On March 12, the FTC released the results of a survey conducted to gauge consumer experiences in dealing with consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) following an identity theft. While the survey indicates that the majority of consumers were satisfied with their experiences, many consumers were unaware of their rights under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) before contacting a CRA. In response to concerns raised by consumers in the survey, the report recommends that (i) CRAs make it easier for consumers to reach a live person and (ii) the CFPB use its examination and rulemaking authority, and the FTC employ its enforcement authority, to address CRAs’ practice of attempting to sell identity theft products to consumers reporting identify thefts.
On April 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed a class action seeking damages against Shell under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) for displaying four digits of customers’ credit card numbers on receipts printed at Shell gas stations. Van Straaten v. Shell Oil Products Co. LLC, No. 11-8031, 2012 WL 1340111 (7th. Cir. Apr. 18, 2012). FACTA requires that such receipts truncate card numbers to display no more than the last five digits of the card number. Shell’s practice was to print the last four digits of what it calls the “primary account number,” which is the number appearing before the last five digits of the sequence of numbers appearing on the front of the credit card. The plaintiffs did not allege that Shell’s practice created a risk of identity theft, but that Shell violated FACTA by printing the wrong four numbers. Writing for a three-judge panel, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook indicated that FACTA does not define the term “card number,” but the panel did not have to define the term, “because we can’t see why anyone should care how the term is defined.” He added that ”[a] precise definition does not matter as long as the receipt contains too few digits to allow identity theft.” As to FACTA’s authorization of $100 to $1,000 for each willful violation, Judge Easterbrook noted that “[a]n award of $100 to everyone who has used a Shell Card at a Shell station would exceed $1 billion, despite the absence of a penny’s worth of injury.” Because Shell now prints no such digits on its receipts, “the substantive question in this litigation will not recur for Shell or anyone else; it need never be answered.”
On January 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court holding that printing of partial expiration dates does constitute a Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) violation, but held that the merchant, in this case, did not willfully violate FACTA by printing a portion of credit card expiration dates on customer receipts. Long v. Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A., Inc., No. 11-1554, 2012 WL 180874 (3rd Cir. Jan. 24, 2012). The consumer alleged, on behalf of a putative nationwide class, that the merchant’s practice of printing receipts that included the expiration month, but not year, willfully violated FACTA’s prohibition against printing “more than the last five digits of a credit card number or the expiration date upon any receipt provided” at the time of a transaction. On appeal, the court considered two questions: (i) whether the consumer properly alleged a FACTA violation, and (ii) whether the merchant’s alleged conduct constituted a willful violation of FACTA. The court held that FACTA prohibits printing of partial expiration dates, and that therefore plaintiff did properly allege a FACTA violation. The court explained that “expiration date” is not defined in the law, and found that “the most natural reading of the phrase” prohibits merchants from printing any of the numbers that appear in the expiration date field on a credit or debit card. If Congress had intended to allow partial expiration dates, the court stated, it would have used language similar to that used with regard to partial credit card numbers. However, the court held that the consumer could not recover statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per violation, punitive damages, and attorneys fees, because the merchant’s action was not willful. Relying on a standard set in Safeco Insurance Company of America v Burr, 551 U.S. 47 (2007), the court held that the merchant’s interpretation that the statute permits partial expiration dates was not “objectively unreasonable”, because the statute does not provide a definition for “expiration date” and the interpretation has some foundation in the statutory text. According to the court, although the merchant’s interpretation of FACTA was wrong, it did not constitute a willful violation of the law.