The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has released a bulletin to nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies (NSCRAs) as a reminder of their obligation under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which the CFPB oversees, to provide a “streamlined process” for consumers to obtain a free annual consumer report. The CFPB also issued warning letters to NSCRAs that may be violating the FCRA by failing to provide consumers an easy way to access their free reports. The bulletin from the CFPB is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201211_cfpb_NSCRA_Bulletin.pdf. “Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies can have great influence over a consumer’s tenancy, insurance premiums, or even employment,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated in a press release. “Today, the CFPB is reminding these companies that they must follow the law and provide consumers with easy access to their free annual report. If we have reason to believe that companies are not following the law, we will take action.” According to CFPB Bulletin 2012- 09, dated November 29, 2012, the FCRA requires NSCRAs “to provide, upon request of a consumer, a free annual disclosure of the consumer’s file, commonly known as a consumer report.” The FCRA’s Regulation V includes a rule mandated by the FCRA that requires NSCRAs to establish a “streamlined process” for consumers to request their free annual consumer reports. The CFPB will evaluate compliance with the streamlined process requirements by NSCRAs and expects each NSCRA to comply with the FCRA and Regulation V by:
- Enabling consumers to request annual file disclosures by a toll-free telephone number that is published in any telephone directory in which any telephone number for the NSCRA is published and is clearly and prominently posted on any Website owned or maintained by the NSCRA that is related to consumer reporting, along with instructions for requesting disclosures by any additional available request methods.
- Ensuring that its streamlined process for obtaining an annual file disclosure has adequate capacity to accept requests from a reasonably anticipated volume of consumers.
- Collecting only as much personal information from a consumer requesting a disclosure as is reasonably necessary to identify the consumer properly.
- Providing clear and easily understandable information and instructions to consumers, including but not limited to: providing information on the status of a request, providing a “help” or “frequently asked questions” page for web-based requests, and providing a statement when the identity of the consumer requesting an annual file disclosure cannot properly be verified and directions on how to complete the request.
- Using or disclosing personally identifiable information collected from a consumer because of the consumer’s request for an annual or other disclosure required by the FCRA from the entity that the consumer made through the streamlined process only in ways permitted by Regulation V.
- Accepting consumer requests for annual file disclosures from consumers who use methods other than the streamlined process or instructing such consumers on how to use the streamlined process.