The Red Flags Rule is an anti-fraud regulation, requiring “creditors” and “financial institutions” with covered accounts to implement programs to identify, detect, and respond to the warning signs, or “red flags,” that could indicate identity theft. The financial regulatory agencies, including the FTC, developed the Rule, which was mandated by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA). FACTA’s definition of “creditor” includes any entity that regularly extends or renews credit – or arranges for others to do so – and includes all entities that regularly permit deferred payments for goods or services. Accepting credit cards as a form of payment does not, by itself, make an entity a creditor. “Financial institutions” include entities that offer accounts that enable consumers to write checks or make payments to third parties through other means, such as other negotiable instruments or telephone transfers.
The FTC’s Red Flags Web site, www.ftc.gov/redflagsrule, offers resources to help entities determine if they are covered and, if they are, how to comply with the Rule. It includes an online compliance template that enables companies to design their own Identity Theft Prevention Program through an easy-to-do form, as well as articles directed to specific businesses and industries, guidance manuals, and Frequently Asked Questions to help companies navigate the Rule.
Although many covered entities have already developed and implemented appropriate, risk-based programs, some – particularly small businesses and entities with a low risk of identity theft – remain uncertain about their obligations. The additional compliance guidance that the Commission will make available shortly is designed to help them. Among other things,
Commission staff will create a special link for small and low-risk entities on the Red Flags Rule Web site with materials that provide guidance and direction regarding the Rule. The Commission has already posted FAQs that address how the FTC intends to enforce the Rule and other topics – www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/redflagsrule/faqs.shtm. The enforcement FAQ states that Commission staff would be unlikely to recommend bringing a law enforcement action if entities know their customers or clients individually, or if they perform services in or around their customers’ homes, or if they operate in sectors where identity theft is rare and they have not themselves been the target of identity theft.