ICFE eNEWS #08-11 - July 14th 2008
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FTC Business Alert
Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection Division of Consumer & Business Education

New 'Red Flag' Requirements for Financial Institutions and Creditors Will Help Fight Identity Theft

San Diego, CA - Identity thieves use people's personally identifying information to open new accounts and misuse existing accounts, creating havoc for consumers and businesses. Financial institutions and creditors soon will be required to implement a program to detect, prevent, and mitigate instances of identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal bank regulatory agencies, and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) have issued regulations (the Red Flags Rules) requiring financial institutions and creditors to develop and implement written identity theft prevention programs, as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003. The programs must be in place by November 1, 2008, and must provide for the identification, detection, and response to patterns, Practices, or specific activities -- known as "red flags" -- that could indicate identity theft.

Who must comply with the Red Flags Rules?

The Red Flags Rules apply to "financial institutions" and "creditors" with "covered accounts."

Under the Rules, a financial institution is defined as a state or national bank, a state or federal savings and loan association, a mutual savings bank, a state or federal credit union, or any other entity that holds a "transaction account" belonging to a consumer. Most of these institutions are regulated by the Federal bank regulatory agencies and the NCUA. Financial institutions under the FTC's jurisdiction include state-chartered credit unions and certain other entities that hold consumer transaction accounts.

A transaction account is a deposit or other account from which the owner makes payments or transfers. Transaction accounts include checking accounts, negotiable order of withdrawal accounts, savings deposits subject to automatic transfers, and share draft accounts.
A creditor is any entity that regularly extends, renews, or continues credit; any entity that regularly arranges for the extension, renewal, or continuation of credit; or any assignee of an original creditor who is involved in the decision to extend, renew, or continue credit. Accepting credit cards as a form of payment does not in and of itself make an entity a creditor. Creditors include finance companies, automobile dealers, mortgage brokers, utility companies, and telecommunications companies. Where non-profit and government entities defer payment for goods or services, they, too, are to be considered creditors. Most creditors, except for those regulated by the Federal bank regulatory agencies and the NCUA, come under the jurisdiction of the FTC.

A covered account is an account used mostly for personal, family, or household purposes, and that involves multiple payments or transactions. Covered accounts include credit card accounts, mortgage loans, automobile loans, margin accounts, cell phone accounts, utility accounts, checking accounts, and savings accounts. A covered account is also an account for which there is a foreseeable risk of identity theft - for example, small business or sole proprietorship accounts.

Complying with the Red Flags Rules

Under the Red Flags Rules, financial institutions and creditors must develop a written program that identifies and detects the relevant warning signs -- or "red flags" -- of identity theft. These may include, for example, unusual account activity, fraud alerts on a consumer report, or attempted use of suspicious account application documents. The program must also describe appropriate responses that would prevent and mitigate the crime and detail a plan to update the program. The program must be managed by the Board of Directors or senior employees of the financial institution or creditor, include appropriate staff training, and provide for oversight of any service providers.

How flexible are the Red Flags Rules?

The Red Flags Rules provide all financial institutions and creditors the opportunity to design and implement a program that is appropriate to their size and complexity, as well as the nature of their operations. Guidelines issued by the FTC, the federal banking agencies, and the NCUA (ftc.gov/opa/2007/10/redflag.shtm) should be helpful in assisting covered entities in designing their programs. A supplement to the Guidelines identifies 26 possible red flags. These red flags are not a checklist, but rather, are examples that financial institutions and creditors may want to use as a starting point. They fall into five categories:

  • alerts, notifications, or warnings from a consumer reporting agency;

  • suspicious documents;

  • suspicious personally identifying information, such as a suspicious address;

  • unusual use of -- or suspicious activity relating to -- a covered account; and

  • notices from customers, victims of identity theft, law enforcement authorities, or other businesses about possible identity theft in connection with covered accounts.

More detailed compliance guidance on the Red Flags Rules will be forthcoming. For questions about compliance with the Rules, you may contact RedFlags@ftc.gov.

The FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, works 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 consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. 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.

Your Opportunity to Comment

The National Small Business Ombudsman and 10 Regional Fairness Boards collect comments from small businesses about federal compliance and enforcement activities. Each year, the Ombudsman evaluates the conduct of these activities and rates each agency's responsiveness to small businesses. Small businesses can comment to the Ombudsman without fear of reprisal. To comment, call toll-free 1-888-REGFAIR (1-888-734-3247) or go to www.sba.gov/ombudsman.
 

About the ICFE:

The Institute of Consumer Financial Education (ICFE) was founded in 1982 by the late Loren Dunton (creator of the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation).  The ICFE is dedicated to helping consumers of all ages to improve their spending, increase savings and use credit more wisely. 
The ICFE is an award winning, nonprofit, consumer education organization that has helped millions of people through its education programs and Resources. It publishes the Do-It-Yourself Credit File correction Guide, which is updated annually. The ICFE has distributed over one million Credit/Debit Card Warning Labels and Credit/Debit Card Sleeves world wide.

The ICFE became an official partner with the Department of Defense/Financial Readiness Campaign in June of 2004.The ICFE was an active partner in the California Student Debt Resource Awareness Project (CASDRAP) which resulted in a new web site: (studentdebthelp.org).  CASDRAP disbanded in 2010, shortly after the web site project was completed.  In 2011 the ICFE assumed the single sponsorship of the (studentdebthelp.org) web site and is now responsible for its content and operation.

The ICFE is also an on-line help for consumers who spend too much.  ICFE's spending help was featured in PARADE Magazine in the Intelligence Report section. The money helps and tips are from the ICFE's Money Instruction Book, our course in personal finance.

Visit the ICFE's other web sites at: www.financial-education-icfe.org and studentdebthelp.org.  Both sites helps consumers and students with mending spending, learning about the proper use of credit, budget and expense guidelines, how to set up and implement a spending-plan and also how to access financial education courses and how to teach children about money. Other ICFE services include: Ask Mr. G,  a free eNews, and an online resource center for students, parents and educators, plus financial education learning tools and a book store.

 
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