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On September 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant mortgage servicer, holding that a jury could find the defendant “willfully and negligently” violated the FCRA by incorrectly reporting a past due account status to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) for over a year after the plaintiff’s mortgage loan was discharged in bankruptcy. The plaintiff discovered the loan was being mis-reported as past due when he checked his credit score in advance of buying a car and found it to be lower than expected. The plaintiff disputed the tradeline, and the CRAs forwarded his dispute to the mortgage servicer. In response to the dispute, the servicer changed the plaintiff’s account status from past due to “no status”—which meant the status had not changed from the prior month—and continued reporting it to the CRAs.
The plaintiff sued the servicer for violating the FCRA, claiming the defendant knew the loan had been discharged but still reported it as past due for more than a year. The defendant countered, among other things, that because the plaintiff “chose not to apply for a car loan” he could not prove that he was harmed by negligence due to the mis-reporting. The district court ultimately ruled that (i) the plaintiff did not have standing to allege a negligent violation of the FCRA, and (ii) no “reasonable jury” would find that the defendant had willfully violated the statute.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit disagreed, finding that the plaintiff had standing to assert a negligence claim under FCRA and that a reasonable jury could find a negligent and willful violation. The court pointed out that the plaintiff’s credit score increased by almost 100 points once the tradeline was removed, suggesting the servicer’s mis-reporting did harm the plaintiff and gave him standing to sue in negligence. The court also found the defendant “knew that [the plaintiff’s] loan had been discharged but for more than a year told the credit-reporting agencies that the loan was past due. A jury could therefore find that [the defendant] was either incompetent or willful in its failure to correct its reports sooner.” The 6th Circuit added that the defendant’s implementation of policies to guide its analysts through resolving credit disputes “hardly disproves as a matter of law that [the defendant] acted willfully.” The court held the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.
On August 16, the CFPB entered into a preliminary settlement with a debt collection entity, its subsidiaries, and their owner (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly violating the FCRA, FDCPA, and the CFPA, resolving a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FCRA and its implementing Regulation V by, among other things, failing to (i) establish or implement reasonable written policies and procedures to ensure accurate reporting to consumer-reporting agencies; (ii) incorporate appropriate guidelines for the handling of indirect disputes in its policies and procedures; (iii) conduct reasonable investigations and review relevant information when handling indirect disputes; and (iv) furnish information about accounts after receiving identity theft reports about such accounts without conducting an investigation into the accuracy of the information. The Bureau separately alleges that the violations of the FCRA and Regulation V constitute violations of the CFPA. Additionally, the Bureau alleges that the defendants violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect on debts without a reasonable basis to believe that consumers owed those debts. Under the terms of the proposed stipulated final judgment and order, the defendants are required to, among other things: (i) establish, modify, update, and implement policies and procedures on the accuracy of information furnished to consumer reporting agencies; (ii) establish internal controls to identify activities that may compromise the accuracy or integrity of information; (iii) establish an identity theft report review program; and (iv) retain an independent consultant to review the defendant’s furnishing of consumer information and debt collection activities in addition to provide recommendations. The proposed order also imposes a civil money penalty of $850,000.
On November 12, the CFPB released its latest quarterly consumer credit trends report on the prevalence of actual payment information in consumer credit reporting, concluding that actual payment furnishing for installment loan products has increased steadily between 2012 and 2020 while actual payment furnishing for credit card and retail revolving accounts has declined significantly. Specifically, the Bureau found that, between 2012 and 2020, shares of auto loan, student loan, and mortgage tradelines with actual payment amount information trended upward with over 90 percent of such tradelines reporting actual payment amount information by March 2020. In contrast, shares of revolving and credit card tradelines reporting actual payment data significantly declined over the same time period, falling from 95 percent to 71 percent and from 88 percent to 40 percent respectively. The Bureau also found that, for the nation’s largest credit card issuers, the decision to furnish actual payment information appears to be a binary one, with the issuers either furnishing actual payment information for nearly all accounts or not furnishing such information at all. As of 2020, only half of the nation’s largest credit card issuers furnished actual payment data for their accounts, down from 70 percent in 2013. The Bureau theorizes that the decline in reporting of actual payment data for both revolving and credit card accounts may reflect attempts to prevent account poaching by competitors.
On August 24, the FTC announced several Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) intended to clarify that five Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) rules promulgated by the FTC will now apply only to motor vehicle dealers. The NPRMs also propose non-substantive amendments to correspond to changes made to the FCRA by the Dodd-Frank Act, and will apply to the following rules:
- Address Discrepancy Rule. This rule requires users of consumer reports to implement policies and procedures for, among other things, handling notices of address discrepancy received from a nationwide consumer reporting agency (CRA) and furnishing an address for a consumer that a “user has reasonably confirmed as accurate to the CRA from whom it received the notice.” The proposed amendments narrow the scope of the rule to motor vehicle dealers excluded from CFPB jurisdiction.
- Affiliate Marketing Rule. This rule provides consumers the right to restrict a person from using certain information obtained from an affiliate to make solicitations to the consumer. While the proposed amendments narrow the scope of the rule to “motor vehicle dealers” excluded from CFPB jurisdiction, they retain the substantive provisions of the rule because they “addresses the relationship between covered motor vehicle dealers and their affiliates, which may not be motor vehicle dealers.”
- Furnisher Rule. Under this rule, furnishers are required to implement policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the consumer information they provide to a CRA. The amendments propose changes including narrowing the rule’s scope to entities set forth in Dodd-Frank “that are predominantly engaged in the sale and servicing of motor vehicles, excluding those dealers that directly extend credit to consumers and do not routinely assign the extensions of credit to an unaffiliated third party.”
- Prescreen Opt-Out Notice Rule. This rule outlines requirements for those who use consumer reports to make unsolicited credit or insurance offers to consumers. The proposed amendments will narrow the scope of the rule to cover only motor vehicle dealers. The model form is unchanged from the previous model notice and is identical to the model notice used by the CFPB.
- Risk-Based Pricing Rule. Under this rule persons that use information from a consumer report to offer less favorable terms are required to provide a risk-based pricing notice to consumers about the use of such data. Under the proposed amendments, only motor vehicle dealers will be required to comply.
The FTC seeks feedback on the effectiveness of the five rules, including (i) whether there exists a continuing need for each rule’s specific provisions; (ii) what benefits have been provided to consumers under each rule; and (iii) should modifications be made to each rule in order to benefit consumers and businesses or to account for changes in relevant technology or economic conditions.
Comments are due 75 days after the NPRMs are published in the Federal Register.
On August 20, the CFPB announced a settlement with a national bank, resolving allegations that the bank violated the EFTA, CFPA, and FCRA through the marketing and sale of its optional overdraft service. According to the consent order, the bank violated the EFTA and Regulation E by enrolling customers who orally consented to the bank’s optional overdraft program without first providing the customers with written notice, and subsequently charged those customers overdraft fees. The bank also allegedly engaged in abusive practices by, among other things, (i) requiring new customers to sign its optional overdraft notice with the “enrolled” option pre-checked without first providing written notice or, in certain instances, without mentioning the optional overdraft service to the customer at all; (ii) enrolling new customers in the optional overdraft service without requesting their oral enrollment decision; and (iii) deliberately obscuring, or attempting to obscure, the overdraft notice “to prevent a new customer’s review of their pre-marked ‘enrolled’ status” in the optional overdraft service. The CFPB also asserted the bank engaged in deceptive practices by marketing the optional overdraft service as a “free” service or benefit, downplaying the associated fees and disclosures, and by suggesting that the overdraft service was a “‘feature’ or ‘package’ that ‘comes with’ all new consumer-checking accounts, rather than as an option that new customers must opt in to.” However, the bank actually charged customers $35 for each overdraft transaction paid through the service, the CFPB alleged.
With respect to the alleged FCRA and Regulation V furnishing violations, the CFPB claimed the bank failed to establish and implement policies and procedures concerning the accuracy and integrity of the consumer-account information it furnished to two nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies (NSCRAs). The bank also allegedly failed to implement policies or procedures for investigating customer disputes related to the furnished information, failed to timely investigate certain indirect customer disputes concerning its furnishing to one of the NSCRAs, and instructed customers who called to dispute furnished information to contact the NSCRA instead of submitting a direct dispute to the bank.
Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to provide approximately $97 million in restitution to roughly 1.42 million consumers and pay a $25 million civil money penalty. The bank has also agreed to (i) correct its optional overdraft service enrollment practices; (ii) stop using pre-marked overdraft notices to obtain affirmative consent from customers; (iii) provide current customers who have remained enrolled in the optional overdraft service with enrollment status details and instructions on how to unenroll from the service; and (iv) establish policies and procedures designed to ensure its furnishing practices comply with the FCRA.
On June 23, the CFPB announced a settlement with several contract for deed companies to resolve allegations that the defendants violated the FCRA and its implementing Regulation V, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Act, by, among other things, misrepresenting to consumers the necessary steps to resolve consumer-reporting complaints. Specifically, the CFPB’s investigation revealed that the defendants allegedly told consumers who complained about errors on their consumer reports that they had to file a dispute with the consumer reporting agency, even though Regulation V requires furnishers to investigate written disputes and contact the applicable consumer reporting agency to resolve any errors. According to the CFPB, this was inaccurate as a matter of law and a deceptive practice. In addition, the CFPB claimed that one defendant failed to implement policies and procedures required by Regulation V to protect the accuracy and integrity of furnished consumer information.
Under the terms of the consent order, the defendants will collectively pay a total of $35,000 in civil money penalties and have agreed not to “misrepresent or assist others in misrepresenting, expressly or impliedly, how consumers can initiate disputes concerning their consumer reports.”
On April 28, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, along with the attorneys general of 19 other states and the District of Columbia sent letters to the three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) stating their intention to protect consumer credit and ensure fair and accurate reporting on consumer credit reports during the Covid-19 crisis. The letter calls attention to the obligations of the CRAs under the FCRA and state credit-reporting laws and further states that the attorneys general intend to enforce compliance of all related requirements. Notwithstanding the CFPB’s announcement that it will ease the FCRA’s 30 or 45-day time restrictions for CRAs to investigate consumer complaints, the letter insists that the attorneys general will enforce the FCRA deadlines. Pursuant to the CARES Act amendment of the FCRA—which requires that consumer accounts be reported by furnishers as current if the consumer was current prior to the grant of a CARES Act accommodation—the letter asserts that its signors will actively monitor for compliance to this amendment. Finally, the letter expresses appreciation for the CRAs’ compliance and cooperation.
On April 27, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) sent letters to the same CRAs also urging the agencies to protect consumer credit reports by complying with the CARES Act amendment to the FCRA. In addition, the Senators request that the CRAs reply to six questions included in the letters to assist the Senators in understanding all efforts the CRAs are taking to protect consumer credit scores during the Covid-19 crisis.
CFPB plans credit reporting supervisory flexibility during Covid-19 pandemic, contingent on accurate reporting
On April 1, the CFPB issued a policy statement directed at consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and furnishers. Taking into consideration the Covid-19 pandemic, the statement explains that the Bureau will take a “flexible supervisory and enforcement approach during this pandemic regarding compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act [(FCRA)] and Regulation V.” The Bureau states that it will be flexible with CRAs and furnishers by refraining from taking enforcement actions and citing during exams in certain situations. Two examples of when the Bureau will be flexible include: (i) furnishers that continue to furnish accurate data to CRAs, including regarding payment relief arrangements (the Bureau notes that the CARES Act obliges furnishers to report consumer accounts as current when furnishers grant payment accommodations requested by consumers impacted by Covid-19); and (ii) CRAs and furnishers that make good faith efforts to investigate consumer disputes but take longer than the FCRA-prescribed 30 days. The statement notes that “the continued operation of the consumer reporting system…will enable consumers, as well as lenders, insurers, employers and other consumer report users, to maintain confidence in the consumer reporting system.”
On January 27, the Michigan governor signed HB 4411, which establishes provisions for credit service organizations. Among other things, HB 4411 prohibits persons engaged in credit service activities from (i) charging or receiving money from a buyer seeking a loan, extension of credit, or other valuable consideration before closing; (ii) charging a buyer or receiving from a buyer money or other valuable consideration before completing all agreed upon services, or “for referral to a retail seller that will or may extend credit to the buyer if the credit that is or may be extended to the buyer is substantially the same as that available to the general public”; (iii) making or using false or misleading representations, or engaging in a fraudulent or deceptive act or practice connected with the offer or sale of a credit services organization, stating that the organization has the ability to delete adverse credit history, or guaranteeing that the organization can obtain an extension of credit regardless of the buyer’s credit history; (iv) failing to perform the agreed upon services within 90 days after the contract is signed by the buyer; (v) advising a buyer to make untrue or misleading statements to certain entities, including a consumer credit reporting agency; (vi) assisting in the removal of adverse credit information that is accurate and not obsolete, or assisting a buyer in creating a new credit record using alternative personal information; and (vii) submitting buyer disputes to consumer credit reporting agencies without a buyer’s knowledge. The act is effective immediately.
On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling that a bank was not obligated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to investigate a credit reporting error because the consumers failed to ever notify a consumer reporting agency. According to the opinion, after plaintiffs paid off their line of credit, the bank (defendant) continued reporting the plaintiff as delinquent on the account. After plaintiffs contacted the bank regarding the reporting error, the bank employee ensured plaintiffs that the defendant submitted amendments to the credit reporting bureaus to correct the situation. However, the plaintiffs claimed the error was not corrected until almost a year later. Plaintiffs also alleged that they did not contact the credit reporting bureau in reliance on the bank employee’s statements. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the bank, concluding that the FCRA requires that notification of a credit dispute be provided to a consumer reporting agency as a prerequisite for a claim that a furnisher failed to investigate the dispute. Since the plaintiffs failed to trigger the defendant’s FCRA obligations because they never filed a dispute with a consumer reporting agency, the defendant’s responsibility to investigate was never activated.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit agreed with the district court that direct notification to the furnisher of the inaccurate credit report does not meet the FCRA’s prerequisite. Additionally, the plaintiffs’ state common law claims for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing and tortious interference with contractual relationships were preempted by the FCRA, and their fraudulent misrepresentation claim was forfeited on appeal.
- Buckley Webcast: Best practices for incident-response planning in a dangerous and regulated world
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: California debt collection license requirement: Overview and analysis
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Regulators are gearing up: Are you ready?” at HousingWire Annual
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Elizabeth E. McGinn discuss “U.S. state privacy legislation – Are you compliant?” at the Privacy+Security Forum
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek