false account statements that showed every trade made by the Defendants as being profitable.  The Defendants also told investors that the Silver Pool possessed approximately $77 to $80 million  of silver, which was stored at Brink’s, Incorporated (Brink’s) depositories in Salt Lake City, Utah and/or Los Angeles, California, even though the Defendants never purchased and stored anything approaching that amount at Brink’s. 

According to the Complaint, the Defendants did not use contributions from investors to purchase silver for the Silver Pool.  Instead, the Defendants misappropriated investor funds and used these funds to make payments to other investors in the manner of a Ponzi scheme, transfer money to other companies owned by Rust, and pay personal expenses. 

In their continuing litigation against the Defendants, the CFTC and the State of Utah seek disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, civil monetary penalties, restitution, permanent registration and trading bans, and a permanent injunction against further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act, CFTC Regulations, and Utah securities laws, as charged.

The CFTC acknowledges and appreciates the cooperation and assistance of the Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Securities; the Utah Attorney General’s Office; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah; and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Salt Lake City Regional Office.  

CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this action are Jenny Chapin, Stephen Turley, Thomas Simek, Joyce Brandt, Christopher Reed, and Charles Marvine.

CFTC’s Precious Metals Customer Fraud Advisory
The CFTC has issued several customer protection Fraud Advisories that provide the warning signs of fraud, including the Precious Metals Fraud Advisory, which alerts customers to precious metals fraud and lists simple ways to spot precious metals scams.

Customers can report suspicious activities or information, such as possible violations of commodity trading laws, to the CFTC Division of Enforcement via a Toll-Free Hotline 866-FON-CFTC (866-366-2382) or file a tip or complaint online. 

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski

Recognize & avoid financial fraud

November 6, 2018

What exactly is financial fraud?

It is any attempt to deceive another for financial gain. Seems fairly straightforward, right? Therefore, it should be easy to prevent. Unfortunately, there are numerous ways to take advantage of the average Utahn and many are falling for these ploys. 

What’s the best way to protect yourself? 

EDUCATION.

In a measure designed to protect Utah Consumers, federal, state, and local officials established Stop Fraud Utah to educate consumers about the many aspects of financial fraud and how to avoid it. Twice a year, Stop Fraud Utah hosts the Financial Fraud Institute to help Utahns recognize and protect themselves against Financial Fraud. 

Join us for this fall’s seminar in Weber County.
Registration is free, but required since space is limited. For more information and to RSVP, go to www.utfraud.com.

Stop Veteran Charity Scams

In an effort to reduce the number of donations given to fraudulent charities, Francine Giani, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce, announced last week that the state of Utah would participate in a new national donor education campaign, “Operation Donate with Honor.”

Every year, Americans give back to those who gave and risked so much for our freedom. Most charities dedicated to serving veterans and servicemen live up to their promises, but there are some who do not deliver on what they say they provide. Before giving, take a moment to walk through the following steps provided by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection to protect your donation: 

  1. Don’t rely on a sympathetic sounding name to make a donation.
  2. Ask for the charity’s name, website, and physical location.
  3. Ask how much of a donation will go to the charitable program you want to support.
  4. Check with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection to see if they are registered at https://dcp.utah.gov/consumerinfo/veterans_charities.html
  5. Search the charity’s name online with the word “scam” or “complaint” to see what other people say about it.
  6. Check out the charity’s ratings at the Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, or Charity Navigator.
  7. Never pay with cash, a gift card, or by wiring money.
  8. Consider paying by credit card, which is the safest option for security and tax purposes.
  9.  If you wish to file a complaint, go to this link with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection: https://dcp.utah.gov/complaints/manual.html

The education campaign is intended to help potential donors recognize fraudulent and deceptive solicitations to ensure their contributions will, in fact, benefit veterans and service members. The campaign was developed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of State Charity Officials, which is the association of state offices charged with oversight of charitable organizations and solicitations in the United States. 

Along with the Utah Department of Commerce, the campaign includes the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, the FTC, law enforcement officials and charity regulators from every state, as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico.   

You can find the press statement released by the Department of Commerce as well as additional information and resources here: https://commerce.utah.gov/releases/2018-07-19_dcp-donate-w-honor.pdf.

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