FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 22, 2004
Gail Hillebrand, Consumers Union, (415) 431-6747, ext.136
or Brenda Muñiz, National Council of La Raza, (202) 776-1570
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A diverse group of consumer and community organizations from cities and rural areas across the country is asking the Federal Trade Commission to require Spanish language access to three key identity theft related protections – free credit reports, fraud alerts and the ability to block negative information from a credit report generated by the conduct of an imposter.
“Access to affordable credit is key to enabling families to build wealth and long-term financial security,” the group lead by Consumers Union and the National Council of La Raza said in a letter to the FTC. But it noted the agency has failed so far to use the process of writing rules to implement a new federal law – the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2004 – to make important information about new rights to prevent identity theft available to the nearly 20 million Americans who speak mainly, or exclusively, Spanish.
“We are disappointed that the recent notice of rulemaking does not require that the consumer credit reporting agencies make the first of these three rights accessible in Spanish or that the centralized web site be available in a multilingual format,” the 19 members of the group said in the letter.
“Access to bilingual information is especially important to those persons whose dominant or sole language is Spanish,” the groups said. “The growth of the commercial sector of the U.S. economy serving Spanish-speaking consumers suggests a deep consumer interest in accessing information in Spanish.”
The groups noted that Latinos, especially immigrants, are more likely to:
• avoid accumulating good or bad debt;
• disproportionately use fringe banking services, which often do not report information to the credit reporting agencies;
• be employed as seasonal or contractual labor that enables them to pay off debt in irregular cycles, which often results in lower credit scores; and
• lack sufficient credit history to generate a credit score.
The ability to access a free credit report is a key element in homeownership-readiness and for general financial literacy, the groups noted. They wrote: “Learning about the impact of a credit flaw on future economic opportunities may affect future behavior. These consumers may also use knowledge of the contents of their credit reports to explain to a future creditor the particular circumstances surrounding a prior credit problem before the credit report information results in a denial of credit or an offer of high-priced credit.”
The news media has reported identity theft against persons with common Spanish surnames, which makes the availability of a fraud alert in Spanish essential the groups told the FTC.. “A fraud alert…is the earliest opportunity a consumer has to reduce or prevent harm to the consumer’s credit and the loss of economic opportunities, which can result from identity theft. In order to place a fraud alert, however, a consumer must give highly sensitive personal information such as a Social Security Number to the credit reporting agency. Consumers may be unwilling to share this very sensitive personal information with a translator if a translator is needed to place a fraud alert because the credit reporting agency does not have bilingual staff to process such requests directly from the consumer.”
The same applies to trade line blocking, which enables consumers to block the consideration of a credit report containing fraudulent information about them. It is crucial to cleaning up a credit report, which has been compromised by negative information generated by the conduct of an imposter. “Similar to a fraud alert, a consumer must share very sensitive financial information with a credit reporting agency in order to request a trade line block. Again, consumers may be hesitant to use a translator as a proxy to request a trade line block.”
The letter noted that while U.S. businesses, such as banks and insurance companies, recognize the value of Spanish language marketing, “Unfortunately, the consumer credit reporting agencies have no economic interest in effectively marketing the right to a free credit report. For this reason, the Federal Trade Commission’s regulation regarding the centralized system – where free credit reports can be requested – should require that each method for ordering a free report be accessible in Spanish.”
The groups acknowledged recent progress by the FTC in reaching out to Spanish speaking consumers but noted: “Those activities are valuable, but they do not take the place of mandated language access to specific statutory rights.”