The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is warning tenant screening companies and employment-screening companies that they are violating the law if they engage in shoddy name-matching procedures, saying that regulators will crack down on false identity matching.
In an advisory, the CFPB says regulators are concerned about the significant harms caused by false identity matching, where an applicant is disqualified from rental housing or a job based on having the same name as another individual who has negative information in their credit history. Specifically, the CFPB affirmed that the practice of matching consumer records solely through the matching of names is illegal under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
“This advisory opinion focuses on one method of matching being used in the industry, known as ‘name-only matching.’ This method is especially likely to lead to inaccuracies in consumer reports. Name-only matching occurs when a consumer-reporting agency uses only first and last name to determine whether a particular item of information relates to a particular individual, without using other personally identifying information such as address, date of birth, or Social Security number,” the CFPB statement said.
False identity matching hurts landlords and tenants
“These sloppy practices hurt all of us,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a statement. “They hurt prospective renters in search of affordable housing. Even when they are able to locate a safe and affordable unit, many prospective renters are unlawfully blocked from an opportunity to live in the home of their choice due to careless data practices by tenant screeners.
“These inaccuracies also hurt the small landlords who rely on tenant-screening companies to help them make smart decisions about their business, and who themselves often confront an opaque and uncompetitive market in information about tenants.”
Also, disclaimers from the companies are not good enough, according to the CFPB.
Chopra added, “I would warn consumer-reporting companies against trying to evade their responsibilities under the Fair Credit Reporting Act simply by issuing a disclaimer that their report might not be matched to the right person.”
He said false identity-matching “is especially harmful for communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by these sloppy practices. The risk of mismatching from name-only matching is likely to be greater among Hispanic, Black, and Asian individuals because there is less surname diversity in those populations than among the non-Hispanic white population.”
Following the issuance of the opinion, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau intends to take a number of additional steps:
- First, closer collaboration with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In the background-screening context, the FTC may be able to prosecute unfair or deceptive conduct not covered by the Consumer Financial Protection Act.
- Second, when prosecuting violations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, in addition to civil penalties, the CFPB will seek to redress the full range of harms to victims. The law authorizes the CFPB to seek restitution and damages for violations of the FCRA.
- Third, the bureau will make referrals to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division when the conduct might implicate violations of anti-discrimination laws.
- Finally, the CFPB will be supporting the FTC in its work to monitor business models that rely on harvesting and monetizing personal data. Big Tech giants and less well-known data brokers may be trafficking data and consumer reports that trigger obligations under the FCRA, including restrictions on permissible purposes. The CFPB will be using its tools to ensure that individuals are protected in accordance with the law.