FTC Alleges Blocked and Delayed Consumer Calls Violated Consent Decree
Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. (Equifax) will pay $250,000 to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its blocked-call rate and hold times violated provisions of an FTC consent decree that settled a 2000 lawsuit for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That lawsuit settled charges that Equifax did not have sufficient personnel available to answer the toll-free phone number provided on consumers’ credit reports.
The FCRA is designed to promote accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of every consumer reporting agency. To provide consumers with the ability to resolve more easily inaccuracies in their credit reports, in 1996 Congress amended the FCRA to require Equifax and the two other major credit bureaus, Trans Union LLC and Experian Information Solutions, to provide consumers who receive a copy of their credit report with a toll-free telephone number and access to credit bureau personnel during normal business hours.
In January 2000, the three credit bureaus paid a total of $2.5 million to settle charges that each violated this provision of the FCRA. According to the FTC’s complaints, the bureaus blocked calls from over a million consumers who wanted to discuss the contents of, and possible errors in, their credit reports, and kept others on hold for unreasonably long periods of time. To ensure that credit bureau personnel were accessible to consumers, the settlements required that the bureaus meet specific performance standards, including limiting the number of calls that the agencies could block and the amount of time consumers could be placed on hold.
Equifax failed to meet the specific performance standards in the consent decree for blocked calls and hold times for certain periods in 2001. The settlement announced today will require Equifax to pay an additional $250,000 for violating the original consent decree.
The Commission vote to accept the settlement was 5-0. It will be filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, by the Department of Justice at the FTC’s request, and is subject to court approval.
NOTE: This consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent decrees have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the consent decree and the order modifying the consent decree are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. X000057)
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Consumer Protection