The CFPB recently released a “Special Edition” of its Supervisory Highlights that focuses exclusively on data accuracy issues in consumer credit reporting and the handling and resolution of consumer disputes. The report describes the observations of CFPB examiners during examinations of both consumer reporting agencies and the creditors and other companies that furnish information to consumer reporting agencies.

The CFPB acknowledges that consumer reporting agencies have made significant advances in promoting the accuracy of data reported to them by overseeing data furnishers and enhancing the dispute resolution process, but the CFPB believes that continued improvements are still necessary in these areas. In their examinations of furnishers, the CFPB examiners found “CMS weaknesses and numerous violations of the FCRA and Regulation V that required corrective action by furnisher(s).”

The CFPB’s “supervisory observations” include the following:

  • Data governance. CFPB examiners found that one or more consumer reporting agencies had decentralized data governance functions and undefined data governance responsibilities, a lack of quality control policies and procedures, and inconsistent practices for vetting furnishers and providing data quality feedback to them. CFPB examiners also found that one or more furnishers had weaknesses in its compliance management system, including weak oversight by management over data furnishing practices and no formal data governance program.
  • Reinvestigation of disputes. CFPB examiners found that one or more consumer reporting agencies did not comply with its obligation to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation when consumers dispute the completeness or accuracy of items in their consumer files. CFPB examiners also found that one or more consumer reporting agencies did not review and consider certain categories of documentary evidence in support of a dispute submitted by consumers. Furthermore, CFPB examiners found that one or more furnishers’ policies and procedures failed to promote reasonable investigations of disputes.
  • Required dispute notices. One or more consumer reporting agencies examined by the CFPB failed to provide notification of a consumer dispute within five business days to the furnisher who provided the information because the furnishers’ contact information was no longer valid at the time of the consumer’s dispute. CFPB examiners also found that one or more consumer reporting agencies sent dispute notices to consumers that failed to clearly articulate the results of the dispute investigation as required by the FCRA. In cases where furnishers decided to not investigate disputed information, the CFPB found that one or more furnishers failed to provide consumers with proper notice of a reasonable determination that a dispute was frivolous or irrelevant.
  • Quality control. One or more furnishers examined by the CFPB failed to perform quality checks on the data furnished to consumer reporting agencies, failed to conduct ongoing periodic evaluations or audits of furnishing practices, and failed to conduct audits of disputed information to identify and correct root causes of any inaccurate furnishing.
  • Data accuracy requirements. CFPB examiners found that one or more furnishers provided consumer information to consumer reporting agencies while knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the information was inaccurate, including information that consumers were delinquent, had no payment history, or had an unpaid charged-off balance when they had settled the account in full.

The report indicates that the consumer reporting market is a “high priority” for the CFPB. Notably, the report states that the CFPB has “targeted substantial resources” to improving the accuracy of consumer information and will continue to do so.

The CFPB recently released a “Special Edition” of its Supervisory Highlights that focuses exclusively on data accuracy issues in consumer credit reporting and the handling and resolution of consumer disputes. The report describes the observations of CFPB examiners during examinations of both consumer reporting agencies and the creditors and other companies that furnish information to consumer reporting agencies.

The CFPB acknowledges that consumer reporting agencies have made significant advances in promoting the accuracy of data reported to them by overseeing data furnishers and enhancing the dispute resolution process, but the CFPB believes that continued improvements are still necessary in these areas. In their examinations of furnishers, the CFPB examiners found “CMS weaknesses and numerous violations of the FCRA and Regulation V that required corrective action by furnisher(s).”

The CFPB’s “supervisory observations” include the following:

  • Data governance. CFPB examiners found that one or more consumer reporting agencies had decentralized data governance functions and undefined data governance responsibilities, a lack of quality control policies and procedures, and inconsistent practices for vetting furnishers and providing data quality feedback to them. CFPB examiners also found that one or more furnishers had weaknesses in its compliance management system, including weak oversight by management over data furnishing practices and no formal data governance program.
  • Reinvestigation of disputes. CFPB examiners found that one or more consumer reporting agencies did not comply with its obligation to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation when consumers dispute the completeness or accuracy of items in their consumer files. CFPB examiners also found that one or more consumer reporting agencies did not review and consider certain categories of documentary evidence in support of a dispute submitted by consumers. Furthermore, CFPB examiners found that one or more furnishers’ policies and procedures failed to promote reasonable investigations of disputes.
  • Required dispute notices. One or more consumer reporting agencies examined by the CFPB failed to provide notification of a consumer dispute within five business days to the furnisher who provided the information because the furnishers’ contact information was no longer valid at the time of the consumer’s dispute. CFPB examiners also found that one or more consumer reporting agencies sent dispute notices to consumers that failed to clearly articulate the results of the dispute investigation as required by the FCRA. In cases where furnishers decided to not investigate disputed information, the CFPB found that one or more furnishers failed to provide consumers with proper notice of a reasonable determination that a dispute was frivolous or irrelevant.
  • Quality control. One or more furnishers examined by the CFPB failed to perform quality checks on the data furnished to consumer reporting agencies, failed to conduct ongoing periodic evaluations or audits of furnishing practices, and failed to conduct audits of disputed information to identify and correct root causes of any inaccurate furnishing.
  • Data accuracy requirements. CFPB examiners found that one or more furnishers provided consumer information to consumer reporting agencies while knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the information was inaccurate, including information that consumers were delinquent, had no payment history, or had an unpaid charged-off balance when they had settled the account in full.

The report indicates that the consumer reporting market is a “high priority” for the CFPB. Notably, the report states that the CFPB has “targeted substantial resources” to improving the accuracy of consumer information and will continue to do so.

The CFPB has issued a bulletin to companies that furnish information to consumer reporting agencies (CRA) reminding them of their obligation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to investigate consumer disputes forwarded by a CRA and “review all relevant information” relating to the dispute.  In the bulletin, the CFPB warns that it will take appropriate supervisory and enforcement actions to address furnisher violations of the FCRA or other federal consumer financial laws, including requiring restitution to harmed consumers.  

The CFPB expects furnishers to have reasonable systems and technologies in place to handle notices of disputes received from CRAs and information regarding disputes, including documentation forwarded by CRAs.  (In its press release about the bulletin, the CFPB emphasizes that, with its support, the “e-OSCAR” system used by the three largest nationwide CRAs to send information to furnishers relating to consumer disputes now allows the CRAs to send any relevant dispute documents mailed in by consumers.)  The CFPB takes the position that a furnisher’s FCRA duty to review “all relevant information” relating to a dispute requires the furnisher to review and consider all of its own information relating to a dispute as well as all documents that a CRA includes with a notice of dispute or transmits during the furnisher’s investigation. 

In the bulletin, the CFPB outlines what it generally expects furnishers to do to comply with the FCRA’s requirements for handling disputes received from CRAs. Furnishers not currently meeting the CFPB’s expectations are advised to “take immediate steps” to comply with the FCRA.  The CFPB expects furnishers to comply with the FCRA by: 

  • Maintaining a system that reasonably allows the furnisher to receive information regarding disputes from CRAs, including supporting documentation;
  • Conducting an investigation of disputed information that includes a review of “all relevant information” forwarded by the CRA and the furnisher’s own information with respect to the dispute;
  • Reporting the results of the investigation to the CRA that sent the dispute;
  • Providing corrected information to every nationwide CRA that received disputed information found to be inaccurate or incomplete; and
  • Modifying, deleting, or permanently blocking disputed information that is found to  incomplete, inaccurate, or could not be verified.

In October 2012, the CFPB’s online complaint system began taking complaints from consumers about credit reporting.  In the bulletin, the CFPB notes that it is monitoring consumer complaints and will use such complaints to prioritize examinations and other actions.  It also notes that it will be reviewing furnisher compliance with the FCRA during examinations and investigations and it signals that it will be very tough on furnishers who fail to conform to its expectations. 

Since the CFPB has added significant gloss to the FCRA provision which furnishers need to follow, exceeding the standards that numerous courts have mandated, many furnishers may not be prepared to handle these types of disputes in the manner the CFPB will require.  Consequently, we would encourage all furnishers to review their existing policies and procedures with counsel now and revise those policies and procedures as necessary to make sure they can satisfy the CFPB’s requirements.