Consumer Wins $2.7 Mil Lawsuit Against Equifax For Screwing Up Her Credit

Angela P. Williams tried for more than a decade to clear up her credit report after Equifax confused her records with those of a person with bad credit but a similar name. The company denied any wrongdoing, right up until the jury awarded a $219,000 verdict in damages against Equifax, and $2.7 million in punitive damages for violating the federal credit-reporting laws. The decision is a victory for frustrated consumers at the mercy of these powerful institutions whose record-keeping errors can ruin innocent lives.

Florida woman wins multimillion-dollar jury verdict against Equifax [Orlando Sentinel] (Thanks to Prarit!)

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  1. IphtashuFitz says:

    I guess she won’t have to worry about credit any more after that verdict (assuming she wins the presumed appeal).

  2. theirishscion says:

    Oh lordy this is vicariously satisfying…

  3. Half Beast says:

    Pwnd for simply refusing to verify a single consumer’s identity…

  4. pepe the king prawn says:

    @iphtashufitz: she won’t need credit after she gets the 3 mil

  5. pepe the king prawn says:

    @iphtashufitz: is that what you meant? i think i misready your post… sorry!

  6. homerjay says:

    But there can’t be more than one Angela Williams in this country of millions! There simply CAN’T be!

  7. l951b951 says:

    A victory for consumers, to be sure! These Credit Bureaus must be above reproach because the information with which they are trusted has such far reaching implications in people’s lives. I hope all of the credit agencies pay attention to this verdict.

  8. North of 49 says:

    the credit bureaus won’t learn.

  9. kc2idf says:

    I’ll have to remember this the next time my credit gets tangled up with the two other people in my area with whom I share a first and last name.

  10. CaptainConsumer says:

    A victory for consumers yes, and most likely a clarion call to Credit Bureaus to insist on mandatory binding arbitration

  11. Buran says:

    @CaptainConsumer: You don’t sign a contract with the monitoring agencies, so they have no grounds to force it on you.

  12. IphtashuFitz says:

    @CaptainConsumer: I don’t see how they could enforce this. The consumer isn’t a customer of the Credit Bureau. The Credit Bureau simply collects data on you and provides that data to the banks, etc. which are their customers. Unless there’s a business relationship between you and the Credit Bureau there’s no way they can force arbitration on you.

  13. goller321 says:

    @CaptainConsumer: I don’t see how they could. We don’t enter any contracts with them, they just stalk us like the psycho girlfriend that kills your rabbit and leaves it cooking on the stove…

  14. goller321 says:

    Wow, I think CaptainConsumer was just being facetious, and we all jumped on board in a matter of 10 seconds… :)

  15. CaptainConsumer says:

    The Credit Bureaus will then most likely begin making campaign contributions in earnest today to protect them the same way Bush wants to protect the Telecoms from lawsuits over spying.

    If they can’t get protection one way, they’ll try another.

  16. MountainCop says:

    I love it when justice is served! My only regret is they weren’t nailed for 10 million in punitives.

  17. Beerad says:

    Equfiax? Somewhere out there is a legitimate company called Equfiax that’s just seething that they’re being libeled in this headline… Anyway, sounds like some horrid laxative.

  18. mantari says:

    Question: In addition, can a lender be sued for providing bad/inaccurate data?

  19. BigNutty says:

    Does anyone think that this damage award wasn’t enough? Considering the millions Equifax makes, a punitive judgement of about $30 million sounds better.

    That was just a slap on the wrist for them.

  20. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg says:

    @CaptainConsumer: It makes me weep for the future of consumer protection, but sadly, I think you’re exactly right

  21. huadpe says:

    @mantari: Yes, it’s called fraud.

  22. CSchnack says:

    The credit reporting bureaus likely WILL include arbitration if they’re not already. Here is how other industries already do it: Just looking at your report might mean consumers “agree” to binding mandatory arbitration in the event of a dispute. Actually paying for a monitoring service rather than the once annual free check allowed might already include an arbitration clause…has anyone checked?

    A good comparison is when you turn on a new computer or install software or accept a warranty on a house or product. These things usually come AFTER purchase, and you didn’t “agree” to the arbitration clause, but courts are enforcing it in favor of forcing arbitration.

    The consumer in this case is lucky and what courts need to do is reexamine their past decisions to enforce arbitration where the consumer didn’t even have a chance to bargain for the contract’s terms in advance. It’s atrocious what corporations are getting away with due to arbitration clauses and the sneaky ways they foist them on the public.

  23. She deserves every penny.

    Over a decade? That’s beyond ridiculous.

  24. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    FICO = BS

    That is all.

  25. stevefahlgren says:

    @BigNutty:

    You are correct. Equifax made 1.1 billion in the last five years. During this time its net worth almost quadrupled. It is a drop in the bucket but it may be enough for decision makers to take notice and change some of the procedures. We asked the jury for $11 million in punitives. The jury awarded $2.7 million in punitives. I respect the jury’s decision. If Equifax still does not change in the face of the jury’s demand that they do, the next punitive damages verdict could be for more. Here is the press release with some more details:

    Press Release: December 3, 2007

    Victory for Consumers: Orlando Jury Rejects Equifax’s Policies and Procedures and Demands Compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act

    On Friday, November 30, 2007, an Orlando jury entered a $2.9 million verdict against Equifax and in favor of Angela Williams after five days of testimony. The plaintiff was a consumer whose credit file had been mixed up with another person with a similar name and social security number (the last two digits were reversed). The mixing was first discovered in 1994 and Equifax was repeatedly notified in dispute after dispute that there were many false and derogatory accounts that were on Mrs. Williams’ credit report but they did not belong to her.

    Over the course of the next 13 years, Equifax would remove the derogatory collection, charge-off and repossession accounts only to later include them and others on Mrs. Williams’ credit report given to her existing and prospective creditors. The reporting of approximately 25 false accounts over the years resulted in repeated denials of credit, lost opportunity to receive credit, economic loss, damage to her reputation, loss of self-esteem, invasion of privacy, interference with her normal and usual activities, and emotional distress. To make matters even worse, Equifax reported Mrs. Williams account information on the credit reports released to the creditors of the other lady, including debt collectors.

    In August 2003, Mrs. Williams retained Robert Sola of Portland Oregon and Steve Fahlgren of Hilliard, Florida. Suit was filed in September 2003. In the lawsuit, Equifax’s representatives took the position that their policies were followed, their policies were reasonable and they had no intention of changing them. Indeed, Equifax even denied that there was evidence of inaccurate information being included on Mrs. Williams’ credit file. Equifax resisted producing certain documents even in the face of a court order. As a result, the Honorable George Sprinkel struck Equifax’s answer and entered a 20 page Order setting forth the factual findings supporting the Order. The Order details other recent instances where Equifax was warned by federal judges in Virginia not to engage in such conduct or it would risk severe sanctions.

    The evidence at trial was that Equifax violated numerous provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The jury heard over a full day of testimony from the plaintiff as to how false accounts were repeatedly reinserted onto her credit report after Equifax had said they were deleted. Yet Equifax’s representative at trial claimed that Equifax had not reinserted any false accounts on Mrs. Williams’ credit reports.. In addition, Equifax kept placing Mrs. Williams’ private account information on the other lady’s file for at least three years after the lawsuit was filed.

    A reasonable view of the evidence was that Equifax had abused its power, it was careless and did not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act as a matter of course. For example, the jury learned that Equifax had notice of a mixed file problem as early as 1992 but had not implemented sufficient procedures to address the problem. In 1992, there was an Agreement of Voluntary Assurances with the Florida Attorney General and many other state attorney generals relating to mixed files and other issues relating to the credit bureau’s grave responsibility to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy. In 1994, there was a similar FTC consent order. In 1996, the FCRA was strengthened. Each of these actions should have placed Equifax on notice to correct its policies and procedures.

    In addition, Equifax was notified by Mrs. Williams or her mother repeatedly from 1994 through 2007 that she was being mixed. Despite all of this notice about the problem of mixed files, the jury heard evidence that Equifax merely took steps to make the investigation it was required to do cheaper and less effective. By 2002, it had fired many of its investigators in Atlanta and its reinvestigations were outsourced to Jamaica and later the Phillipines. In 2002, Equifax even merged one of Mrs. Williams’ many files with another file and changed the identity of the owner of the file to the other person.

    Evan Hendricks, an author and expert on credit reporting and credit scores, assisted in the case by describing to the jury the history of credit reporting, how investigations were conducted and recommended improvements to make reinvestigations reasonable. Equifax at times suggested that there were limitations with using the industry standard but the other major credit bureaus either did not mix Mrs. Williams with someone else or corrected the problem shortly after being notified that it had mixed her. In addition, Mr. Hendricks testified that Equifax had significant influence over the organization that decided the industry standards.

    The testimony from Equifax’s representatives was that it was able to reduce the cost of the reinvestigations to about $2.00 per dispute by automation and by not providing furnishers (debt collectors, creditors, prospective creditors, public record vendors, etc.) with a consumer’s supporting documentation submitted with disputes to Equifax such as driver’s licenses and social security cards. Incredibly, Equifax did not even tell its furnishers that Mrs. Williams had previously been mixed with a person with a similar name and social security number. Indeed, Equifax even submitted some disputes in the name of the person with whom Mrs. Williams was mixed.. Testimony also suggested that more and more “reinvestigations” were conducted without any person from Equifax being involved and that furnishers were only asked to match two of four fields rather than conduct an investigation as to whether the false accounts belonged to someone of a similar name and social security number..

    Equifax defended the case by admitting very little. It admitted that it had destroyed important records and it had a policy of doing so even if litigation was filed. It denied any inaccuracies after the consumer filed suit. Throughout the years of litigation, Equifax said it did nothing wrong, had no regrets and its policies worked as intended. On the last day of trial, however, Equifax changed course and suggested that there may have been “human error” and that Equifax may have “dropped the ball” but it came four years after the lawsuit was filed and was contradicted by much of the deposition testimony.

    The jury’s verdict is a victory for consumers. Justice was achieved. The jury’s verdict is also a recognition as to how important someone’s reputation can be and was an implicit rejection of Equifax’ suggestion that a verdict of $37,000 for compensatory damages was appropriate. The jury appropriately sought to punish and deter Equifax and others in the future by awarding punitive damages. Equifax’s net profits over the last five years were approximately 1.1 billion. During this time, Equifax’s net worth had almost quadrupled. The jury awarded $219,000 for compensatory damages and $2.7 million for punitive damages. The punitive damages amount is one percent of Equifax’s 2006 profits.

    It is hoped that the verdict will lead to a change in the policies of Equifax. Congress enacted the FCRA and said that the credit bureaus had a grave responsibility to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information reported on consumers. There were many other provisions of the FCRA that were violated. The system has worked and it is hoped that Equifax will get the message.

    For additional information, contact:
    In Florida: Steve Fahlgren, Esq (407) 852-1711
    Outside Florida: Robert Sola, Esq. (503) 295-6880

  26. kbarrett says:

    HUADPE:
    @mantari: Yes, it’s called fraud.

    Equifax’s credit company customers are the only ones being defrauded.

    What happened to Angela is called either libel or slander, depending on the specifics.

  27. econobiker says:

    Why not just get a tax id number and start over? Alot of recent migrating people who enter the United States do that exact thing.

  28. stevefahlgren says:

    Press Release: December 3, 2007

    Victory for Consumers: Orlando Jury Rejects Equifax’s Policies and Procedures and Demands Compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act

    On Friday, November 30, 2007, an Orlando jury entered a $2.9 million verdict against Equifax and in favor of Angela Williams after five days of testimony. The plaintiff was a consumer whose credit file had been mixed up with another person with a similar name and social security number (the last two digits were reversed). The mixing was first discovered in 1994 and Equifax was repeatedly notified in dispute after dispute that there were many false and derogatory accounts that were on Mrs. Williams’ credit report but they did not belong to her.

    Over the course of the next 13 years, Equifax would remove the derogatory collection, charge-off and repossession accounts only to later include them and others on Mrs. Williams’ credit report given to her existing and prospective creditors. The reporting of approximately 25 false accounts over the years resulted in repeated denials of credit, lost opportunity to receive credit, economic loss, damage to her reputation, loss of self-esteem, invasion of privacy, interference with her normal and usual activities, and emotional distress. To make matters even worse, Equifax reported Mrs. Williams account information on the credit reports released to the creditors of the other lady, including debt collectors.

    In August 2003, Mrs. Williams retained Robert Sola of Portland Oregon and Steve Fahlgren of Hilliard, Florida. Suit was filed in September 2003. In the lawsuit, Equifax’s representatives took the position that their policies were followed, their policies were reasonable and they had no intention of changing them. Indeed, Equifax even denied that there was evidence of inaccurate information being included on Mrs. Williams’ credit file. Equifax resisted producing certain documents even in the face of a court order. As a result, the Honorable George Sprinkel struck Equifax’s answer and entered a 20 page Order setting forth the factual findings supporting the Order. The Order details other recent instances where Equifax was warned by federal judges in Virginia not to engage in such conduct or it would risk severe sanctions.

    The evidence at trial was that Equifax violated numerous provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The jury heard over a full day of testimony from the plaintiff as to how false accounts were repeatedly reinserted onto her credit report after Equifax had said they were deleted. Yet Equifax’s representative at trial claimed that Equifax had not reinserted any false accounts on Mrs. Williams’ credit reports.. In addition, Equifax kept placing Mrs. Williams’ private account information on the other lady’s file for at least three years after the lawsuit was filed.

    A reasonable view of the evidence was that Equifax had abused its power, it was careless and did not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act as a matter of course. For example, the jury learned that Equifax had notice of a mixed file problem as early as 1992 but had not implemented sufficient procedures to address the problem. In 1992, there was an Agreement of Voluntary Assurances with the Florida Attorney General and many other state attorney generals relating to mixed files and other issues relating to the credit bureau’s grave responsibility to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy. In 1994, there was a similar FTC consent order. In 1996, the FCRA was strengthened. Each of these actions should have placed Equifax on notice to correct its policies and procedures.

    In addition, Equifax was notified by Mrs. Williams or her mother repeatedly from 1994 through 2007 that she was being mixed. Despite all of this notice about the problem of mixed files, the jury heard evidence that Equifax merely took steps to make the investigation it was required to do cheaper and less effective. By 2002, it had fired many of its investigators in Atlanta and its reinvestigations were outsourced to Jamaica and later the Phillipines. In 2002, Equifax even merged one of Mrs. Williams’ many files with another file and changed the identity of the owner of the file to the other person.

    Evan Hendricks, an author and expert on credit reporting and credit scores, assisted in the case by describing to the jury the history of credit reporting, how investigations were conducted and recommended improvements to make reinvestigations reasonable. Equifax at times suggested that there were limitations with using the industry standard but the other major credit bureaus either did not mix Mrs. Williams with someone else or corrected the problem shortly after being notified that it had mixed her. In addition, Mr. Hendricks testified that Equifax had significant influence over the organization that decided the industry standards.

    The testimony from Equifax’s representatives was that it was able to reduce the cost of the reinvestigations to about $2.00 per dispute by automation and by not providing furnishers (debt collectors, creditors, prospective creditors, public record vendors, etc.) with a consumer’s supporting documentation submitted with disputes to Equifax such as driver’s licenses and social security cards. Incredibly, Equifax did not even tell its furnishers that Mrs. Williams had previously been mixed with a person with a similar name and social security number. Indeed, Equifax even submitted some disputes in the name of the person with whom Mrs. Williams was mixed.. Testimony also suggested that more and more “reinvestigations” were conducted without any person from Equifax being involved and that furnishers were only asked to match two of four fields rather than conduct an investigation as to whether the false accounts belonged to someone of a similar name and social security number..

    Equifax defended the case by admitting very little. It admitted that it had destroyed important records and it had a policy of doing so even if litigation was filed. It denied any inaccuracies after the consumer filed suit. Throughout the years of litigation, Equifax said it did nothing wrong, had no regrets and its policies worked as intended. On the last day of trial, however, Equifax changed course and suggested that there may have been “human error” and that Equifax may have “dropped the ball” but it came four years after the lawsuit was filed and was contradicted by much of the deposition testimony.

    The jury’s verdict is a victory for consumers. Justice was achieved. The jury’s verdict is also a recognition as to how important someone’s reputation can be and was an implicit rejection of Equifax’ suggestion that a verdict of $37,000 for compensatory damages was appropriate. The jury appropriately sought to punish and deter Equifax and others in the future by awarding punitive damages. Equifax’s net profits over the last five years were approximately 1.1 billion. During this time, Equifax’s net worth had almost quadrupled. The jury awarded $219,000 for compensatory damages and $2.7 million for punitive damages. The punitive damages amount is one percent of Equifax’s 2006 profits.

    It is hoped that the verdict will lead to a change in the policies of Equifax. Congress enacted the FCRA and said that the credit bureaus had a grave responsibility to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information reported on consumers. There were many other provisions of the FCRA that were violated. The system has worked and it is hoped that Equifax will get the message.

    For additional information, contact:
    In Florida: Steve Fahlgren, Esq (407) 852-1711
    Outside Florida: Robert Sola, Esq. (503) 295-6880

  29. Monkey4Sale says:

    the 2.9 is frivilous. and in no way a win for consumers.

  30. azntg says:

    @Monkey4Sale: Punitive damages are always frivolous. But then, I also believe that the CRA not doing anything to fix their mistake, which in turn ruined a lady’s credit for nearly a decade is also quite frivolous as well. I doubt she’s the only one that’s been having such a problem.

    If when you say “consumers,” you mean the credit reporting agencies, you’re damn right on that count! They sure as hell have to pay out (peanuts, if I have to say so myself) after virtually unchecked (until fairly recently) shafting of both consumers and creditors for decades. As for the rest of us, some hope that those truly innocent could get some justice from the mishaps that seem to happen a little too frequently to truly be “accidents.”

  31. Trackback says:

    To add (just) insult to (just) injury, a Florida judge awarded $518,301 to Angela Williams’s attorneys (PDF link). Ms. Williams recently won almost $3 million in a lawsuit against Equifax for Equifax’s refusal to fix her credit report after her identity was stolen.