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On August 27, the CFPB denied a petition by an auto financing company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in June. The CID requested information from the company to determine, among other things, “whether auto lenders or associated persons, in connection with originating auto loans (including marketing and selling products ancillary to such loans), servicing loans, collecting debts (including through repossessing vehicles), or consumer reporting” may have violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s UDAAP provisions, as well as the FCRA and TILA. The company petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID. Among other things, the company argued that because certain aspects of the CID do not fall within a “reasonable construction of the CID’s notification of purpose,” and thus failed to provide fair notice as to what the Bureau is investigating, the CID should be “modified to strike each of these requests or clearly confine them to the enumerated topics.”
The Bureau rejected the company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, countering that (i) the particular requests that the company objects to are “all reasonably relevant to the Bureau’s inquiry as described in the notification of purpose,” and that the company cannot rewrite the CID’s notification of purpose to describe only four specific topics and then argue that the Bureau is asking for irrelevant information; and (ii) the Bureau has broad authority to seek information that may be “reasonably relevant” to an investigation, and that the Bureau’s “own appraisal of relevancy must be accepted so long as it is not obviously wrong.” According to the Bureau, the company failed to overcome this “high hurdle established in the judicial precedent.” However, the Bureau granted the company’s request for confidential treatment of its petition and attached exhibits by agreeing to redact certain proprietary business information and confidential supervisory information.
On September 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s FCRA claims against two consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), holding that omitting a favorable credit item does not render a credit report misleading. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit after the CRAs stopped reporting a favorable item—a timely paid credit card account—and refused to restore it, alleging that the refusal to include the item on his consumer report violated section 1681e(b), which requires CRAs to follow “reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” of consumer information. As a result, the plaintiff claimed his creditworthiness was harmed, which caused him to be denied a credit card and rejected for a mortgage. The district court dismissed the suit.
In affirming the dismissal, the 5th Circuit found that the omission of a single credit item does not render a report ”inaccurate” or “misleading.” According to the appellate court, a “credit report does not become inaccurate whenever there is an omission, but only when an omission renders the report misleading in such a way and to such an extent that it can be expected to adversely affect credit decisions.” As such, “[b]usinesses relying on credit reports have no reason to believe that a credit report reflects all relevant information on a consumer.” The 5th Circuit further held, among other things, that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for violations of section 1681i(a), which requires agencies to conduct an investigation if consumers dispute “the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer’s file.” The court held that because the plaintiff “disputed the completeness of his credit report, not of an item in that report,” the statute did not require an investigation.
On September 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a cable satellite company, concluding that the company had a “legitimate business purpose” under the FCRA to obtain a consumer’s credit report. According to the opinion, in 2016, following an identity theft, the consumer entered into a settlement agreement with the cable satellite company after the consumer’s personal information was used to fraudulently open two accounts for television services. As part of the agreement, the company put the consumer’s personal information into an internal mechanism designed to flag and prevent unauthorized accounts. In 2017, an unknown individual applied for an account online using some of the consumer’s information. The company’s automated systems sent the information to a consumer reporting agency (CRA), which matched the information to the consumer and resulted in the cable satellite company blocking the account from being opened. Upon request by the company, the CRA deleted the inquiry from the consumer’s credit file. The consumer filed an action alleging that the company breached the settlement agreement and “negligently and willfully obtained the January 2017 consumer report without a ‘permissible purpose’” in violation of the FCRA. While the action was pending, two more attempts were made to use the consumer’s information to open accounts and the satellite company blocked both. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the satellite company.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that the satellite company had a “legitimate business purpose” to access the credit report. Specifically, the appellate court noted that the “FCRA does not explicitly require a user of consumer reports to confirm beyond doubt the identity of potential consumers before requesting a report.” Moreover, the satellite company was dependent on the credit report to access the consumer’s full social security number and “cross-check that information via its internal mechanisms.” Additionally, the appellate court rejected a claim for breach of the settlement agreement, noting that the company satisfied the terms of the agreement by flagging the social security number in its internal systems and using that system to block the fraudulent application for an account.
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.
2nd Circuit: Furnisher’s duty to investigate triggered only after it receives notice of dispute from CRA
On August 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of FCRA and related state law allegations against a state bank and trust company, concluding that the bank’s duty to investigate is triggered only after it receive a notice of dispute from a consumer reporting agency (CRA). According to the opinion, the plaintiffs obtained a mortgage from the bank but later defaulted on their payments. The bank initiated foreclosure proceedings, and in 2014 both parties agreed to a deficiency judgment. In February 2016, one of the plaintiffs notified the bank that his credit report “inaccurately indicated ‘that the mortgage. . .was still open and payments had not been made in more than two years.’” The bank acknowledged the error in March, said a correction had been made to report the loan as closed, and indicated that “information [would] be supplied to the credit reporting agencies.” However, the plaintiff claimed the bank did not correct the information until November 2016. In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs alleged the bank violated the FCRA by (i) “negligently and willfully fail[ing] to perform a reasonable reinvestigation and correction of inaccurate information”; and (ii) “engag[ing] in behavior prohibited by [the] FCRA by failing to correct errors in the information that it provided to credit reporting agencies.” The bank countered that its “duty of investigation is only triggered after a furnisher of information receives notice of a dispute from a consumer reporting agency” and that the plaintiffs failed to allege that the bank “‘ever received notice of a dispute from a consumer reporting agency.’” The district court granted the bank’s motion to dismiss with prejudice for failure to state a claim.
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit agreed with district court, concluding, among other things, that the plaintiffs “do not allege that a CRA notified [the bank] of their dispute concerning the information in the [r]eport.” According to the appellate court, the plaintiffs “do not even allege that they notified a CRA of the discrepancy. The [a]mended [c]omplaint alleges only that, after receiving the [r]eport, [the plaintiff] directly notified [the bank] of the [r]eport’s inaccuracy. This alone is insufficient to state a claim under Section 1681s–2(b).”
On July 27, the FTC announced the DOJ, on behalf of the FTC, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleging a background report company used misleading billing and marketing practices in violation of several consumer protection laws. According to the complaint, the background report company’s marketing practices included suggesting that individuals’ reports contained arrest, criminal, sexual offender, bankruptcy, and other records that the reports did not actually include. The complaint alleges the company used these practices to induce users to purchase subscriptions to access background reports. The complaint asserts the company’s practices violated the FTC Act by making false or misleading representations about the criminal records of searched individuals, and that the company violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act by materially misrepresenting the benefits of a company subscription; the refund and cancelation policies; and the negative-option features of the subscription.
Moreover, the complaint asserts the company qualifies as a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA, as it “regularly assembles and evaluates information on consumers into consumer reports that, for a fee, it then provides to customers online through interstate commerce.” The complaint argues the company violated the FCRA by failing to maintain reasonable procedures to (i) verify how its reports would be used; (ii) ensure the information was accurate; and (iii) make sure that the information it sold would be used only for legally permissible purposes.
The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction, restitution, and civil money penalties.
On July 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a group of defendants, including a credit reporting agency (CRA) and furnisher, after determining that a consumer plaintiff failed to adequately notify the CRA of an error on her credit report. According to the opinion, the plaintiff questioned the accuracy of certain information on her credit report and requested that these inaccuracies be investigated. Defendants investigated and corrected the inaccuracies and informed the plaintiff that if she further disputed the accuracy of the reported information, she could submit additional documentation to support her claim. Plaintiff continued to believe her credit report contained inaccuracies; specifically, she contended that the CRA was misreporting the date on which her bankruptcy was discharged. But rather than notify the CRA, she instead filed suit in federal district court alleging violations under the FCRA. The defendants filed for summary judgment which the district court granted, concluding that while “the date of the bankruptcy may have continued to be misreported after the conclusion of the reinvestigation,’ there was no genuine dispute of material fact on whether [the plaintiff] notified [the CRA] of that specific reporting error.” The 9th Circuit agreed, starting that because the plaintiff failed “to provide adequate notice of this reporting error” the scope of the defendants’ duties were limited. Moreover, the 9th Circuit held that a consumer cannot prevail on a “FCRA claim without first putting the [CRA] on notice of the information that is disputed.”
On July 7, a settlement was reached with another of the defendants in an action taken by the CFPB against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “the defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services. The CFPB further alleged that defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education. An $18 million settlement was reached with several of the defendants in May (covered by InfoBytes here).
The settlement reached with the chief operating officer/part-owner of one of the defendant companies requires the defendant to pay $25,000 of a $7 million settlement—of which the full payment will be suspended provided several obligations are fulfilled. The defendant, who neither admits nor denies the allegations, is permanently banned from providing debt relief services and from accessing, using, or obtaining “prescreened consumer reports” for any purpose. The defendant is also prohibited from using or obtaining consumer reports for any business purposes aside from “underwriting or otherwise evaluating mortgage loans.” The defendant is further required to, among other things, (i) pay a $1 civil money penalty; (ii) comply with reporting requirements; and (iii) fully cooperate with any other investigations.
On July 7, the CFPB released a blog post discussing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), addressing the regulatory uncertainty that accompanies their use, and encouraging stakeholders to use the Bureau’s innovation programs to address these issues. The blog post notes that “AI has the potential to expand credit access by enabling lenders to evaluate the creditworthiness of some of the millions of consumers who are unscorable using traditional underwriting techniques,” but using AI may create or amplify risks, including unlawful discrimination, lack of transparency, privacy concerns, and inaccurate predictions.
The blog post discusses how using AI/ML models in credit underwriting may raise compliance concerns with ECOA and FCRA provisions that require creditors to issue adverse action notices detailing the main reasons for the denial, particularly because AI/ML decisions can be “based on complex interrelationships.” Recognizing this, the Bureau explains that there is flexibility in the current regulatory framework “that can be compatible with AI algorithms.” As an example, citing to the Official Interpretation to Regulation B, the blog post notes that “a creditor may disclose a reason for a denial even if the relationship of that disclosed factor to predicting creditworthiness may be unclear to the applicant,” which would allow for a creditor to use AI/ML models where the variables and key reasons are known, but the relationship between them is not intuitive. Additionally, neither ECOA nor Regulation B require the use of a specific list of reasons, allowing creditors flexibility when providing reasons that reflect alternative data sources.
In order to address the continued regulatory uncertainty, the blog post encourages stakeholders to use the Trial Disclosure, No-Action Letter, and Compliance Assistance Sandbox programs offered by the Bureau (covered by InfoBytes here) to take advantage of AI/ML’s potential benefits. The blog post mentions three specific areas in which the Bureau is particularly interested in exploring: (i) “the methodologies for determining the principal reasons for an adverse action”; (iii) “the accuracy of explainability methods, particularly as applied to deep learning and other complex ensemble models”; and (iii) the conveyance of principal reasons “in a manner that accurately reflects the factors used in the model and is understandable to consumers.”
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate an interactive roundtable at the Latin Lawyer and GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations Conference
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: You have license renewal questions, we have answers
- 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
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Marshall T. Bell and John R. Coleman to speak at 2021 AFSA Annual Meeting
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss internal investigations at the Institute of Internal Auditors of Argentina Spanish-language webinar
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- 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