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FinCEN urges consumers to take action on ID theft

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WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--The 4th annual National Protect Your Identity Week, which began on Oct. 16 and continues until Oct. 21, provides consumers with an excellent opportunity to understand the steps needed to guard their financial account and personal information against identity theft, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) said. FinCEN Director James Freis said “identity theft is one of the top 10 suspicious activities reported to FinCEN by financial institutions,” and FinCEN in a release said a recent study found that identity thieves prefer to use stolen account identifiers to take over existing legitimate investment accounts, rather than to set up new unauthorized users. FinCEN also noted that vigilant financial institution employees in 2010 rejected over half of fraudulent vehicle or student loans facilitated by identity theft prior to funding. More than eight million consumers were impacted last year by the crime of identity theft, resulting in the loss of $37 billion, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. The agency encouraged consumers to visit to find new ways to help prevent identity theft. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) joined a number of government agencies and organizations earlier this week to launch this year’s National Protect Your Identity Week. Child identity theft protection and education are the focus of this year’s observation. More than 100 related events have been planned for this week. Credit unions and other organizations are offering ID theft protection handouts, workshops, speakers, cell phone collection, credit report reviews and shredding, and some credit unions are using the events as part of Thursday’s International Credit Union Day. For prior NewsNow coverage of National Identity Theft Prevention week, use the resource link.

NMLS renewal period starts Nov. 1

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WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in a recent CompBlog post reminded credit unions to confirm that previously submitted Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System & Registry (NMLS) information remains accurate and complete, and to update any information that needs to be changed, during the upcoming NMLS Annual Renewal Period. The 2011 renewal period begins on Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 31. The Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act (SAFE Act) requires credit union mortgage loan originators (MLOs) and their employing institutions to register with the NMLS. The NMLS became active earlier this year. Registered MLOs are given a "unique identifier," which is the identification number associated with the MLO within the NMLS. The unique identifier remains the same, even when the MLO changes employment, moves, or changes his or her name, and the identifier tracks the MLO and facilitates public access to the employment history and any disciplinary or enforcement actions that have been initiated against the individual. All NMLS accounts for financial institutions must be renewed on an annual basis, and CUNA said that credit unions must renew their NMLS accounts before the institution’s MLOs can renew their individual registrations. Credit unions will be required to pay a $100 renewal processing fee. However, there is no MLO renewal fee for this first renewal period. CUNA added that individual MLOs that registered before July 1 of this year will need to renew their NMLS registration by the end of the year to remain active in the system for 2012. However, individual MLOs that registered for on the NMLS after July 1 will not need to renew their registration this year, CUNA said. MLOs that do not renew their registration will be deemed inactive and will need to reactivate their NMLS registration. MLOs that are not registered on the NMLS are prohibited from originating residential mortgage loans. Further, institutions that fail to renew will be listed on NMLS as ineligible to originate mortgages. For more on NMLS renewals, see CUNA’s CompBlog.

Humphrey to head CFPB Office of Older Americans

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WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Wednesday announced former Minnesota Attorney General and Minnesota State Senator Hubert “Skip” Humphrey as the leader of the agency’s Office of Older Americans. The CFPB’s Office of Older Americans has been tasked with helping seniors avoid fraud related to financial counseling, as well as with educating seniors about their choices for long-term savings, retirement planning, and long-term care programs. The CFPB division will also work with senior groups, law enforcement, financial institutions, and other federal and state agencies to identify and prevent scams targeting seniors. Humphrey said he is “honored and excited to bring [his] experience in consumer protection and [his] work with seniors to the CFPB to help educate seniors about fair practices and how to make financial decisions that are right for them.” “A well-informed consumer is the best protection against fraud and deceptive practices – especially if that knowledge is backed up by tough regulatory enforcement,” he added. Humphrey, a graduate of American University and the University of Minnesota Law School, has also served as former State President and national board member of the AARP. Humphrey is the son of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey and former U.S. Senator Muriel Humphrey. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he was “especially pleased to note the addition of another former attorney general to the top ranks of the agency because attorneys general have been at the forefront of consumer protection.” The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) earlier this year noted a sharp increase in the number of financial institutions that filed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on elder financial abuse. FinCEN has warned that erratic or unusual banking transactions, such as frequent large withdrawals, sudden Non-Sufficient Fund activity, uncharacteristic nonpayment for services, inconsistent debit transactions, and the closing of certificate or other accounts without regard to penalties can all be warning signs of elder financial abuse. Financial institutions should also look out for instances in which an elderly member or customer lacks knowledge about his or her financial status, or shows a sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters. Elderly victims of financial abuse may also fear eviction or nursing home placement if money is not given to a caretaker, FinCEN warned. Credit unions and other financial institutions often can play a key role in uncovering instances of financial exploitation of the elderly, and the Maine Credit Union League and the Northwest Credit Union Association are examples of leagues that have supported elderly financial abuse prevention legislation in their respective states. The U.S. Treasury has also promoted its GoDirect federal benefit direct deposit program as one way that older Americans can avoid financial fraud. The Credit Union National Association is a GoDirect partner.

Postal service raises rates

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WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) early this week announced that postage prices for standard letters and other mailings would be increased on Jan. 22, 2012. Specifically, the USPS said the price of "forever stamps," which can be used to mail a single one-ounce letter, would increase by one cent to total 45 cents. However, the price for additional ounces will hold steady at 20 cents, the USPS said. Mailing a letter to nearby neighbors Canada or Mexico will cost 85 cents, and postage for letters sent to other international addresses will increase by seven cents, to total $1.05. Postcard postage will increase by three cents to total 32 cents, the USPS added. The USPS said prices for standard mail, periodicals, package services, and other services will also be changed. Express mail and priority mail prices will not be changed, the USPS said. For more on the price changes, use the resource link.

Inside Washington (10/19/2011)

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* WASHINGTON (10/20/11)—U.S. senators on Tuesday criticized the Small Business Lending Fund for not providing enough capital to community banks. The fund, which was created a year ago, encourages banks to lend to small businesses (American Banker Oct. 19). Senators also complained that SBLF funding was used by some banks to repay their Troubled Asset Relief Program funds rather than to lend to small businesses. When SBLF-participating banks meet certain thresholds for small-business lending, they pay lower dividend rates on the government capital. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said demand from banks was lower than expected and half of all applicants were financially healthy enough to qualify for the program. Banks applied for only one-third of the capital in the program, he said. … * WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--Financial stability and monetary policy are “co-equal responsibilities” and “highly complementary” functions of central banks, Federal Reserve Board Ben Bernanke said Tuesday. “In the decades prior to the [financial] crisis, monetary policy had come to be viewed as the principal function of central banks; their role in preserving financial stability was not ignored, but it was downplayed to some extent,” said Bernanke, speaking at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston 56th Economic Conference. “The financial crisis has changed all that.” Efforts to draw distinctions between those two objectives can be blurred by the strong ties between financial and economic conditions, Bernanke said. For example, monetary policy actions that improve the economic outlook also tend to improve the conditions of financial firms. Similarly, actions to support financial institutions and markets can help achieve the central bank’s monetary policy objectives by improving credit flows and enhancing monetary policy transmission, he added … * WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--President Barack Obama continued his assault on big banks Tuesday, comparing them with polluters and offshore drillers. “You can’t pretend that creating dirtier air and water for our kids and fewer people on health care and less accountability on Wall Street is a jobs plan,” Obama said. “I think more teachers in the classroom is a jobs plan; more construction workers rebuilding our schools is a jobs plan; tax cuts for small business owners and working families is a jobs plan.” Obama has singled out Wall Street in other instances in recent weeks (American Banker Oct. 19). During a press conference earlier this month, he used Wall Street as an example of an institution that does not follow rules. He also singled out Bank of America Corp., after the company announced it will charge a $5 monthly fee for debit card use, as an example of why the U.S. needs stronger consumer protection … * WASHINGTON (10/20/11)--The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) on Wednesday announced that it will incorporate the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) information into its 2012 annual Median Family Income (MFI) data. MFI data is used by Federal financial agencies to compile Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) examinations analyses, the FFIEC said. That group also announced it would incorporate 2010 American Community Survey data into the FFIEC-published census data file…