ALERT: FTC Delays Enforcement of Red Flags Rule Through December 31, 2010

Today, the Federal Trade Commission issued a press release and an Enforcement Policy (.pdf) extending the deadline for enforcement of the FTC’s Red Flags Rule through December 31, 2010.  The agency cited requests from members of Congress for a postponement of the deadline while legislators tinker with federal law to exclude certain businesses from application of the Rule.  The FTC announcement states:

Several members of Congress have once again asked the Commission to delay the Rule’s enforcement, through the end of the year, to give Congress time to reach a consensus on the types of businesses that should be covered under the Rule. The Commission believes that a limited further postponement is warranted so that it does not begin to enforce a regulation that Congress plans to supersede.

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The Commission urges Congress to act quickly to pass legislation that will resolve any questions as to which entities are covered by the Rule and obviate the need for further enforcement delays.

In October 2009, the House of Representatives unanimously passed HR 3763 (.pdf), a bill that would exempt from application of the Rule law firms, accounting firms and medical practices with 20 or fewer employees.  This week, on Tuesday, May 25, 2010, Senators John Thune and Mark Begich introduced S.3416 (.pdf), a parallel bill that amends the law to exclude the same small firms and practices.  The bill is currently before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

This move comes days before the June 1, 2010 deadline that the FTC set in October for enforcement of the Red Flags Rule.  Beginning in 2008, the FTC created controversy by construing the Red Flags Rule to apply to a wide range of "creditors", including anyone that invoices customers after providing goods or services.  As a result, the FTC has faced backlash from law firms, accounting firms and medical practices.  Groups representing these industries have filed lawsuits against the FTC to prevent them from applying the Red Flags Rule.  

While it seems likely that Congress will exclude some business from the application of the Red Flags Rule, the current efforts may not represent cause for widespread celebration in the legal, accounting and medical communities.  If the new bill expressly excludes small practices, one effect of the new law may be to confirm a legislative intent that larger law firms, accounting firms and medical practices (i.e., those that employ more that 20 individuals) remain subject to the Red Flags Rule. 

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