On January 6, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued a California-based mortgage broker for allegedly disclosing the personal information of customers who left negative Yelp reviews, and filed a settlement of the claims.

According to the complaint, Ramon Walker is the owner and operator of Mortgage Solutions FCS, Inc., a broker connecting residential mortgage lenders with prospective borrowers.  In providing its services, Mortgage Solutions allegedly obtains personal information directly from its customers and from their credit reports.

In response to negative customer reviews on Yelp, Walker allegedly posted comments that disclosed many reviewers’ personal information.  The complaint explains that Walker’s comments, publicly available on Yelp, discussed the reviewers’ “sources of income, debt-to-income ratios, credit history, taxes, family relationships, and health.”  For example, one comment disclosed a reviewer’s missed and late payments to banks, and publicly stated, “[a]ll of these late payments are having an enormous negative impact on your credit score.”

In many comments, Walker also disclosed the reviewer’s first and last names or enough information such that the reviewer is “readily identifiable” by Yelp users.  The complaint explains that “potentially thousands of Yelp users have been able to discover” the personal information of customers reviewing Mortgage Solutions, thus depriving the customers “the ability to control whether and to whom they disclosed” such information.  The FTC alleged violations of Regulation P, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Safeguards Rule, and the FTC Act.

As part of the settlement, Walker and Mortgage Solutions must pay a $120,000 civil penalty.  They are prohibited from misrepresenting their privacy and data security practices, misusing the credit reports of customers, and improperly disclosing personal information to third parties.  In addition, Mortgage Solutions must implement a comprehensive information security program to safeguard personal information, with a periodic third-party assessment of the program.  A senior officer, appointed by Mortgage Solutions, must further oversee the program and annually certify compliance with the settlement terms.