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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB issues two opinions that stress FCRA compliance for consumer reporting companies

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Reporting

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

On January 11, the CFPB issued two advisory opinions to consumer reporting companies, reminding them of FCRA obligations. The first advisory opinion addresses background screening companies and inaccuracies that appear on consumer reports. The CFPB highlights how some consumer reporting companies will use a disposition date to start the seven-year reporting period for records of arrests and other non-conviction record information, instead of “date of entry,” resulting in consumer reports including older information than FCRA permits.

Consumer reporting companies must begin the seven-year time limit for criminal charges from the time of the original charge if a person is found not guilty. The CFPB added that inaccurate consumer reports can impact consumer access to employment and housing, and they require consumers to engage in a lengthy process to correct inaccuracies. This advisory opinion underscores that consumer reporting agencies must employ reasonable procedures to ensure accurate reporting, in line with FCRA obligations. Additionally, when reporting public record information, companies should avoid duplicative or legally restricted data and include disposition information for arrests, charges, or court filings.

The second advisory opinion addresses file disclosure obligations under the FCRA and clarifies that consumers can trigger a consumer reporting agency’s file disclosure requirement without using specific language like “complete file.” The opinion further confirms that consumer reporting companies must disclose both the original source and all intermediary or vendor sources that have furnished information to the CRA. To meet FCRA standards, a file disclosure must be understandable to the average consumer, helping them identify inaccuracies, dispute incomplete or incorrect information, and understand the impact of adverse information. The FCRA requires consumer reporting companies to provide a disclosure reflecting the information given or potentially given to a user, including presenting criminal history information in the format seen by users, enabling consumers to check for inaccuracies and dispute any errors.

The CFPB interprets the requirement to disclose “all information in the consumer’s file,” to include information that formed the basis of any summarized information that a CRA provided to a user. The CFPB also warns that the FCRA stipulates that “‘any person who willfully fails to comply with any requirement imposed under this title with respect to any consumer is liable to that consumer in an amount equal to’ actual or statutory damages” up to $1,000 per violation, punitive damages as determined by the court, and associated costs and reasonable attorney's fees.