Judge to Equifax: Pay up! Jury awards identity theft victim over $1 million dollars

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Sometimes the good guy wins! While I would ordinarily agree, "nice guys finish last," I am pleased to report that, in this case, it is the bad guys who are retreating to a corner and licking their wounds.  In a decision handed down by a jury the US District Court in Northern California  in San Francisco, the credit reporting company Equifax was found liable for more than a million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney's fees and costs.

Of course Equifax wouldn't take this sitting down.  But Judge Susan Illston rejected Equifax's motions for a new trial and request to set aside a jury award they called "excessive".

The Judge upheld the jury award of $6,326.69 in economic damages, $315,000 in non-economic compensatory damages and $700,000 in punitive damages, plus legal fees and court costs.
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So who is the "nice guy" in question? My friend, Eric Drew.  You may recall Eric was a cancer patient, fighting for his life, when several banks erroneously issued credit in his name to an impostor--one who happened to work at the hospital where Eric was being treated for "terminal" leukemia. 

Eric has been fighting ever since to restore his good name and his credit. The court document details his struggles with cancer--how the doctors gave up on him more than once, and how he found experimental treatment that eventually worked to save his life--as well as his fight to regain his good name.
Anyone who knows of Eric's magnanimous struggles to reclaim his health and his identity have enormous respect for his courage, stamina and his unwavering commitment to seeing justice done.  When I wrote about his identity theft case back in February, I noted he was the first to win a federal criminal conviction under the Health Information Privacy (HIPAA) laws, and I pointed out that his legal battles were far from over.  Now, the next step in that legal battle has taken place, and Eric has won. His win is a huge win for all consumers who have or will have to do battle with the Goliath credit reporting agencies.

"This ruling," Eric says, "is true vindication of the last four years of my life. As a society, we need to take a long hard look at the way corporations keep our private information in secret files without our consent. Americans should be able to opt out of the credit bureau system--or it should be abolished."

Eric's ruling is not only a personal victory.  This landmark case establishes a significant precedent: banks and other financial institutions can now be held accountable for their actions. According to federal law as stated in the "Fair Credit Reporting Act", consumers have no right to sue a bank for illegally reporting false information, even when the bank fails to respond to a consumer's demands to change or delete the false information. 

In short, banks can negligently issue credit to an impostor in your name, report the information on your credit report, then completely ignore your direct demands to remove the false information, all without the threat of lawsuit.  How exactly is that "fair"? As Eric says "In court they stated they had to take the word of the creditor over the consumer because the creditor is their paying customer."
And that's a BIG part of the problem.  Their customer is always right!

Eric sued Equifax (after settling with TransUnion and Experian) for mimicking the false information provided by the banks, even after the consumer (in this case, Eric) has informed them that the information is not accurate.  By law, the credit bureaus are supposed to investigate whether the bank's reporting is true or not, upon receiving a dispute form a consumer.  Something consumers and their advocates report rarely happens, without a long protracted legal battle. It's easy to see why.

In the course of this case, it was revealed that Equifax has ONLY 200 employees in their call centers, which happen to be in Costa Rica, to service over 310 MILLION Americans. It's no wonder 12 million of them fall victim to identity theft each year!

Eric is in ONLY in favor of a credit reporting system that allows consumers to opt out if they choose. And many of us who've had our own battles with any one of the big three credit bureaus agree.  I noted Judge Illston's correct observation;  "...but he couldn't navigate the system that defendant had set up to correct his credit report" seemed to back up and validate our consumer complaints.  

Eric agreed...

"The jury and judge in my case agreed that Equifax's procedures of mimicking what banks report instead of actually investigating are in violation of the law, and that Equifax knows they are.  It is unbelievable that private corporations have the right to keep secret files on American consumers without our permission and without our ability to opt out. 

In addition, they are automating their entire business which is cutting out the consumer completely.  I challenge the very legality of the right of Credit Reporting Agencies to exist in a free society.  Storing our personal financial information in a secret system, without enough employees or mechanisms in place to do so properly and securely-is simply unacceptable."

This case is already creating ripples that could turn into waves.  The California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA) allows consumers to sue financial institutions for knowingly reporting false information.  Until recently, banks have successfully used federal preemption precedents to override the California law.  With Eric's case a matter of record, that loophole will no longer exist.

In a last-ditch effort to try to avoid having to pay the almost $1.5 million, Equifax filed a motion suggesting that a large portion of the money be "set aside" as "excessive" until an appeal could be heard. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said instead that Equifax has to cough up every single dime.

Eric's eight-year struggle first against cancer, and then against identity theft, should be a huge wake-up call for legislators and judges, like the ones in Colorado who deemed the use of someone else's Social Security number --not identity theft!

Until we give consumers more control over the sharing of their information and address the systemic problems within our current credit reporting system, consumers will continue to pay the stiff price for these insufficient and inadequate polices and procedures. 

Read Judge Susan Illston's Order Denying Defendant's Renewed Mortion for Judgment as a matter of Law and Alternative Motion for a New Trial here: Download the PDF

For more information on Eric Drew be sure to visit his site at: DrewFoundation.org.

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What many americans don't know is Equifax employees their own identity thieves and have policies that save them money while forcing consumers to spend more and more while they do nothing to help. These agents or employees hired by Equifax serve the purposes of: (1) making it very difficult for anyone to get negative information removed from their credit file, (2) manipulating credit files to prevent anyone from getting free or discounted reports or to place security freezes on credit files and most damaging, (3) people that cleverly request you provide copies of your personal information which is then used by identity thieves which increases the profits of Equifax and the other credit bureaus since it prompts consumers to buy more and more of their products. The only thing their monitoring products do is falsely claim to protect consumers from id thieves, when in reality, it's just a payoff to keep them from making you a victim of ID theft.

I'm going through an issue and just file a lawsuit against Equifax. My situation is very similar to a woman in Georgia who's lawsuit against Equifax is moving forward.

I firmly believe that the Feds and States know what's going on and are possibly mounting the largest case in history but in the meantime, Equifax is allowed to continue to do the same acts. Equifax earns a lot more through their unlawful activities now because of facilitating ID theft and violating the FCRA. These settlements are just a drop in the bucket...a cost of doing business. They have the largest racket in the world.

It's beyond ridiculous that any Judge could rule that using someone's social security number isn't identity theft. If it ain't your number chances are it belongs to someone else. Using any variation of a social security number KNOWING it IS NOT yours is still a crime isn't it? If not, I would ask WHY NOT?

I'm preparing to sue Equifax. I have been fighting a derogatory listing on my credit report that does not exist. I discovered this in 2005 when applying for a loan and according to my credit report by Equifax, I have/had a $22,330.00 tax lien.
I went to the court house where this information originated and found that a court fee I paid in 2001-2003 for $2233.50 hadn't been closed out but clearly stated court fees, nothing about taxes or tax lien.
I got certified copies and sent them to Equifax and the only change they made was to show it was released in 2005 but they are still reporting I had a $22,330.00 tax lien. So I know they had recieved the copies I sent them.
I tried agin with a dispute in 2007 to have it removed and when I actually talked to a person at Equifax, they claimed they had an agent verify the information in person.
Again I contacted the court house and was informed nobody had been there to check or verify anything of mine. I was denied credit when attempting to refinance a car.
Now, once again I filed a dispute with Equifax because I am trying to get a loan for a mortgage and the lender sent me a letter telling me I need to resolve and prove I never had a tax lien.
It took Equifax 4 days to answer my dispute with their standard letter saying they contacted the source directly and the reported tax lien is correct.
And once again I contacted the court house. The contact phone number Equifax included in their letter is a non-working number and when I called them (Equifax) to ask how they verified the information, the person I talked to at Equifax couldn't explain it. Then he claimed Equifax verified it electronically and that I needed to look in a phone book to get the correct number for the court house.
The woman I spoke to at the court house once again informed me nobody has verified the information, she double checked the court file and again verified there is absolutely nothing in it to lead anyone to believe it is anything but a court cost of $2233.50. She also told me that they have no electronic access at all, nothing is available on line. All their files are paper.
Also, the person I talked to at Equifax said they had no paperwork from me from before.
They have been reporting fraudulent information and not verifying it.
I was denied credit once in 2007 and now with my attempt to get a loan for a mortgage.
I've had to explain very personal and embarrasing information to lenders for the last 5 years to obtain credit and I've had it. My personal civil issues have no business being made available to the public and certainly have no business being in my credit report with the court docket number.
Tax liens can stay on a report for 10 years or until the statue of limitations expires.
It's absolutely absurd that I have to fight year after year over something that Equifax obviously made up.
The court docket numbers match so they had at one time somehow obtained a copy of it. I sent them copies in 2005 and yet they tell everyone I owed taxes.
After reading all the complaints online about Equifax I wonder why the US Attorney General hasn't stepped in and shut them down.

I'm responding to my own post. As I indicated, I filed a lawsuit against Equifax for 20+ distinct violations of provisions of the FCRA, Fraud and Unfair and Deceptive practices. Equifax removed my case from state court to Federal Court (Middle District of North Carolina Case # 11-CV-107) where it's currently awaiting a decision on a motion to remand.

The FCRA as it stands provides a private right for citizens to sue. The biggest problem, as the FTC and State Attorney Generals know, most citizens are simply unable to sue on their own and most of them can't even find an attorney with experience in FCRA. As an example, I found ony 1 or 2 attorneys in the state of north carolina listed on the National Association of Consumer Advocates website. Since Equifax knows this and they also know that they're still more likely to have a case dismissed or settle any case for small sums, they continue with their practices because it's far more profitable to violate the FCRA that it is to follow the law.

This was such a WELL deserved win!!!!! No body should EVER have to go through this sort of ordeal. 3 cheers to this!!!!!

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