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  • CFPB report on credit bureaus hints at rulemaking

    Federal Issues

    On January 3, the CFPB released its annual report, pursuant to Section 611(e)(5) of the FCRA, on information gathered by the Bureau regarding certain consumer complaints on the three largest nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). According to the report, the Bureau received 488,000 consumer complaints about the CRAs from October 2021 through September 2022. The Bureau’s analysis revealed that 93 percent of consumers reported having previously attempted to fix their problem with the company. The report also noted that the use of problematic response types has decreased, and most complaints now receive “more substantive and tailored” responses. The report found that most responses from the CRAs describe the outcomes of consumers’ complaints. The Bureau highlighted areas that the CRAs should prioritize given the “challenges facing market participants and policy makers,” including: (i) considering consumer burden when implementing automated processes; (ii) recognizing how current processes will need to evolve in light of new technologies that can generate similar-sounding complaints that are in fact unique; and (iii) considering how to transition the market from control and surveillance to consumer participation. According to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, the Bureau “will be exploring new rules to ensure that [the CRAs] are following the law, rather than cutting corners to fuel their profit model.”

    Federal Issues Credit Reporting Agency CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Report FCRA

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  • CFPB, FTC say furnishers’ investigative duties extend to legal disputes

    Courts

    On December 16, the CFPB and FTC filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit concerning two related FCRA cases in support of plaintiffs-appellants and reversal of their suits involving a defendant hotel chain’s summary judgments. Both cases involve the same defendant company. In one case, the plaintiff entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant for a property and made monthly payments for approximately three years. When the defendant stopped making payments, the plaintiff mailed the defendant letters that disputed the validity of, and purported to rescind, the agreement, while permitting the defendant to retain all prior payments as liquidated damages. The plaintiff obtained a copy of his credit report from a credit reporting agency (CRA), which stated that he had an open account with the defendant with a past-due balance. In three letters to the CRA, the plaintiff disputed the credit reporting. The letters stated that the plaintiff had terminated his agreement with the defendant and that he did not owe a balance. After the CRA communicated each dispute to the defendant, the defendant certified that the information for the defendant’s account was accurate. The plaintiff sued alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it verified the accuracy of his credit report without conducting reasonable investigations following receipt of his indirect disputes. The defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging, among other things, that the plaintiff’s claim that he was not contractually obligated to make the payments to the defendant that are reported on his credit report as being due “is inherently a legal dispute and is not actionable under the FCRA.” The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.

    In the other case, the plaintiff entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant. She made a down payment and the first three installment payments, but did not make any additional payments. The plaintiff sent letters to the defendant disputing the validity of, and attempted to cancel, the agreement. The defendant reported the plaintiff’s delinquency to the CRA. In three letters to the CRA, the plaintiff disputed the credit reporting. After the CRA communicated the disputes to the defendant, the defendant determined there was no inaccuracy in the reporting. The plaintiff sued alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it verified the accuracy of her credit report without conducting reasonable investigations following receipt of her indirect disputes about credit reporting inaccuracies. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.

    The CFPB and FTC argued in favor of the plaintiffs-appellants. According to the agencies, furnishers’ duty under the FCRA to reasonably investigate applies not only to factual disputes, but also to disputes that can be labeled as legal in nature. The agencies made three arguments to support their contention. First, a reasonable investigation is required under the FCRA to comport with its goal to “protect consumers from the transmission of inaccurate information about them.” The agencies argued that reasonableness is case specific, but it can “be evaluated by how thoroughly the furnisher investigated the dispute (e.g., how well its conclusion is supported by the information it considered or reasonably could have considered).”

    Second, the agencies argued that Congress did not intend to exclude disputes that involve legal questions. The FCRA describes the types of indirect disputes that furnishers need to investigate, which are “those that dispute ‘the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer’s file.’” The agencies said nothing suggests that Congress intended to exclude information that is inaccurate on account of legal issues. Furthermore, the agencies noted that a lot of “inaccuracies in consumer reports could be characterized as legal, which would create an exception that would swallow the rule.” Consumer reports generally include information regarding an individual’s debt obligations, which are generally creatures of contract. Therefore, “many inaccurate representations pertaining to an individual’s debt obligations arguably could be characterized as legal inaccuracies, given that determining the truth or falsity of the representation could require the reading of a contract.”

    Lastly, the agencies argued that an “atextual exception for legal inaccuracies would create a loophole that could swallow the reasonable investigation rule.” The agencies urged that “[g]iven the difficulty in distinguishing ‘legal’ from ‘factual’ disputes,” the court “should hold that there is no exemption in the FCRA’s reasonable investigation requirement for legal questions” because it would “curtail the reach of the FCRA’s investigation requirement in a way that runs counter to the purpose of the provision to require meaningful investigation to ensure accuracy on credit reports.”

    Courts CFPB FTC Amicus Brief Credit Furnishing Appellate Eleventh Circuit Credit Report Credit Reporting Agency Dispute Resolution Consumer Finance FCRA

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  • CFPB issues fall supervisory highlights

    Federal Issues

    On November 15, the CFPB released its fall 2022 Supervisory Highlights, which summarizes its supervisory and enforcement actions between January and June 2022 in the areas of auto servicing, consumer reporting, credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, mortgage origination, mortgage servicing, and payday lending. Highlights of the findings include:

    • Auto Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances of servicers engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices connected to add-on product charges, loan modifications, double billing, use of devices that interfered with driving, collection tactics, and payment allocation. For instance, examiners identified occurrences where consumers paid off their loans early, but servicers failed to ensure consumers received refunds for unearned fees related to add-on products.
    • Consumer Reporting. The Bureau found deficiencies in credit reporting companies’ (CRCs) compliance with FCRA dispute investigation requirements and furnishers’ compliance with FCRA and Regulation V accuracy and dispute investigation requirements. Examples include: (i) NCRCs that failed to report the outcome of complaint reviews to the Bureau; (ii) furnishers that failed to send updated information to CRCs following a determination that the information reported was not complete or accurate; and (iii) furnishers’ policies and procedures that contained deficiencies related to the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.
    • Credit Card Account Management. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation Z related to billing error resolution, including instances where creditors failed to (i) resolve disputes within two complete billing cycles after receiving a billing error notice; (ii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices due to human errors and system weaknesses; and (iii) provide explanations to consumers after determining that no billing error occurred or that a different billing error occurred from that asserted. Examiners also identified Regulation Z violations where credit card issuers improperly mixed original factors and acquisition factors when reevaluating accounts subject to a rate increase, and identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
    • Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA violations where debt collectors engaged in conduct that harassed, oppressed, or abused the person with whom they were communicating. The report findings also discussed instances where debt collectors communicated with a person other than the consumer about the consumer’s debt when the person had a name similar or identical to the consumer, in violation of the FDCPA.
    • Deposits. The Bureau discussed how it conducted prioritized assessments to evaluate how financial institutions handled pandemic relief benefits deposited into consumer accounts. Examiners identified unfairness risks at multiple institutions due to policies and procedures that may have resulted in, among other things, (i) garnishing protected economic impact payments funds in violation of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021; or (ii) failing to apply the appropriate state exemptions to certain consumers’ deposit accounts after receiving garnishment notice.
    • Mortgage Origination. Bureau examiners identified Regulation Z violations and deceptive acts or practices prohibited by the CFPA. An example of this is when the settlement service had been performed and the loan originator knew the actual costs of those service, but entered a cost that was completely unrelated to the actual charges that the loan originator knew had been incurred, resulting in information being entered that was not consistent with the best information reasonably available. The Bureau also found that the waiver language in some loan security agreements was misleading, and that a reasonable consumer could understand the provision to waive their right to bring a class action on any claim in federal court.
    • Mortgage Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances where servicers engaged in abusive acts or practices by charging sizable fees for phone payments when consumers were unaware of those fees. Examiners also identified unfair acts or practices and Regulation X policy and procedure violations regarding failure to provide consumers with CARES Act forbearances.
    • Payday Lending. Examiners found lenders failed to maintain records of call recordings necessary to demonstrate full compliance with conduct provisions in consent orders generally prohibiting certain misrepresentations.

    Federal Issues CFPB Supervision Examination UDAAP Auto Lending CFPA Consumer Finance Consumer Reporting Credit Report FCRA Regulation V Credit Furnishing Credit Cards Regulation Z Debt Collection FDCPA Mortgages Deposits Prepaid Accounts Covid-19 CARES Act

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  • FHFA announces validation of FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 for GSE use

    Federal Issues

    On October 24, FHFA announced the validation and approval of both the FICO 10T credit score model and the VantageScore 4.0 credit score model for use by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). The agency also announced that the GSEs will require two credit reports from the national consumer reporting agencies, rather than three. According to the announcement, FHFA expects implementation of FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 to be a multiyear effort, but once in place, lenders will be required to deliver both FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 credit scores with each loan sold to the GSEs. FHFA noted that FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 are more accurate than the classic FICO model because they include payment history for factors like rent, utilities, and telecommunications. FHFA also released a Fact Sheet on the newly approved models, which “will improve accuracy, strengthen access to credit, and enhance safety and soundness.”

    Federal Issues FHFA FICO Credit Scores Consumer Finance GSEs Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Credit Report Consumer Reporting Agency

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  • 7th Circuit: Plaintiff lacks standing to bring FCRA claim on credit report disputes

    Courts

    On October 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of an FCRA action in favor of a defendant bank. According to the opinion, the plaintiff real estate investor obtained a loan secured by a mortgage from the defendant bank. The mortgage required the plaintiff to maintain a certain level of hazard insurance or the defendant bank could lender-place such insurance, with the cost of the lender-placed insurance amounts becoming additional debt secured by the mortgage. After the plaintiff underpaid on his flood insurance premiums, the defendant bank obtained lender-placed insurance. When the plaintiff did not pay the increased monthly payment associated with the lender-placed insurance amounts in full, the defendant bank informed the plaintiff that he was in default and that the entire amount of the loan would be accelerated if the default was not cured. While the plaintiff continued to submit partial payments, the defendant began reporting certain 2011 payments as 60 days or more late to the credit reporting agencies (CRAs). In 2012, the plaintiff disputed these purportedly late payments with the CRAs.

    The plaintiff sued claiming, among other things, that the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to responsibly investigate the 2012 disputes. On appeal, after determining that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to rely on unsupported statements in the plaintiff's affidavit, the 7th Circuit found that the district court erred in requiring the plaintiff to prove damages as an element of his FCRA claim. However, the appellate court held that the plaintiff ultimately lacked standing to bring a claim under the FCRA because, as the appellate court highlighted, the injury that the plaintiff alleged—a decrease in his credit score in November 2011—could not be fairly traced to the defendant’s alleged action—a failure to reasonably investigate credit reporting disputes in January 2012.

    Courts Appellate Seventh Circuit FCRA Force-placed Insurance Credit Reporting Agency Credit Report Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB opines on junk data in credit reports

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On October 20, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion, Fair Credit Reporting; Facially False Data, as part of a series of actions being taken by the Bureau to ensure consumer reporting companies comply with consumer financial protection laws. The advisory opinion emphasizes, among other things, that “a consumer reporting agency that does not implement reasonable internal controls to prevent the inclusion of facially false data, including logically inconsistent information, in consumer reports it prepares is not using reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy under section 607(b) of the [FCRA].” According to the Bureau, consumer reporting companies are legally required to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of information that they collect and report. As part of that requirement, companies must implement policies and procedures to screen for and eliminate junk data, including being able to detect and remove inconsistent account information and information that cannot be accurate. Additionally, companies’ internal controls must also be able to identify and prevent reporting of illegitimate credit transactions for a minor.

    For more details on the CFPB’s advisory opinion program, please see InfoBytes coverage here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Junk Fees FCRA Credit Report Credit Furnishing Consumer Finance

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  • District Court rules FCRA allegation filed before expiration of 30-day investigation period is not ripe

    Courts

    On October 14, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina adopted a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation to grant summary judgment in favor of a defendant accused of violating the FCRA. According to the plaintiff’s amended complaint, the plaintiff opened a loan with the defendant and later entered into a modified agreement that reduced his monthly payments and the future projected balance. He later noticed that his credit report showed (i) the reported balance for his account to be higher than it should have been under the terms of the modified agreement, and (ii) three months of late payments. The plaintiff filed a dispute with the credit reporting agency (CRA) arguing, among other things, that the balance was being misstated. The plaintiff filed another dispute with the CRA regarding the late payments. Plaintiff filed the instant action before the end of the 30-day investigation period for disputes regarding the late payments. The magistrate judge recommended summary judgment be granted to defendant related to claims alleging violation of Section1681s-2b for both (i) the claim predicated on the restated balance, and (ii) the claim predicted on the late payments, but for different reasons. The “late payment” claim “was not ripe when the action was filed” because the 30-day investigation period had not yet expired when the plaintiff filed his amended complaint. For the “restated balance” claim, the magistrate judge’s report found that the parties had a genuine legal dispute over their interpretations of the modified agreement—whether the balance due should be reduced at the time of the modification agreement or at the end of the modification term, which was not a factual inaccuracy: “the Report found violations of 15 U.S.C. 1681a-2(b) must be based on factual inaccuracies, not legal disputes, and as Plaintiff bases his claim on a legal dispute, he cannot prevail on his FCRA claim.”  This district court agreed noting that the plaintiff did not appear to object to the legal determination that “as a matter of a law a violation of a §1681s-2(b) could not be based on a legal dispute over the terms of a contract[.]” The report also noted that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he is entitled to actual damages—a requirement for a negligent violation of the FCRA—nor did he show that the defendant willfully violated the FCRA in order to be entitled to statutory or punitive damages. The district court agreed with the report and recommendations and dismissed the case with prejudice.

    Courts FCRA Dispute Resolution Consumer Reporting Agency Consumer Finance Credit Report

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  • House subcommittee asks CFPB to review CRAs' handling of consumer disputes

    Federal Issues

    On October 13, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis James E. Clyburn sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra addressing reports that nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) were less responsive to consumer complaints and disputes related to credit report errors during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Clyburn, investigative reports allegedly revealed that the CRAs, which are legally obligated to address errors contained in consumer credit reports, did not always investigate these disputes and purportedly used “broad and speculative criteria” to determine whether a dispute was submitted by an unauthorized third party. The letter also expressed concerns that the CRAs’ alleged “overreliance on data furnishers” raises questions about the sufficiency of the CRAs’ dispute investigations, and that, moreover, using different levels of automation to resolve disputes and complaints is creating variability in the quality and thoroughness of their investigations. Clyburn expressed concerns that by failing to investigate certain legitimate disputes, identify and correct erroneous information, or provide the Bureau with information on the outcomes of the complaint investigations, the CRAs may be failing to meet their obligations under the FCRA. He asked Chopra to review the CRAs for possible statutory violations and to “consider investigating whether the CRAs have made sufficient revisions to their procedures for identifying and taking corrective action against unreliable furnishers.”

    Federal Issues U.S. House CFPB Consumer Reporting Agency Consumer Finance Dispute Resolution Credit Report Covid-19 FCRA

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  • District Court grants partial summary judgment to debt collector in credit reporting and debt collection action

    Courts

    On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland partially granted a defendant debt collector’s motion for summary judgment in a credit reporting and debt collection action. The plaintiff disputed debt related to two electric bills for two different residences that were eventually combined into one account. After the plaintiff informed the electric company that she would not be paying the bill, the debt was eventually referred for collection to the defendant. The plaintiff disputed the debt, and the defendant conducted an investigation. The plaintiff continued to contend that the defendant was certifying the debt without proof and claimed the defendant’s agents called her a liar and incorrectly asserted that she had not made payments. The defendant argued that it was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s FCRA and FDCPA claims, contending, among other things, that FCRA 1681e(b) “expressly applies to [credit reporting agencies] and not to furnishers.”

    The court first reviewed the plaintiff’s FCRA claims as to whether the defendant conducted a reasonable investigation. The court stated that the plaintiff bore the burden to establish whether the defendant failed to conduct a reasonable investigation, and noted that because she failed to provide certain evidence to the defendant “there is no genuine dispute that the investigation conducted by [defendant] was not unreasonable” or that the defendant reported accurate information to the CRAs about the debt. With respect to some of the FDCPA claims, the court denied the defendant summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff created a genuine dispute about whether the defendant violated § 1692d (the provision prohibiting a debt collector from engaging in harassment or abuse). According to the opinion, evidence suggests that the defendant’s agents incorrectly informed the plaintiff that she had never made a payment on one of the accounts, called her a liar when she protested this information, and used a “demeaning tone” in their communications. “[A] reasonable jury could conclude that the language would have the natural consequence of abusing a consumer relatively more susceptible to harassment, oppression, or abuse,” the court wrote.

    Additionally, the court ruled on Maryland state law claims introduced in the plaintiff’s opposition to summary judgment. The court ruled against her Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act claim regarding the alleged use of abusive language, writing that the agents were not “grossly abusive” and that the plaintiff failed to generate a genuine dispute on this issue. Nor did the plaintiff show a genuine dispute as to whether the debt was inaccurate or that the defendant knew the debt was invalid. The court also entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff’s Maryland Consumer Protection Act and Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act claims.

    Courts FCRA FDCPA Consumer Finance State Issues Maryland Debt Collection Credit Report

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  • FTC, CFPB say furnishers must investigate indirect disputes

    Federal Issues

    On September 13, the FTC and CFPB (agencies) filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, seeking the reversal of a district court decision that held furnishers of credit information are only obligated to investigate “bona fide” indirect disputes and may choose to decline to investigate other indirect disputes raised by consumers that are deemed frivolous. The agencies argued that this “atextual, judge-made exception” could undermine a key FCRA protection that allows consumers to dispute and correct inaccurate information in their credit reports, leading to a likely increase in consumer complaints related to credit reporting inaccuracies. Under the FCRA, consumers may file a direct dispute with a furnisher or file an indirect dispute with a consumer reporting agency (CRA), which may refer the dispute to the furnisher.

    The case involves a direct dispute submitted by a plaintiff to a cable company, requesting an investigation into an allegedly fraudulent delinquent account listed on his credit report. The plaintiff informed the cable company that he was a victim of identity theft and that the account was opened in his name without his authorization. The cable company eventually referred the account to a debt collector (defendant) for collection after the plaintiff failed to provide requested information showing his account was opened due to fraud. An indirect dispute was later filed by the plaintiff with the CRA, which in turn sent the dispute to the defendant as the furnisher of the allegedly inaccurate information. After a second indirect dispute was filed noting the allegedly fraudulent account was the subject of litigation, the defendant removed the account from the plaintiff’s credit report and ceased collections. The plaintiff sued, asserting claims under the FCRA, FDCPA, and Pennsylvania law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, ruling that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence substantiating the basis of his dispute, and that “a furnisher is obligated to investigate only ‘bona fide’ indirect disputes and may therefore decline to investigate any indirect dispute it deems frivolous.” 

    In urging the appellate court to overturn the decision, the agencies countered in their amicus brief that the text of the FCRA is unambiguous—“furnishers must investigate all indirect disputes.” Nothing in the text suggests that a furnisher can choose not to investigate an indirect dispute if it determines it to be frivolous, the agencies stressed, further noting that if Congress intended to “create an exception for frivolous disputes, it knew how to do so,” and that in other parts of the statute Congress expressly provided that certain frivolous disputes do not need to be investigated.

    The amicus brief also pointed out that under the FCRA, consumers are entitled to be notified about the outcome of their disputes, as well as given an opportunity to cure any deficiencies. The district court holding, the agencies said, would circumvent these requirements, thereby undercutting a central remedy under the FCRA that ensures consumers are able to dispute and correct inaccurate information in their credit reports. If furnishers were able to ignore disputes referred to them by CRAs, it could open an unintended loophole that would allow disputes to disappear “into a proverbial black hole,” the agencies asserted, emphasizing that if the district court’s interpretation is affirmed, consumers who submit an indirect dispute that is deemed frivolous by a furnisher may never receive any notice of that determination, and therefore, may never be able to cure any deficiencies or correct erroneous information in their credit reports.

    The agencies also challenged whether the exception created by the district court’s ruling is necessary, as the FCRA already provides protections to furnishers from investigating frivolous disputes. Specifically, the statute allows CRAs to determine if a dispute a frivolous before forwarding a dispute to the furnisher. Moreover, furnishers “are not required to conduct an unreasonably onerous investigation into a conclusory or unsubstantiated dispute,” the agencies explained, stating that whether a furnisher has satisfied its obligation to conduct a reasonable investigation is normally a fact-intensive question for trial.

    The Bureau noted in an accompanying blog post that it has also filed several other amicus briefs in other pending FCRA cases (previously covered by InfoBytes here) related to consumer reporting obligations.

    Federal Issues Courts Appellate Third Circuit CFPB FTC Consumer Finance Credit Report Credit Furnishing Dispute Resolution FCRA

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