CFPB Blog: Consumer Reporting Companies Have an Obligation to Correct Errors

The consumer reporting system maintains detailed profiles on millions of Americans. Companies harvest information on people’s financial status or record of paying bills and provide that information to consumer reporting companies. Consumer reporting companies then sell this data to companies making employment, credit, and other decisions. We have seen companies in this system repeatedly try to find legal loopholes to avoid meeting basic requirements designed to ensure the accuracy of the information. Over the last few years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken several steps to beat back dubious claims from industry participants that they don’t have to follow the law’s requirements. These include companies arguing that they don’t have to investigate when consumers dispute mistakes in their credit reports if the company characterizes the dispute as “legal” in nature and companies that provide data to consumer reporting companies arguing that they can tell the consumer reporting companies to keep providing disputed information that can’t be verified.

Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) more than fifty years ago in response to concerns about consumer reporting companies. The CFPB is the primary enforcer of this law. We are committed to protecting people from companies in the consumer reporting system that break the law. For that reason, the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which also enforces the FCRA, filed an amicus brief today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit addressing yet another erroneous argument from a company in the consumer reporting system.

The FCRA requires consumer reporting companies to investigate when someone notifies the company that any information in the person’s file is incorrect or incomplete. The CFPB and FTC found that one consumer reporting company, Experian Information Solutions, has argued in court that this requirement doesn’t apply to personal identifying information, like someone’s name, address, or Social Security number. That’s obviously not right, and we have filed an amicus brief to help ensure people can hold consumer reporting companies accountable when they violate the law in this manner.

In the case, a consumer filed three disputes in a row with Experian identifying several errors in her file. Specifically, the file identified her by her maiden name, which was misspelled, included at least one address that was not hers, and had the wrong Social Security number. Every time that she complained, Experian responded by telling her to contact the sources of the inaccurate information—without even identifying what those sources were. After giving Experian three chances to actually do what the law requires, she sued. The court rejected Experian’s argument that the law does not apply to the personal identifying information in question, though it also found that Experian should not be held liable because the law wasn’t clear enough.

The decision is now on appeal. As the CFPB and FTC’s amicus brief explains, the court correctly recognized that Experian was required to investigate the consumer’s disputes here. The law is clear: consumer reporting companies must investigate information that a person says is incorrect or incomplete in their file, and the FCRA is full of examples showing that this includes personal identifying information. Also, Experian’s violation of the law was flagrant, and it should be held accountable.

People deserve better from businesses that provide, compile, and sell sensitive data than these companies’ attempts to avoid meeting their responsibilities.

The case is Nelson v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., No. 24-10147 (11th Cir.).

Read the CFPB’s amicus brief.

Courtesy of Seth Frotman – MAR 29, 2024