It’s every consumer’s worst credit score nightmare — a lender dinging their score repeatedly by sending wrong, negative information to the credit bureaus for years.
On Wednesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said a Texas-based auto lender did just that, sending bad data to credit bureaus through “systemic inaccuracies,” and ordered the firm to pay a $2.75 million fine.
First Investors Financial Services Group Inc. lends primarily to subprime auto loan borrowers, both through dealers and directly to consumers. The CFPB says the firm discovered a computer glitch in 2011 that caused thousands of errors, but allowed the errors to continue for months, or in some cases, years.
“The company did not replace the system or take any steps to correct the inaccurate information it had supplied,” the CFPB said. “It continued for years to use a system that it knew was flawed. Tens of thousands of consumers were likely subject to these systemic reporting problems.”
Since 2011, First Investors furnished data on 118,855 accounts to the nation’s credit bureaus.
Among the costly mistakes caused by the computer problems:
- Payments were understated, and past due amounts were overstated
- Delinquencies were reported as more recent than they should have been, causing consumers’ credit scores to drop excessively. It also meant the derogatory reports would remain on consumers’ credit reports beyond the seven years allowed by law
- Delinquency rates were inflated “substantially.” In one case, a consumer who was late once in the past 24 months was reported as delinquent 11 times
- Consumers who voluntarily surrendered their cars were reported as having their cars repossessed.
The lender told the agency that computer glitches, not a desire to harm consumers, were at fault. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said that was no excuse.
“First Investors showed careless disregard for its customers’ financial lives by knowingly distorting their credit profiles for years,” Cordray said. “Companies cannot pass the buck by blaming a computer system or vendor for their mistakes. Today’s action sends a signal that the CFPB will hold companies accountable for sending inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies.”
In its consent order, the agency says First Investors violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to enact “reasonable …procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity” of the information it supplied to the credit bureaus.
Through a statement emailed to Credit.com by First Investors CEO Tommy Moore Jr., the firm said it admits no wrongdoing. It said the errors impacted between 1% and 12% of consumer accounts.
“To resolve the matter and to avoid the expense and business disruption associated with defending any lawsuit, First Investors elected to settle the CFPB’s claims rather than dispute them in court,” the statement read. “First Investors, like many companies, relies upon an industry-leading service provider to furnish its account information to the consumer reporting agencies. When issues were identified, First Investors worked with its service provider to correct them. All of the issues described in the Consent Order were reported by First Investors to the CFPB and were either corrected or in the process of being corrected when reported.”
As part of the settlement, First Investors will contact impacted consumers and help them obtain a copy of their credit report, the CFPB said.
The story is a good reminder that through human error, computer error, or myriad other reasons, credit reports often contain mistakes, and those mistakes can be costly. Monitoring your credit scores can also help you identify a problem so you can address it before it does bigger damage. You can get your credit reports for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can obtain your credit scores for free, updated monthly, through Credit.com. It’s important to check your credit regularly, especially if you plan to make a major purchase using credit in the near future.
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