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socrateaser
socrateaser, Attorney
Category: Business Law
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Experience:  Retired (mostly)
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Customer Question

If someone who is NOT a business owner creates an account on a background check site to perform a SELF background check, but does so under the "business" section, is this violating laws that describe "willfully and knowingly obtaining information under false pretenses" as being unlawful and subject to a ton of jail time and fines? Apparently this person did not read the fine legal print contained within its "terms of service" that states users must be verified businesses to use use the services. So after ordering several SELF background checks, the next day this person is contacted via email by the human resources dept. of the background check company asking for business credentialing information to screen new users of their site! This email also notes the company asks for this information because federal and state law require certain restrictions on the access to some data...So the person nearly loses his lunch since he knows he has no business credentials and thought "business" meant he could just conduct business in the colloquial sense...in any even, my question is this: does this scenario in any way, shape or form violate most state or federal laws that discuss how it is illegal to obtain information under false pretenses? There are serious consequences from what I've been reading about this topic...AGAIN, let me stress, the person who used the site ONLY intended to use it to obtain information on himself.

Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Business Law
Expert:  socrateaser replied 1 year ago.
Hello,

You appear to have asked the same question twice. Are you looking for a second opinion, or do you want this question closed?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

I would like it answered as I'm not completely convinced...

Expert:  socrateaser replied 1 year ago.
Okay, thanks.

"The standard for determining when a consumer report has been obtained under false pretenses will usually be defined in relation to the permissible purposes of consumer reports which are enumerated in 15 U.S.C. § 1681b.5 This is because a consumer reporting agency can legally issue a report only for the purposes listed in § 1681b. If the agency is complying with the statute, then a user cannot utilize an account with a consumer reporting agency to obtain consumer information for a purpose not permitted by § 1681b without using a false pretense." HANSEN v. MORGAN, 582 F.2d 1214 (1978).

Title 15 U.S.C. 1681b(a) provides, "any consumer reporting agency may furnish a consumer report under the following circumstances and no other:...(2) In accordance with the written instructions of the consumer to whom it relates."

Based upon the above-quoted case law and statutory language, it is legally impossible for a consumer to commit false pretenses in connection with the procurement of a credit report, where the consumer is requesting his or her own credit report -- assuming that the consumer has provided written instructions to furnish the credit report to him or herself.

But, let's say for sake of argument, that the credit reporting agency personnel who reviews the request, decides that the consumer has misrepresented him/herself to the reporting agency, and the credit reporting agency decides to report the matter to law enforcement. Would the U.S. Department of Justice prosecute a person criminally for requesting his or her own credit report under a false name?

I suppose it's possible, but we're talking about a case that would ultimately have to go before a jury of 12, to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. This is a very costly proposition to prove a meaningless point. I can tell you that if I were on that jury, I would say, "You're kidding right? You're wasting my time with this nonsense, I'm going to find this defendant not guilty, because the case is absurd, and I want to go home!"

And, the magistrate judge in federal court is going to say, "Are you nuts, Mr./Ms. Deputy U.S. Attorney? We have terrorists running around and you want to prosecute a person for obtaining his/her own credit report under false pretenses? Get out of my courtroom!"

The case is just not going to go to trial. The government is too busy to be burdened by this sort of nonsense.

Now, the credit reporting agency could conceivably sue you for accessing the website via a misrepresentation. Or, it could simply cut off service to you. But, you don't go to jail for that sort of thing. And, what are the reporting agency's actual damages caused by your allegedly unlawful access? Maybe the difference in cost between a business account access and a consumer access -- assuming that consumer access is more costly (which it probably is not). So, here again, there's nothing to sue over. And, the judge and jury asked to consider the case is going to wonder if the credit reporting agency personnel has lost its mind by wasting everyone's time with this nonissue.

BotXXXXX XXXXXne, there is an ancient saying in the law: "De minimis non curat lex," which translates from latin as, "The law does not concern itself with trifles."

That's what this matter is, in my opinion -- a trifle.

Case dismissed.


Expert:  socrateaser replied 1 year ago.
Hello again,

Is my answer helpful to your understanding of the issue?

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