A federal law that was brought into force in 1970, known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act or the FCRA, not only governs the collection of consumers’ credit-related data but also exercises control over access to their credit reports.
What stands as its primary objectives are the arenas that revolve around maintaining fairness, accuracy, and privacy when handling personal information that has been stored in the databases of agencies dealing with credit reporting.
From credit bureaus and medical information companies to tenant screening services, such entities safeguard information gathered by consumer reporting agencies, which is stated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. On specific lines, the said has been put forth in Title VI of the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
To elaborate further, the law imposes strict limitations on who can access the information that has been discerned in consumer reports. This means that it only permits access to those with specific purposes overtly explained in the legislation.
Running on the same lines of thought is the fact that companies that furnish information to consumer reporting agencies are also subjected to legal obligations, which include the requirement to investigate disputed information when consumers raise concerns.
Coupled with the aforementioned, lies the idea of understanding the purpose of the reports. The users of this information utilize the aspects for the usage of credit assessment, insurance, as well as employment followed by informing the consumer if an adverse action is taken based on the contents of these reports.
On the same lines of thought, supporting provisions to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which was introduced by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, thoroughly focused on the area of record accuracy as well as identity theft prevention.
The fact that the Dodd-Frank Act had transferred most of the rulemaking responsibilities that were brought into play by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, as well as the Credit Card Act to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the CFPB, as popularly known, was one of the main highlights.
What stands a bit on separate lines is the idea that the ambit of working of the Federal Trade Commission or the FTC takes under its umbrella the retention of its enforcement authority under the same legislation.
1. The Working of The Fair Credit Reporting Act
One of the primary federal legislation that regulates the gathering and reporting of consumer credit information is the Fair Credit Reporting Act, also known as the FCRA, which not only establishes guidelines for how credit information is acquired, retained, and shared but also emphasizes on the method of access that can be used by consumers to assess their own credit data.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are two such federal agencies that are not only responsible for supervising but also enforcing the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s provisions.
On the same lines of thought, several states in the country are bestowed with the power of having their own laws, which strictly govern credit reporting practices. Defined and elaborated in the United States Code Title 15, Section 1681 is the Federal Trade Commission’s comprehensive provisions.
Responsible for assembling as well as selling information about individual consumers’ financial histories, are the three major credit reporting bureaus, including Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, complemented with certain other specialized firms.
Diving deeper into the said idea, the data that is contained in their reports is used to calculate consumers’ credit scores, which has a huge impact on various financial aspects of their lives.
Taking, as an illustration, the fact that credit scores serve to be a major influence on the interest rates that individuals are offered when borrowing money. Not only the aforementioned, but they can even determine whether they qualify for loans or credit products at all.
2. Powers of The Credit Bureaus Under the Law
The types of information that credit bureaus are permitted to collect are put forth very categorically under the ambit of The Fair Credit Reporting Act. From an individual’s payment history for bills and details about previous loans to their current outstanding debts, all of the aforesaid stands included in the said block of information.
On the same lines of thought, it can also be said that the aforementioned data that the bureaus collect takes under its umbrella aspects revolving around employment records, both current and past addresses, bankruptcy filings, child support obligations, as well as any records of arrests.
Not only the aforesaid, but the Fair Credit Reporting Act also puts restrictions on who can access a person’s credit report and clearly defines under what circumstances.
i. Lenders and Insurance Companies
Individuals such as lenders are given the authority to request a credit report when an individual applies for a mortgage, car loan, or any other form of credit. This is the same as when insurance companies then review the credit reports during the application process for certain insurance policies.
ii. The Government
Following the said essence, the government has the authority to access these reports if it has a valid court order, federal grand jury subpoena, or if the individual is seeking specific government-issued licenses pertaining to the same.
Establishing clear guidelines in order to protect privacy as well as the accuracy of information revolving around consumers’ credit is the key branch of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Elaborating on the aforementioned idea even further, it has been seen that in certain situations, consumers require support to initiate a transaction or provide written consent before a credit bureau so they can furnish their credit report.
Taking, as an illustration, is the idea that employers are bestowed with the power to request a job applicant’s credit report only if they have sought the applicant’s permission beforehand with regard to the same.
Running parallel lies the fact that circles around instances where certain prospective lenders coupled with insurers have the ability to seek specific sections of the consumer’s credit report without their explicit consent.
Not only to determine whether to send unsolicited offers for credit or insurance, which is a process known as “prescreening,” but also to highlight that the law provides consumers with the option to opt out of the aforesaid process, which allows them to have more control over the offers they receive, is why such lenders and insurers execute the action.
2.1. The Rights of Consumers Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
Talking about the legislation, it deems it essential to mention the rights consumers have with regard to their credit reports that fall under the ambit of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which are mentioned below.
2.1.1. To Give Access to Free Annual Credit Reports
It is stated by law that consumers are bestowed with the power to be entitled to request at least one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus.
Not only the aforesaid, but they can also obtain these reports through the official, government-authorized website that deals with the same.
2.1.2. To Verify for Employment Purposes
To verify the accuracy of their credit report when it is required for the purpose of employment is a right given to consumers as per the legislation.
2..1.3. To Notify the Manner of Use
In a case where information from their credit report is used against them in any credit applications or other transactions, then the consumers have the right to be notified.
2.1.4. To Dispute and Correct
Not only to raise disputes but also to work towards its correction is a right given to the consumers if they find incomplete or inaccurate information in their credit report.
With regard to rectifying the said information, it is an obligation of the credit bureau to investigate, followed by correcting any errors.
2.1.5. To Remove Any Outdated Negative Information
It has been seen, generally, that in most cases, negative information is automatically taken down from credit reports after the completion of seven years. In specific cases, some bankruptcies may remain on the report for up to 10 years, depending on the agency’s discretion.
To protect consumers as well as ensure that fairness and accuracy prevail over their credit reports, which can have a significant impact on their financial well-being, is the reason such rights are brought into play by the legislation.
It also deems it essential to specify that in case the credit bureau fails to respond to their request in a satisfactory manner, the individual has the power to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
2.2. The Fair Credit Reporting Act as an Action-Oriented Legislation
In order to understand the Fair Credit Reporting Act even better, it is essential to look at an example.
As an illustration, if an individual is looking to rent an apartment and suspects that they were denied the lease based on unlawful discrimination, such as their skin colour or religion, rather than their credit report or credit score, then they are authorized to investigate the situation and issue, as per certain rights that are given to them under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Such rights are stated below–
2.2.1. To Request the Credit Report
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, individuals have the right to not only obtain a free copy of their credit report from the major credit bureaus but are also bestowed with the authority to request their credit report in order to verify the accuracy of the information it contains.
2.2.2. To Check for Accuracy
To carefully review the credit report so as to ensure that the information aligns with the landlord’s claims is another right granted to individuals under the said ambit.
The aforesaid stands inclusive of checking whether there are any discrepancies with regard to their credit history.
2.2.3. To Confirm Credit Report Access
Not only the aforesaid, but the tenant also possesses the ability to verify whether the landlord had actually obtained their credit report or otherwise.
If it is seen that there is no record of a credit inquiry by the landlord, then it could indicate that the denial was based on other factors or that the information provided by the landlord was all in all false.
2.2.4. To Address the Violations
If it is put forth stringently that the landlord has misrepresented the reason for denying the lease or has accessed the credit report unlawfully, then the tenant is given the power to take appropriate action.
It deems it essential to mandate that any violation made under the ambit of the legislation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act can lead to penalties or fines for the landlord.
In a nutshell, it can be said that under the aforementioned cases, it is marked to be essential for individuals to understand their rights followed by gathering evidence in order to support their claims if any unlawful discrimination is suspected by them in any capacity.
2.3. The Fair Credit Reporting Act Requirements for Releasing Credit Reports
Imposing strict requirements on those seeking access to an individual’s credit report is another branch of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
To request as well as obtain someone’s credit report, it is deemed essential for a lender, insurer, landlord, employer, or any other entity to have a legally permissible purpose for executing the same.
SiImply referring to the fact that such an attempt requires a valid and lawful reason related to a specific transaction or decision, which must fall under the ambit of any of the following:
2.3.1. Credit Application
It is highly crucial for lenders to request credit reports when individuals apply for credit, which includes loans, credit cards, or mortgages.
2.3.2. Insurance Underwriting
Accessing credit reports when assessing risk as well as determining premium rates for policies is an authorization granted to insurance companies.
2.3.3. Rental Applications
The fact that landlords often request credit reports as part of the tenant screening process when individuals apply to rent an apartment or property is another aspect to focus on.
2.3.4. Employment Screening
To obtain credit reports for specific job positions, typically those which are related to financial responsibility or security clearances is a right bestowed upon the employers.
2.3.5. Legal Proceedings
Any and all credit reports can be accessed in response to court orders, subpoenas, or other legal requirements as deemed fit.
2.3.6. Written Consent
In certain cases, individuals have the option to provide written consent for others to access their credit reports for various purposes as permitted by law and procedure.
Elaborating on the same lines of thought, to access someone’s credit report without a legal and a granted purpose not only stands as a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act but can also lead to legal consequences.
The very fact that the Fair Credit Reporting Act has been designed to protect the privacy as well as the rights of consumers by ensuring that their credit information is used appropriately and lawfully is a point of importance.
3. What Are the Penalties for Not Complying With the FCRA?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, as legislation, is given the power to outline a range of potential penalties as well as consequences for violations, which can be quite significant and hence are stated below.
3.1. The Civil Penalties
Any violations falling under the ambit of the Fair Credit Reporting Act can result in civil penalties, with fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 per violation. The said amount can vary depending on the nature and severity of the violation.
3.2. The Actual Damages
Individuals who suffer actual financial harm as a result of a violation executed under the said legislation are entitled to recover the said damages that stand inclusive of any financial losses incurred due to the violation.
3.3. The Punitive Damages
In terms of intentional violations, as stated under the act, the court is authorized to award punitive damages in addition to actual damages, which are solely intended to punish the wrongdoer as well as deter future violations.
3.4. The Attorney Fees
The Fair Credit Reporting Act not only allows individuals to recover attorney fees and court costs if they prevail in a lawsuit against a party that violated the legislation but is also designed to make it easier for consumers to take up legal recourse.
3.5. The Criminal Charges
To know and obtain consumer credit information willfully under false pretences from a consumer reporting agency is not only a criminal offence but the individuals, who are found to be guilty of such actions may face criminal charges, fines, and potential imprisonment.
4. Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for ID Theft
Identity theft occurs when an individual illicitly utilizes your name, Social Security number, date of birth, or other identifying details to carry out any fraudulent activity.
Take as an illustration the fact revolving around someone who might engage in identity theft by using another individual’s personal information to open a credit card account or secure a loan in the said person’s name.
Granting specific rights to a person in case they are a victim of identity theft is the sole concept of The Fair Credit Reporting Act. Designed to aid in the recovery from identity theft is the legislation’s intent and is stated in the following way:
4.1. Fraud Alerts
A user is entitled to request nationwide consumer reporting agencies to implement “fraud alerts” in their credit file, alerting potential creditors as well as others to the possibility of the user being a victim of identity theft.
A fraud alert can create hurdles for someone attempting to obtain credit in the user’s name, as it prompts creditors to follow specific protective procedures which makes it important to state that this alert may also temporarily delay the ability to secure credit.
To place a fraud alert in the user’s file, they only need to contact one of the three major nationwide consumer reporting agencies, and once it is processed, it will automatically inform the other two to place similar fraud alerts in the said user’s file.
4.2. File Disclosure
Falling on the next point is the idea revolving around the user, who is given the opportunity to receive free copies of the information contained in their credit file, which is referred to as the “file disclosure.”
When the said user places an initial fraud alert, they can request a copy of all the information in their file from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. Not only this but the fact that if they have placed an extended alert, then they have the right to receive two free file disclosures within a 12-month period after setting up the alert.
4.3. Copies of Applications
Following the aforementioned point, it is essential to state that the user has the authority to access documents pertaining to fraudulent transactions or accounts that were established using their personal information.
If the individual has made a written request, a creditor or any other business involved must provide them with copies of applications and other business records related to transactions and accounts that have resulted from the theft of their identity.
To fulfill this request, the business may request proof of their identity, a police report, and an affidavit.
4.4. Request Information from A Debt Collector
The consumer is also bestowed with the right to request information from a debt collector regarding a debt that they have suspected to be seen under their name by an identity thief.
Only upon their request is the debt collector authorized to furnish specific details about the debt, including the name of the creditor as well as the amount owed.
4.5. Request a Consumer Reporting Agency To Block
On the same lines of thought, it is essential to pinpoint that if the user is skeptical of the fact that certain information in their credit file is a result of identity theft, then they have the power to request a consumer reporting agency to block the information from being released or accessed from their file.
To state that identity thieves may incur bills under the consumer’s name followed by failing to make payments, which may lead to these unpaid bills appearing on your credit report, is essential.
Not only the aforesaid, but if the user decides to request a block on the reporting of such information, then they must specify the details of the information that they want to block as well as provide the consumer reporting agency with proof of their identity, along with a copy of their identity theft report.
4.6. Stop Businesses from Reporting Information
Positioned on the last point is the fact that the user is bestowed with the provision to stop businesses from reporting information about the user to consumer reporting agencies if they feel that their information is a result of their identity theft.
Elaborating on the said idea further, in order to exercise this right, the consumer must send their request to the address indicated by the business responsible for reporting the information to the consumer reporting agency. Following this, the said business will typically ask the user to specify which information they want to prevent from being reported as well as to provide an identity theft report as supporting documentation for their request.
The legislation known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act or the FCRA is responsible for collecting consumers’ credit-related data and exercising control over access to their credit reports.
From bestowing rights to the consumers in general as well as in regards to identity theft to stating the requirements for accessing credit reports, the legislation stands as a guard for all consumers.
Not only this, the act also states the powers of different credit agencies as well as the penalties for violating the legislation to provide a better understanding to the consumers residing in the United States.