FTC Will Grant Six-Month Delay of Enforcement of ‘Red Flags’ Rule

The FTC announced that they will suspend enforcement of the new “Red Flags Rule” until May 1, 2009, to give creditors and financial institutions additional time in which to develop and implement written identity theft prevention programs. The Identity Theft Rules are found at 16 C.F.R. Part 681.2.

The FTC published a FTC Business Alert in June 2008 entitled New ‘Red Flag’ Requirements for Financial Institutions and Creditors Will Help Fight Identity Theft. The Red Flags Rules apply to “financial institutions” and “creditors” with “covered accounts.”

A financial institution has the same meaning as in 15 U.S.C. 1681a(t) which 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.

The Red Flag Rules would require the establishment of an Identity Theft Prevention Program. 16 C.F.R. Part 681.2 lays out these requirements and elements:

(1) Program requirement. Each financial institution or creditor that offers or maintains one or more covered accounts must develop and implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program (Program) that is designed to detect, prevent, and mitigate identity theft in connection with the opening of a covered account or any existing covered account. The Program must be appropriate to the size and complexity of the financial institution or creditor and the nature and scope of its activities.

(2) Elements of the Program. The Program must include reasonable policies and procedures to:

(i) Identify relevant Red Flags for the covered accounts that the financial institution or creditor offers or maintains, and incorporate those Red Flags into its Program;

(ii) Detect Red Flags that have been incorporated into the Program of the financial institution or creditor;

(iii) Respond appropriately to any Red Flags that are detected pursuant to paragraph (d)(2)(ii) of this section to prevent and mitigate identity theft; and

(iv) Ensure the Program (including the Red Flags determined to be relevant) is updated periodically, to reflect changes in risks to customers and to the safety and soundness of the financial institution or creditor from identity theft.