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Notice

Notice of a Pilot Study to Aid Federal Trade Commission Staff in Conducting a Study of the Accuracy and Completeness of Consumer Reports, Pursuant to Section 319 of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Notice of pilot study and request for comment.

SUMMARY:

Pursuant to section 319 of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (“the Act” or “FACT Act”), the Federal Trade Commission (the “Commission” or “FTC”) is evaluating ways to study the accuracy and completeness of consumer reports. The purpose of the current pilot study is to evaluate the feasibility of a methodology that involves direct review by consumers of the information reported in their consumer reports. Due to the small size of the study group, statistical conclusions will not be drawn from this pilot study. Comments will be considered before the FTC submits a request for Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) review under the Paperwork Reduction Act.

DATES:

Public comments must be received on or before December 20, 2004.

ADDRESSES:

Interested parties are invited to submit written comments. Comments should refer to the “Accuracy Pilot Study: Paperwork Comment” to facilitate the organization of the comments. A comment filed in paper form should include this reference both in the text and on the envelope, and should be mailed or delivered to the following address: Federal Trade Commission/Office of the Secretary, Room H-159 (Annex Y), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. Comments containing confidential material must be filed in paper (rather than electronic) form, and the first page of the document must be clearly labeled “Confidential.” [1] The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions. Comments filed in electronic form (except comments containing any confidential material) should be sent to the following e-mail box: AccuracyPilotStudy@ftc.gov.

The FTC Act and other laws the Commission administers permit the collection of public comments to consider and use in this proceeding as appropriate. All timely and responsive public comments, whether filed in paper or electronic form, will be considered by the Commission, and will be available to the public on the FTC Web site, to the extent practicable, at http://www.ftc.gov. As a matter of discretion, the FTC makes every effort to remove home contact information for individuals from public comments it receives before placing those comments on the FTC Web site. More information, including routine uses permitted by the Start Printed Page 61676Privacy Act, may be found in the FTC's privacy policy, at http://www.ftc.gov/​ftc/​privacy.htm.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Peter Vander Nat, Economist, (202) 326-3518, Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Economics, 601 New Jersey Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, Pub. L. 108-159 (2003), among other purposes, amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) to enhance the accuracy of consumer reports. The FACT Act requires the FTC to conduct a number of studies on consumer reporting and related issues.

Section 319 of the FACT Act requires the FTC to study the accuracy and completeness of information in consumers' credit reports and to consider methods for improving the accuracy and completeness of such information. The Act requires the Commission to issue a series of biennial reports to Congress over a period of eleven years. The first report is due in December 2004.

As the first step in conducting the accuracy and completeness study, the FTC is conducting a pilot study which will evaluate the feasibility of a methodology that directly involves consumer review of the information contained in their credit reports. The pilot study does not rely on the selection of a nationally representative sample of consumers, and statistical conclusions will not be drawn from the pilot study. The FTC has designated a contractor with high-level expertise in credit reporting and related issues, subject to OMB clearance for the study under the Paperwork Reduction Act. The pilot study will involve a small group of consumers who give the contractor permission to review their credit reports. The contractor will help the consumers to understand their reports and to discern inaccuracies or incompleteness in them.

The FTC invites comments on: (1) Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, which includes the duties provided by the FACT Act, and whether the information will have practical utility; (2) the accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; (3) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (4) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology, e.g., permitting electronic submission of responses. The FTC will submit the proposed information collection requirements to OMB for review, as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. 3501-3520.

Description of the Collection of Information and Proposed Use:

The design elements of the study are the following:

1. The study will consist of approximately 35 consumers having a diversity of credit scores covering at least three broad categories: poor, fair, and good.[2] The study group will consist of adult members of households to whom credit has been extended in the form of credit cards, automobile loans, home mortgages, or other forms of installment credit. The study group will be constructed by using list-assisted random digit telephone numbers with associated addresses. The FTC will send an official letter from the FTC regarding the nature and purpose of the pilot study to potential study participants. The study contractor then will screen consumers through telephone interviews. As various consumers give consent to participate (and thereby give the contractor permission to know their credit scores), if the respective categories of credit scores have an unequal distribution of consumers, then an array will be chosen to favor consumers with the relatively lower credit scores.

2. The contractor will help the participants obtain their credit reports from the three national repositories (“credit bureaus”): Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.[3] Each study participant will request his or her three credit reports on the same day; although different participants will generally request their reports on different days.

3. The contractor will help the participants review their credit reports by (a) resolving common misunderstandings that they may have about the information in their reports (this will involve educating the participant wherever appropriate), (b) helping to identify errors or potential errors, and (c) helping to locate any material differences or discrepancies among their three reports, and checking whether these differences indicate inaccuracies.

4. The contractor will facilitate a participant's contact with the credit bureaus and with the furnishers of information to help resolve items on the credit report the participant views as inaccurate. After the completion of the review, the contractor will determine whether the credit report information has changed, and whether any such change on the credit report led to a change in the participant's credit score.

5. To the extent necessary, the contractor will guide participants through the FCRA dispute process (by law, this process is limited to 30 days, but may be extended to 45 days if the consumer submits relevant information during the 30-day period). Specifically, participants who have issues that could not be resolved informally will use the dispute process provided by the FCRA. At the conclusion of this process, the contractor will ascertain whether the credit report information has changed, and whether any such change led to a change in the credit score.

The most important information to be obtained from the study is an assessment of the degree of difficulty with which each of the above tasks was performed by the participants, including the average amount of time needed for the respective tasks. The contractor also will provide an opinion on the feasibility of a national survey of credit reports using a methodology similar to that of the pilot study.

Estimated Hours of Burden

Consumer participation involves the initial screening and any subsequent time spent to understand, to review, and if deemed necessary, to dispute information in credit reports. The FTC staff estimates that up to 225 consumers may need to be screened through telephone interviews and that each screening interview may last up to 10 minutes, resulting in approximately 38 hours (225 contacts × (1/6) hour per contact).

With respect to the hours spent by study participants, in some cases, the relative simplicity of a credit report may render little need for review, and the consumer's participation may only be an hour. For reports that involve difficulties, it may require a number of hours for the participant to be educated about the report and to resolve any disputed items. For items that are Start Printed Page 61677disputed formally, the participant must submit a dispute form, identify the nature of the problem, present verification from the participant's own records to the extent possible, and, upon furnisher response, perhaps submit follow-up information. All participants will have expert assistance available to them, and staff estimates that, on average, approximately 5 hours would be spent per participant, resulting in a total of 175 hours (5 hours × 35 participants).[4] Total burden hours are thus in a neighborhood of 200 hours (up to 38 hours for screening plus approximately 175 hours for study participants, then rounded to the nearest 50 hours).

Estimated Cost Burden

Participation by the consumer is voluntary. All participants will benefit by receiving assistance from the contractor in reviewing their credit reports, and identifying and resolving any errors. No monetary costs are involved for the consumer; specifically, participants will not pay for their credit reports.

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John D. Graubert,

Acting General Counsel.

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Footnotes

1.  Commission Rule 4.2(d), 16 CFR 4.2(d). The comment must be accompanied by an explicit request for confidential treatment, including the factual and legal basis for the request, and must identify the specific portions of the comment to be withheld from the public record. The request will be granted or denied by the Commission's General Counsel, consistent with applicable law and the public interest. See Commission Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).

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2.  A credit score is a numerical summary of the information in a credit report and is designed to be predictive of the risk of default. Credit scores are created by proprietary formulas that render the following general result: the higher the credit score, the lower the risk of default. The designated contractor for the pilot study plans to use the “FICO” credit score, which is a commonly used score in credit reporting that is developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation.

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3.  Participants will use the Web site http://www.myfico.com to request credit reports. For participants who do not have Internet access, the contractor will provide it.

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4.  From testimony before Congress by the Consumer Date Industry Association (see Statement of Stuart K. Pratt, CDIA, Before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the United States Senate, July 9, 2003), there were approximately 16 million consumer-requested credit reports across the three major credit bureaus for year 2003. Roughly 50% of these reports did not lead to any further response from the consumer (such as a call to, or dispute with, the credit bureaus). Regarding the remaining reports, about half of these (i.e., about 4 million reports) involved questions or clarifications; the other half (roughly another 4 million reports) involved some type of dispute. These data, although approximate, can be used to help create an estimate of the average time spent by participants in reviewing their credit reports.

The following estimates are for the purpose of calculating burden under the Paperwork Reduction Act. The estimates are conservative and likely overestimate the amount of time that will be spent by study participants. For reports that do not require the participants to pose any questions to a credit bureau about their report (estimated to be 50% of reports), staff estimates the participants's time spent to be an hour or less. For reports that involve questions to a credit bureau but not a formal dispute (estimated to be 25% of reports), staff estimates the participant's time spent to be 2 to 3 hours. For reports that involve a formal dispute (estimated here to be 25% of consumer-requested reports), there may be significant differences for time spent by the participants, and this variation is itself one element to be discerned by the pilot study. Staff believes that, as a preliminary estimate, a formal dispute would not involve more than 15 hours of the participant's time, particularly in light of the fact that the participants will have expert assistance available to them, including guidance through the FCRA dispute process. Overall, the staff has calculated the average time per participant by using the weighted average over the three categories of reports: (.50 × 1 hour) + (.25 × 3 hours) + (.25 × 15 hours) = 5 hours.

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[FR Doc. 04-23453 Filed 10-19-04; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4750-01-P