MHCO Note: At the time of this printing, the Federal Trade Commission still has the effective date for enforcement of the Red Flags Rule as December 31, 2010. Exemptions for specific industries have been granted as late as the first week of December 2010. MHCO and MHI are conducting research on this topic and will be providing additional information as it becomes available. The Federal Trade Commission link is http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/redflagsrule/index.shtml and contains a lot of information that should be of interest to community owners and manufactured home community retailers. If you are subject to the new rule there is a template developed by the FTC for businesses at low risk for identity theft at this site. While we are still looking into this and monitoring developments in the Congress, it is likely that if a community owner is not billing for utilities, is not providing loans for residents purchasing homes, and is not acting as a retailer selling homes, they are not probably covered by the Red Flags Rule.
The "Red Flags" Rule: What You Need to Know
As of June 1, 2010 the Federal Trade Commission has begun enforcement of the 'Red Flags' rule which mandates creditors and financial institutions to implement identity theft prevention programs. It's important to spend some time discussing the rule, including what it is and what it means for you
The "Red Flags" Rule—In Plain English
The full title is this: "Identity Theft Red Flags and Address Discrepancies under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003" (FACT). It amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The rule was written specifically for companies making loans, such as banks and commercial lending institutions, but a portion of it extends to rental property owners and managers since both rely on consumer reports (e.g. credit) that (1) ask for sensitive information, such as social security numbers, and (2) could turn up address discrepancies. The philosophy behind this rule is simple: sensitive information must be kept secure to prevent identity theft, and a discrepancy in address could indicate fraud.
The rule requires that "reasonable" policies be in place to prevent identity theft and to verify a person's identity when an address discrepancy is reported. In the case of address discrepancy, if the property manager can't work out the discrepancy, the rule says he/she is not to rent to this individual.
What the Red Flags Rule Means for Rental Owners & Property Managers
While the rule has caused some confusion, compliance is straightforward. More than likely, you're probably already in compliance since the only thing that rental owners or property managers have to show is that they have a "reasonable" process in place for preventing identity theft and for checking IDs, verifying IDs, and following up/asking about any discrepancies.
For example, how do you destroy electronic and paper records that contain sensitive information? Or how about this: if someone gives one address on his or her rental application, but the license lists another address, what's your policy for handling this situation? As long as you have reasonable policies in place, you're in compliance.
Do I need to create a special report if I suspect fraud?
The other commonly asked question about the Red Flags rule (beyond "how do I comply") is this: do we need to report suspected fraud? The answer—for better or worse—is no. If you believe someone is trying to perpetrate a fraud, there's no requirement beyond not renting to this individual.
Still Unsure About the Red Flags Rule? Contact Your Screening Partner
Laws, rules, and amendments result in legitimate questions and concerns, so we understand people's trepidation regarding the Red Flags rule. While it's true that you're likely already in compliance, it can't hurt to contact your screening partner and ask to review with them your policies and systems.
For full details, visit the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/redflagsrule
The information in this article should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult an attorney for questions regarding legal matters and compliance.
ScreeningWorks is a service of RentGrow, Inc. the resident screening experts (www.ScreeningWorks.com).
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Look for more information on this issue in future issues of MHCO's "Community Update".