UPDATE: Whether it is because of the economy, or a fear that the Red Flags Rules affects far more retailers than may be understood, the FTC has granted a further delay of enforcement of the Red Flags Rules until August 1, 2009. Additionally, the FTC will issue a template for lower risk covered entities. The most recent update can be read here.
This time, nobody can accuse the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and other agencies of implementing new requirements that sneak up on us. These particular regulations (the “Red Flags Rules”), which require that financial institutions and creditors develop and implement written identity theft prevention programs, were issued by the FTC, the federal bank regulatory agencies and the National Credit Union Administration ("NCUA"), as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003 go into effect on August 1, 2009. Originally, the Red Flag Rules would have taken effect on November 1, 2008, which was then extended to May 1, 2009.
The Red Flags Rules require that a program be put in place by financial institutions and creditors that provides for the identification, detection, and response to patterns, practices, or specific activities – known as “red flags.” The purpose of the Red Flags Rules is to help avoid identity theft.
These "red flags" 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.
As explained by the FTC:
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.
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.
A full list of the 26 possible red flags is set forth below.
It is important that your business, if affected, conforms with the Red Flags Rules.
Mark McCreary is a partner in Fox Rothschild's Corporate Department, specializing in privacy and Internet law. If you have questions regarding this post, or any other privacy matter, you may contact Mark at (215) 299-2010 or email@example.com.
Alerts, Notifications or Warnings from a Consumer Reporting Agency
1. A fraud or active duty alert is included with a consumer report.
2. A consumer reporting agency provides a notice of credit freeze in response to a request for a consumer report.
3. A consumer reporting agency provides a notice of address discrepancy, as defined in § 334.82(b) of this part.
4. A consumer report indicates a pattern of activity that is inconsistent with the history and usual pattern of activity of an applicant or customer, such as:
a. A recent and significant increase in the volume of inquiries;
b. An unusual number of recently established credit relationships;
c. A material change in the use of credit, especially with respect to recently established credit relationships; or
d. An account that was closed for cause or identified for abuse of account privileges by a financial institution or creditor.
5. Documents provided for identification appear to have been altered or forged.
6. The photograph or physical description on the identification is not consistent with the appearance of the applicant or customer presenting the identification.
7. Other information on the identification is not consistent with information provided by the person opening a new covered account or customer presenting the identification.
8. Other information on the identification is not consistent with readily accessible information that is on file with the financial institution or creditor, such as a signature card or a recent check.
9. An application appears to have been altered or forged, or gives the appearance of having been destroyed and reassembled.
Suspicious Personal Identifying Information
10. Personal identifying information provided is inconsistent when compared against external information sources used by the financial institution or creditor. For example:
a. The address does not match any address in the consumer report; or
b. The Social Security Number (SSN) has not been issued, or is listed on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.
11. Personal identifying information provided by the customer is not consistent with other personal identifying information provided by the customer. For example, there is a lack of correlation between the SSN range and date of birth.
12. Personal identifying information provided is associated with known fraudulent activity as indicated by internal or third-party sources used by the financial institution or creditor. For example:
a. The address on an application is the same as the address provided on a fraudulent application; or
b. The phone number on an application is the same as the number provided on a fraudulent application.
13. Personal identifying information provided is of a type commonly associated with fraudulent activity as indicated by internal or third-party sources used by the financial institution or creditor. For example:
a. The address on an application is fictitious, a mail drop, or prison; or
b. The phone number is invalid, or is associated with a pager or answering service.
14. The SSN provided is the same as that submitted by other persons opening an account or other customers.
15. The address or telephone number provided is the same as or similar to the account number or telephone number submitted by an unusually large number of other persons opening accounts or other customers.
16. The person opening the covered account or the customer fails to provide all required personal identifying information on an application or in response to notification that the application is incomplete.
17. Personal identifying information provided is not consistent with personal identifying information that is on file with the financial institution or creditor.
18. For financial institutions and creditors that use challenge questions, the person opening the covered account or the customer cannot provide authenticating information beyond that which generally would be available from a wallet or consumer report.
Unusual Use of, or Suspicious Activity Related to, the Covered Account
19. Shortly following the notice of a change of address for a covered account, the institution or creditor receives a request for new, additional, or replacement cards or a cell phone, or for the addition of authorized users on the account.
20. A new revolving credit account is used in a manner commonly associated with known patterns of fraud patterns. For example:
a. The majority of available credit is used for cash advances or merchandise that is easily convertible to cash (e.g., electronics equipment or jewelry); or
b. The customer fails to make the first payment or makes an initial payment but no subsequent payments.
21. A covered account is used in a manner that is not consistent with established patterns of activity on the account. There is, for example
a. Nonpayment when there is no history of late or missed payments;
b. A material increase in the use of available credit;
c. A material change in purchasing or spending patterns;
d. A material change in electronic fund transfer patterns in connection with a deposit account; or
e. A material change in telephone call patterns in connection with a cellular phone account.
22. A covered account that has been inactive for a reasonably lengthy period of time is used (taking into consideration the type of account, the expected pattern of usage and other relevant factors).
23. Mail sent to the customer is returned repeatedly as undeliverable although transactions continue to be conducted in connection with the customer’s covered account.
24. The financial institution or creditor is notified that the customer is not receiving paper account statements.
25. The financial institution or creditor is notified of unauthorized charges or transactions in connection with a customer’s covered account.
Notice from Customers, Victims of Identity Theft, Law Enforcement Authorities, or Other Persons Regarding Possible Identity Theft in Connection with Covered Accounts Held by the Financial Institution or Creditor
26. The financial institution or creditor is notified by a customer, a victim of identity theft, a law enforcement authority, or any other person that it has opened a fraudulent account for a person engaged in identity theft.