CFPB Issues FCRA Advisory Opinions Addressing Background Screenings and Credit File Sharing Practices

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What Happened?

On January 11, 2024, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) issued two separate advisory opinions interpreting consumer reporting agencies’ (“CRAs”) obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). First, the Bureau issued an advisory opinion on background check reports, which highlights that such reports must be complete, accurate, and free of information that is duplicative, outdated, expunged, sealed, or otherwise legally restricted from public access (the “Background Screening Opinion”). The Bureau’s second advisory opinion addresses file disclosure obligations under the FCRA, and “highlights that people are entitled to receive all information contained in their consumer file at the time they request it, along with the source or sources of the information contained within, including both the original and any intermediary or vendor source” (the “File Disclosure Opinion”).  The Bureau issued the advisory opinions to “ensure that the consumer reporting system produces accurate and reliable information and does not keep people from accessing their personal data.”

Why Is It Important?

The Background Screening Opinion

Section 607(b) of the FCRA requires that CRAs “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates.” The Background Screening Opinion asserts that “[i]n many instances, background screening reports contain inaccurate information about consumers,” such as information about the wrong consumer, information that is duplicative, or that omits existing disposition information. The Bureau also found that some background screening reports “include arrests, convictions, or other court records that should not be included because they have been expunged or sealed or otherwise legally restricted from public access.”

Accordingly, the CFPB issued the Background Screening Opinion to “underscore obligations that the FCRA imposes when background screening reports are provided and used.” Specifically, the opinion affirms that CRAs must comply with their FCRA obligation to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” under section 607(b). Specifically, the Background Screening Opinion provides that:

  • A CRA that reports public record information does not comply with section 607(b) if the CRA does not have reasonable procedures in place to ensure that the CRA:
    • does not report duplicative information or information that has been expunged, sealed, or otherwise legally restricted from public access in a manner that would prevent the user from obtaining it directly from the government entities that maintain the records, and
    • includes any existing disposition information if it reports arrests, criminal charges, eviction proceedings, or other court filings.
  • When CRAs include adverse information in consumer reports, the occurrence of the adverse event starts the running of the reporting period for adverse items under FCRA 605(a)(5), which is not restarted or reopened by the occurrence of subsequent events.
  • A non-conviction disposition (i.e., a dismissal or a similar disposition of criminal charges such as dropped charges or an acquittal) of a criminal charge cannot be reported beyond the 7-year period that begins to run at the time of the charge.

Accordingly, the Background Screening Opinion provides that CRAs “thus must ensure that they do not report adverse information beyond the reporting period” in section 605(a)(5) of the FCRA “and must at all times have reasonable procedures in place to prevent reporting of information that is duplicative or legally restricted from public access and to ensure that any existing disposition information is included if court filings are reported.”

The File Disclosure Opinion

Under the FCRA, CRAs are generally required to disclose to consumers all information in their file upon request. Specifically, section 609(a) of the FCRA provides that, upon request, a CRA must clearly and accurately disclose to the consumer “[a]ll information in the consumer’s file at the time of the request,” including the sources of the information. A “file” is defined as “all of the information on that consumer that is recorded and retained by a [CRA], regardless of how the information is stored.”

The File Disclosure Opinion clarifies that an individual requesting their files:

  • Only needs to make a request for their report and provide proper identification – they do not need to use specific language or industry jargon to be provided their complete file.
  • Must be provided their complete file with clear and accurate information that is presented in a way an average person could understand.
  • Must be provided the information in a format that will assist them in identifying inaccuracies, exercising their rights to dispute any incomplete or inaccurate information, and understanding when they are being impacted by adverse information.
  • Must be provided with the sources of the information in their file, including both the original and any intermediary or vendor source or sources.

What Do You Need to Do?

These advisory opinions follow President Biden’s October, 2023 Executive Order on the Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence (the “EO”).  Among other obligations, the EO encourages the CFPB to consider using its authority to use appropriate technologies including AI tools to ensure compliance with FCRA to address discrimination against protected groups.  These advisory opinions serve as a reminder of the importance of ensuring compliance with the FCRA, and that the use of data can lead to discriminatory outcomes under Federal law.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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