WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2000 -- The Federal Trade Commission today announced a proposed settlement with a California-based debt collection agency, Performance Capital Management, Inc. (PCM), under which the company would be fined $2 million and enjoined from what the FTC called "serious violations" of Section 623 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to the terms of the proposed settlement, payment of the fine would be waived due to the company's poor financial condition.

The FCRA regulates the collection and dissemination of sensitive information about consumers by credit bureaus and other types of consumer reporting agencies. Section 623 was added by Congress in the 1996 amendments to increase the accuracy of consumer reports by imposing specific duties upon any entity that furnishes information to a consumer reporting agency. The settlement announced today is the Commission's first enforcement action under Section 623.

PCM is a California corporation with headquarters in Irvine, California. It specializes in buying and collecting consumer debt that has been charged-off by the original creditor as uncollectible. PCM is currently in bankruptcy, and the Commission has waived the $2 million civil penalty based upon the financial condition of the company.

In its complaint against PCM, the Commission alleges that PCM violated a number of requirements imposed by Section 623. First, the complaint alleges that PCM provided credit bureaus with inaccurate "delinquency dates" for its accounts. Section 623 defines the delinquency date for an account as the month and year that an account first became delinquent. This date is important because it is used by credit bureaus to measure the seven-year period that negative credit information may be reported under the FCRA.

According to the Commission, PCM systematically reported accounts with delinquency dates that were more recent than the actual date of delinquency, resulting in negative information remaining on consumers' credit reports long beyond the seven-year period mandated by the FCRA. The Commission's complaint also alleges that PCM violated Section 623 by ignoring or failing to investigate consumer disputes referred by credit bureaus, and by failing to notify credit bureaus when consumers disputed collection accounts with PCM.

The proposed settlement would require PCM to provide correct delinquency dates when reporting collection accounts to credit bureaus. The agreement also mandates the proper investigation of disputes. Where PCM learns during an investigation that account records no longer exist for a disputed debt, the company must delete the information from credit bureau files within five days. Finally, the agreement would require PCM to report as "disputed" all accounts where consumers have disputed the information with PCM.