WASHINGTON The U.S. consumer watchdog said on Thursday that it sent letters to six specialty consumer reporting agencies warning that they may be breaking the law by failing to make it easy for people to get a free annual copy of their consumer reports.
Consumers have the right to a report each year from nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies, which collect information and report on check-writing, medical payments and other transactions, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said.
But the CFPB said some of these private companies fail to provide toll-free numbers or lack a simple process for consumers to obtain a free report.
The bureau did not name the companies, which could face enforcement actions if the CFPB determines that they are breaking the law.
"Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies can have great influence over a consumer's tenancy, insurance premiums, or even employment," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement.
"If we have reason to believe that companies are not following the law, we will take action," he said.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law created the consumer bureau and charged it with regulating products such as mortgage loans and credit cards.
The CFPB also oversees a federal law that requires consumer reporting companies to give consumers a free report each year.
Nationwide specialty reporting companies -- as well as the more traditional credit reporting businesses such as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- must provide a streamlined process for consumers obtain the reports.
Kent Markus, assistant director for enforcement at the CFPB, said the bureau reviewed nationwide specialty reporting agencies to see if they could find out from their websites how to request a report and if staff were prepared to provide a report when someone called to ask for one.
"This is a due diligence moment for the industry," Markus said during a conference call with reporters.
The six companies that received warning letters were asked to respond within 30 days explaining steps they have taken to comply with the law.
The agency also released a bulletin reminding consumer reporting agencies that they must provide a toll-free number, have clear instructions for requesting reports, and make sure sufficient staff are available to handle requests.
(Reporting By Emily Stephenson; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)