Equifax Leaked Your Personal Information – Now What?

On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the “big three” U.S. credit reporting agencies, reported that hackers had gained access to sensitive personal information of 143 million Americans contained within Equifax’s extensive consumer files. If Equifax has a credit file on you–as it does on most Americans–your chances of being affected by this data breach are more than 50%. Equifax has known about this hack since June 29, 2017.

Equifax keeps extensive dossiers of data about consumers and sells that data to prospective creditors, current creditors, and others who subscribe to Equifax’s services. While some news outlets have described the hack as affecting Equifax “customers,” this is not accurate. Equifax has a file on you regardless of whether you have ever consented to it, and it is allowed, subject to the constraints of the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15 U.S.C. § 1681 (“FCRA”), to disclose your information to its subscribers. In other words, you are its product, not its customer.

The data in Equifax’s file typically includes the person’s name, address history, social security number, telephone numbers, a detailed credit history–i.e., open and/or closed loans and credit accounts, amounts owed, amounts and dates of recent payments, and any history of late payments or defaults–and public record information like bankruptcies or judgments. Equifax’s credit file on a consumer typically contains sufficient information to enable an unscrupulous person to steal the consumer’s identify and open fraudulent credit accounts in his or her name. This type of identity theft can result in enormous disruption, including harassment by debt collectors seeking to collect the fraudulently incurred debt, closure or freezing of existing legitimate lines of credit, and inability to obtain new legitimate loans because of damage to the victim’s credit inflicted by failure to repay the fraudulent loans.

Equifax and its main competitors, Trans Union and Experian, are closely regulated by the FCRA and have a duty under the law to ensure “maximum possible accuracy” of consumer reports provided to third parties. Numerous class-action lawsuits have already been filed regarding the data breach, and chances are good that you may be deemed a member of one or more classes and may eventually be entitled to relief accordingly. However, the more immediate concern is potential identity theft and damage to consumers’ credit. If you do not already monitor your credit, now is a good time to start. Note that Equifax, Trans Union and Experian are required by law to provide each consumer with at least one full, free credit report annually. These bureaus provide free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com. In addition, if you are ever denied credit on the basis of an Equifax, Experian, or Trans Union report, you have the legal right to receive a free copy of the report on which the credit denial was based. Exercise this right any time you are denied credit for any reason.

If you discover fraudulent accounts or inaccuracies in any or all of your credit reports, you have the right to dispute the reports and may be entitled to compensation under the FCRA. Westbrook Law PLLC is experienced in representing consumers affected by inaccurate and improper credit reporting, and can provide guidance if you discover credit reporting errors or fraud. Contact us for a consultation.

TJW

Decision in Ricketson v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc. Clarifies the Law on Fair Credit Reporting

On July 18, 2017, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan issued an important decision in the case of Ricketson v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., a case brought by Westbrook Law PLLC under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. In the Ricketson case, the plaintiff challenged Experian’s practice of rejecting consumer disputes without investigating them as required by the FCRA.

After noticing an inaccuracy in his Experian credit report, the plaintiff sent a dispute letter to Experian. Instead of investigating the disputed item as the FCRA requires, Experian sent a letter to the plaintiff stating that it had received a “suspicious request” that it believed was from a third party, and would not be investigating the disputed item. The Ricketson lawsuit resulted.

Experian challenged the lawsuit on various technical grounds. It argued that because the disputed information was never shared with any potential creditors, there could be no harm and no standing to hold Experian liable. It also argued that the evidence could not support a finding that its violation of the FCRA had been willful.

In its opinion, penned by Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker, the court rejected Experian’s arguments, finding that the investigation and disclosure requirements of the FCRA must be construed strictly, in order to avoid exactly the kind of harms the plaintiff suffered – mental stress and emotional distress linked to being deprived of accurate information about his credit standing. The court also held that Experian’s policies and procedures for handling disputes could support a jury verdict of willfulness, and thus give rise to punitive damages.

The FCRA is a comprehensive legal framework that strictly controls procedures for maintaining, correcting, and dispensing credit information about consumers. The court’s decision in Ricketson affirms the continuing vitality of the FCRA in protecting consumers’ rights not only to ensure that the information provided by credit reporting agencies about them is accurate, but also to be kept informed about the contents of the credit reporting agencies’ files.

If you discover that inaccurate information about your accounts, debts, or personal information is being reported by a credit reporting agency, contact us to learn more about your legal rights under the FCRA.

TJW

Experian’s “Suspicious Request” Letter Violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act

One of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, Experian Information Solutions, has recently undertaken an apparent effort to stymie credit repair organizations and consumer lawyers by refusing to investigate consumer disputes regarding credit report inaccuracies.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), Experian and the other CRAs are given 30 days to investigate consumer disputes, and may only refuse to investigate if the dispute lodged by the consumer is “frivolous.”  However, Experian has recently begun rejecting consumer disputes based on the fact that they are “suspicious.”  Although Experian’s “suspicious request” letter does not define what is suspicious about the consumer’s dispute, consumer advocates believe Experian is engaged in a pattern of rejecting disputes in this matter when it appears that the consumer was assisted in drafting the dispute by a credit repair organization or an attorney.  This practice violates the FCRA, robs consumers of the protections the FCRA is intended to afford, and potentially has serious negative consequences to consumers’ credit histories.

If you have had a credit reporting dispute rejected by Experian or any other credit reporting agency, contact us for a free consultation.