On November 20, Delaware Attorney General (AG) Kathy Jennings, along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and 11 other states, announced a settlement in excess of $30 million with Prehired LLC and affiliated debt collection companies. This settlement resolves allegations of unlawful practices in originating, servicing, collecting, and enforcing Income Sharing Agreements (ISAs) in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, the Truth in Lending Act, and its implementing Regulation Z, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Specifically, regulators alleged in a July 2023 complaint that the ISAs were unlawful, and that Prehired and its affiliates made false promises of job placement and resorted to abusive debt collection practices when borrowers could not pay. As part of the stipulated final judgment entered by the Delaware bankruptcy court, Prehired is required to cease all operations, pay $4.2 million in redress to students who made loan payments between 2019 and 2023, pay $1 million to the CFPB victims relief fund, and void all of its outstanding ISAs, which are valued at nearly $27 million.
According to the CFPB’s companion press release, Prehired operated a 12-week online training program claiming to prepare students for entry-level positions as software sales development representatives with “six-figure salaries” and a “job guarantee.” Prehired offered ISAs to students to help finance the cost of the program. Two companies affiliated with Prehired, Prehired Recruiting and Prehired Accelerator, pursued collection on defaulted loans when students were unable to pay.
Among other things, the regulators alleged that:
- Prehired encouraged students to finance the cost of their training program through ISAs, while failing to disclose the loan terms, including the amount financed, finance charges, and the annual percentage rate.
- Prehired made deceptive representations about the ISAs, including that the ISAs were not credit and that repayment was contingent on job placement with a yearly salary exceeding $60,000, even though the terms of the loan required borrowers to repay the loan even if they never got a job.
- Prehired’s affiliates falsely represented the amount of debt owed by consumers, and made material misrepresentations to consumers by describing “settlement agreements” as beneficial without disclosing that the true purpose was to avoid legal defenses to the original ISAs, and to impose more onerous dispute resolution and collection terms.
- Prehired Recruiting engaged in unfair debt collection practices by attempting to collect debt in Delaware even though the ISAs did not identify the state as a venue and the majority of student borrowers do not live in the jurisdiction.
- After the Delaware AG wrote to Prehired in March 2022, Prehired dismissed its lawsuits against borrowers in Delaware and subsequently filed arbitration actions against borrowers even though borrowers never agreed to arbitrate disputes.
In September 2022, after regulators filed their lawsuit, Prehired and its affiliates filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The stipulated judgment and order were entered in the Delaware Bankruptcy Court. Prehired’s business ceased operations as a result of the regulatory inquiry.
For years, regulators have sought to protect student borrowers from perceived predatory practices of lenders. This enforcement action underscores the need for lenders to carefully consider their legal obligations and their representations about the qualities and characteristics of their financial products and services. Businesses operating in heavily scrutinized industries, such as consumer lending, need to pay close attention to the regulatory landscape to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Prehired is an example of what happens when businesses fail to do so.
Troutman Pepper State Attorneys General Team
|Ashley Taylor – Co-leader and Firm Vice Chair
Ashley is a partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group and co-leader of the State Attorneys General practice. He focuses primarily on federal and state government regulatory and enforcement matters involving state attorneys general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Drawing upon his experience as a deputy attorney general, Ashley has developed an extensive consumer practice with regard to the consumer financial services industry.
|Clay Friedman – Co-leader
Clay is a partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group and co-leader of the State Attorneys General practice. Informed by nearly a decade in a state attorneys general office, and more than 25 years in private practice, Clay spends much of his time representing clients in singular or multistate regulatory actions. Clay has repeatedly led teams before all 50 state attorneys general and also handles matters with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other local, state and federal agencies.
Judy is a partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy and Enforcement (RISE) practice, based in the Richmond office. She brings experience serving as chair and commissioner of the Virginia State Corporate Commission (VSCC) from 2006 through 2022, which includes regulating the utilities, insurance, banking, and securities industries. She also served as Virginia’s attorney general from 2005-2006.
Stephen represents clients interacting with, and being investigated by, state attorneys general and other enforcement bodies, including the CFPB and FTC, as well as clients involved with litigation, particularly in heavily regulated industries.
A former deputy attorney general of New York, Avi applies his experience in bet-the-company matters, representing clients in criminal and civil investigations and enforcement actions before state and federal regulators, prosecutors and enforcement agencies.
Michael handles high-profile state attorneys general, FTC, and CFPB investigations by advising clients through these complex government inquiries. He assists clients through the entire life cycle of investigations, from regulatory enforcement through formal litigation.
|Samuel E. “Gene” Fishel
Gene is a member of the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) practice, based in the Richmond office. He brings extensive regulatory experience, having most recently served as senior assistant attorney general and chief of the Computer Crime Section in the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, and as special assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia for 20 years.
Tim is an attorney in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group, with a primary focus on financial services litigation.
Chris represents clients in regulatory, civil and criminal investigations and litigation. In his practice, Chris regularly employs his prior regulatory experience to benefit clients who are interacting with and being investigated by state attorneys general.
Natalia is an associate in the firm’s business litigation practice. She recently received her J.D from the University of California, Davis School of Law.
Namrata is an associate in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group, based in the Washington, D.C. office. Her work includes advising clients in regulatory investigations and compliance matters, in addition to representing clients in civil litigation matters.
Michael is an associate in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy, and Enforcement Practice Group. Based out of the firm’s Boston office, Mike has deep experience in litigation, investigations, and other regulatory matters involving state-level regulators and state attorneys general.
Susan is an associate in the firm’s Consumer Financial Services Practice Group, and focuses her practice on consumer financial services matters. She has defended several of the nation’s largest and most influential financial institutions in individual and class action litigation involving the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and other consumer privacy statutes. Susan also represents banks, fintechs, and financial services companies in connection with regulatory examinations and investigations brought by the CFPB, state attorneys general, and the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.
John represents clients in a wide variety of general and complex litigation matters, shareholder disputes, products liability, and privacy claims.
Whitney is an attorney in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group. She represents clients facing state and federal regulatory investigations and enforcement actions, as well as related civil litigation.
Trey is an associate in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement practice. His experience includes serving as a summer associate at the firm in 2021.
An experienced litigator, Daniel advises and represents regional, national and international companies, financial institutions and insurers in all facets of business, complex commercial and insurance coverage litigation. He is committed to working with his clients to find creative solutions to meet their needs.
Stephanie is Troutman Pepper’s senior government relations manager in the state attorneys general department.