Credit Checks

Equifax, perhaps one of the last class actions against a credit bureau…

The Equifax breach seems to have a lot of folks angry. But not angry enough to notice that Congress along with VP Pence voted to strip us of our right to exercise our Seventh Amendment right. Why does this matter? Are you glad that we have the ability to sue Equifax for its willful violation of standard security practices? Please start from 2:55, if you don’t want to watch the entire six minutes. Congress + Pence = Death of the #RipOffClause (forced arbitration clause)= Now banks and companies like Equifax can get off scot free without any accountability.

Post Equifax Breach: Still dazed /confused about your next steps? Then read this.

If you’re like many clients with whom I’ve talked since the Equifax data breach news first surfaced, you are still processing how all of this may affect you and your family now and for the long term. Before diving into the steps, pat yourself on the back for your gumption for tackling your share of the unwieldy mess that Equifax has handed half this country. Also, while you take steps to protect your financial health, please remain on high alert for vultures. Most of you are likely exercising healthy skepticism when you see ads, unsolicited emails, bogus news stories, etc. that tell you that you need to sign up with them or click on a link. (Yes – this even happened on Equifax’s consumer site post-breach.) But note that the breach has brought out many bad actors to the fore, who are salivating at the thought of preying on the fear borne out of the Equifax debacle(s). *DISCLAIMER: NOTHING ON THIS PAGE OR WEBSITE CREATES AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  Please contact an attorney, if you seek counsel. I’m providing these steps as general guidance and NOT as your attorney. Feel free to email me, if you want to seek legal representation.

Step 1: Assume that your information was breached. The likelihood is great that your personally identifiable information (PII) is included in the 145+ millions of individual files compromised because of the Equifax breach.

Step 2:  Place a freeze (a.k.a. “credit freeze” or “security freeze”). No – it’s not difficult or “cumbersome” (as former Equifax CEO, Smith, claimed in hearings earlier this month). It’s not an absolute protection, but will serve as a significant barrier for fraudsters to use your PII. And yes – there is typically a charge (if you reside in Washington State, for example, unless you’re an ID theft victim already). For “how to’s,” see the second bullet point.

  • Please remember your children. While they probably don’t yet have a credit file (although some of my clients were surprised to find that their minors do have credit files), you want to protect against many ways that they can experience identity theft.  If your child has a credit file, then you as a parent may request a security freeze.  If your child doesn’t have a credit file, then the credit reporting agency (e.g., TransUnion, Equifax, etc.) is required to create a record for the child and is prohibited from releasing any PII about the child until the freeze is lifted.  Prepare to provide proof that you are a parent and have authority as a legal guardian to act on behalf of the child. You’ll also need to provide proof of your child’s identification.
  • How to freeze credit reports – You can call, if you’re not keen on entering your PII online (who can blame you?) You do need to contact each one of credit reporting agencies:

Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742 or visit this page of Experian’s site

TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872 or visit this page of TransUnion’s site

Equifax — 1-800-349-9960 or visit this page of Equifax’s site

  • NOTE: If you can show that you’re a victim of a data breach (hello, Equifax breach victims), you can request a free freeze with Equifax and TransUnion if you go online. But, I remain extremely cautious around any of these CRAs for good reason.

Step 3: 

  • Get a free annual credit report and scour it for anything that looks out of place.  Beware of bogus websites that entice you with offers of free credit reports in exchange for your PII. Don’t do it. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and no where else.

Step 4: Address potential/existing fraudulently opened utilities, pay TV or phone accounts. Again, it sounds incredible, but fraudsters have found that this is one of the best ways to use stolen PII.

Time to think about the ways that bad actors can use your stolen PII. Please don’t dismiss these possibilities because my clients have experienced all of these forms of ID fraud.

  • Contact the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange and request your NCTUE Data Report. Again , scour it for anything that looks out of place.www.nctue.com or 1-866-349-5185 (The NCTUE data report is a record of all telecommunication, pay TV and utility accounts reported by exchange members, including information about your account history, unpaid accounts and customer service applications.)
    NOTE: If the service provider doesn’t resolve the problem, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-225-5322 or TTY 1-888-835-5322.  Or, if you have an data privacy attorney, s/he can do this on your behalf.

Step 5: Guard against the real possibility that someone has or might have already created fake checking accounts. Order a free copy of your ChexSystems report, which compiles information about all of your checking accounts.

  • Get your report from ChexSystems via 1-800-428-9623  or ChexSystems’ website consumerdebit.com.
  • (If you find that individuals have already opened fraudulent checking accounts with your PII, you’ll need to contact every financial institution where a new account was opened. Ask them to close the accounts in writing.) Write down who you contacted and when. Keep copies of any letters you send.

Step 6: If you receive government benefits, contact that government agency and provide a written request for a report and a fraud alert. 

Lather, rinse, and repeat. Please consider this part of your regular regimen to preserve financial good health. The aforementioned are not a “once and done” list of actions.

Finally, a word about “identity theft protection” services like LifeLock, TrustedId, ProtectMyId, AllClear, blah blah blah. Instead of going with any of these services/products, watch this entertaining yet informative clip from John Oliver’s show. There was a time not too long ago, when I would have said go for it if you don’t want to do it yourself. But, I’ve since revised my opinion and would advise you to take charge of your own identity and PII, by doing all of the above on your own. Why trust some third party who only stands to profit from identity theft and data breaches.

Equifax ex-CEO’s Pants On Fire as He Lies About “Lock” vs. “Freeze”

Over the past few weeks, so many tragic headlines have gripped all of us. This includes the rising death toll and long-term devastation in Puerto Rico. Then, we continue to reel from the horrifying mass-shooting in Las Vegas. All the while, the stock market continues to rise to new highs and the GOP wants to pass a law to strip consumers’ rights to sue. That said, all of us need to stay informed about the many maneuvers that undermine consumer rights. I hope that some of you were listening closely to the words of the former Equifax CEO, Richard Smith. With his feigned concern for consumers, he continues to mislead and confuse. There are so many ways he has done so before the House Financial Services Committee. But I want to focus on one point, where he continues to show that lawmakers and the public should not trust anything he says.

Smith keeps insisting that a “lock” is preferable for customers because, he claims, a lock is very “user-friendly” and less cumbersome. But note: Locks are not the same as freezes. While activating and deactivating a security freeze takes more time. But note that state law governs security freezes, which translates to that consumers are not financially liability when executing a freeze on their credit files. So, if a consumer experiences fraud after activating a security freeze, then the consumer is in the clear. However, if you opt for a credit lock, which Smith promotes repeatedly in his testimony, it is unclear who is liable if/when fraud occurs.

A credit lock seems like an attractive choice, as  you can do this by using an app with no PIN. And, it is typically instantaneous. But interestingly, only two credit monitoring bureaus—TransUnion and Experian—offers instant credit locks. Ironically, Equifax says its lock product included in TrustedID Premier requires 24 to 48 hours to process a customer’s request: the same as for a freeze. Also realize that you can’t lock and freeze at the same time. You need to choose one over the other.

Contrary to ex-CEO Smith’s testimony, don’t find comfort in the deceptively simple route of “locking” your credit. Why? Because we represent a number of clients who

have experienced identity theft on a jaw dropping level, after already having locked their files.

DISCLAIMER: By reading this blog post, there is no attorney-client relationship formed. Anything in this article should not be construed as an attorney’s advice. Please seek the advice and counsel of an attorney directly, if you are a victim of identity theft. We welcome your inquiries and will discuss your possible case with you at no cost. Email us at Equifax@Stritmatter.com and visit our Equifax page.

The Importance of Our Equifax Class Action

Equifax class action lawsuit

A Seattle law firm is announcing a class action lawsuit against Equifax after a data breach exposed information of 143 million customers.

Posted by KING 5 on Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Equifax data breach has sent shock waves like we’ve never seen before. Some consumers are only now starting to realize the lasting damage and harm that this breach will have on their lives. Thank you for all of your calls and emails. Please continue to send concerned family, friends, co-workers to us at Equifax@Stritmatter.com. Yes – we have heard from folks from New York, Florida, Virginia, Arizona, California, etc.– a former employee of Equifax, data privacy experts, and reporters who are trying to separate fact from fiction.

I promise to write more soon, as I continue to try to respond personally to as many emails/calls as I can. But please let me address one pesky fiction that occasionally rears its head on corporate-leaning media outlets and individual’s social media posts: A class action against Equifax will address a deep-rooted systemic problem that puts all of us at risk.  I cannot speak for all lawyers. But please think twice before rushing to judgement against those of us who are committed to advancing consumer rights. I will point to our work in the massive Anthem data breach litigation: Significantly, as a result of the Anthem settlement,  a team of us have helped all affected from the breach by holding Anthem accountable. The agreement includes a court enforced term that will hold Anthem to a more rigorous standard in its safeguarding of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Anthem will have to spend at least $90 million annually on beefing up its cybersecurity practices for the coming years. At minimum, my clients will get awarded between $5K -$15K each. Then, there are dozens of attorneys like myself who have invested countless hours and dollars (yes – pursuing class actions costs money) and we will not want to retire anytime soon because we love fighting for consumers. BTW: note that federal law has a strict limit on attorneys’ fees.

Thanks to all of you who have contacted us with your stories, questions and concerns. As with our many other clients, we want to help give you a voice and make sure that you recover from this historic data breach.

Light at end of tunnel?

Privacy is a basic right that each consumer should value and want to protect.

For the last several months, I have gone mostly dark on this website. Not purposely. But I’ll admit that the absence of posts here was in large part a reaction to two events–one involving my personal life and the other involving our body politic.

All of us should not give up in the face of the breathtaking insolence of leaders beholden to corporations. I refer not only to Congress’ onslaught against consumer privacy and consumer class actions, but also to the daily (sometimes hourly) blitz on individual rights. Admittedly, it’s difficult to keep track as the battles grow more frequent.

In the end, I urge all of you to tune out the immediate noise. Please know that there are attorneys such as myself who are dedicated to the long-term fight for each consumer’s privacy rights. Always remember that our privacy rights are inextricably entwined with my fight to protect the consumer. Yes, each of us love the convenience that Google, Amazon, Apple, and other major corporations offer us. And, some of these corporations are doing a decent job to protect individual privacy rights. But each of us must remain diligent.

Please stay tuned for the following new blog posts:

  1. Think that a data breach won’t hurt you? Thank again. – I will share with you some eye opening stories of a client, whose personal data was compromised as the result of a massive healthcare data breach. To this day, she continues to deal with identity fraud.
  2. Experian rubs salt in the wounds of 143+ million breach victims  – Don’t accept offers for “free credit monitoring,” from Equifax. In addition to giving up your valuable Personal Information, you will also give you your right to sue Equifax. If you think that arbitration sounds fair enough, you are in for a rude awakening.

 

Post Spokeo: Two recent cases split on the nature of data breach injuries

In Joan Longenecker-Wells v. Benecard Services, Inc., plaintiffs were employees who learned that their personal information, including date of birth, social security number, addresses, etc. which resulted in fraudulently filed tax returns. The Third Circuit dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims, stating that their negligence claims were barred by the economic loss doctrine. The Third Circuit explains:

The District Court held that because Plaintiffs’ negligence claim sounds only in economic loss resulting from the fraudulent tax returns filed with their information, the economic loss doctrine bars their claim. We agree.

Food for thought. Can we say that a plaintiff, who experiences this grave injustice of losing the benefit of a 5 figure tax return is only sustaining economic loss? The real harm and the risk of ongoing identity fraud is more than economically and emotionally harmful. We must focus on the deeper rooted issue that lies at the heart of data intrusion cases. The fundamental right to privacy that has deep roots in our history now extends to our digital privacy.

In contrast, we have Taylor v. Spherion Staffing LLC, et al. No. 3:15-cv-2299 (N.D. Ohio 2015), Ernst v. Dish Network, LLC, et al. No. 1:12-cv-8794 (S.D.N.Y May 27, 2016); Hillson et al. v. Kelly Services, No. 2:15-cv-10803 (E.D. Mich. June 8, 2016). These cases settled and involved allegations of statutory violations. Keep in mind that Spokeo left open the possibility that a statutory violation may involve a real risk of harm to satisfy the concreteness requirement. Thus, settlement may have presented a more attractive alternative than extended litigation about the sufficiency of alleged harms.

Were you the victim of the T-Mobile/Experian Data Breach?

At least 330K WA state residents were affected by the TMobile/Experian data breach. We'd like to talk to you, if you believe that you were affected by this breach.

At least 330K WA state residents were affected by the TMobile/Experian data breach. We’d like to talk to you, if you believe that you were affected by this breach.

Earlier this month about 330,000 Washington residents are among the 15 million people affected by the cyberattack on T-Mobile US data at credit-services company Experian. If you are a Washington  State resident and victim of the T-Mobile/Experian data breach, please contact Catherine@Stritmatter.com.  We are currently investigating a class action lawsuit against Experian.

WA AG Ferguson urges T-Mobile customers “…to take immediate steps to determine whether you have been a victim of ID theft, and to protect your information going forward,” he said in a statement offering advice to affected consumers.

According to T-Mobile and the credit-reporting company Experian, the breach compromised data that was used by T-Mobile to run credit checks of individuals who applied for T-Mobile services from Sept. 1, 2013, through Sept. 16, 2015. Unauthorized access was gained to Experian’s servers, exposing data including name, address, birthdate, Social Security number, other ID numbers (such as driver’s license, military ID, or passport numbers), and additional information used in T-Mobile’s credit assessment. An estimated 15 million consumers nationwide may have had their data compromised. Experian plans to notify affected consumers.

The Attorney General’s Office offers affected consumers the following advice to guard against identity theft.

  • Monitor your credit reports. You are entitled to one free credit report every 12 monthsfrom each of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union). You can request one free report from a different bureau every four months to monitor throughout the year.
  • Consider placing a “fraud alert” with each of the three credit bureaus. An alert does not block potential new credit, but places a comment on your history. Creditors should contact you prior to opening a new account.
  • Consider placing a “security freeze” with each of the three credit bureaus to prohibit the release of any information from your reports. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft since most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer’s credit history first. This increases the likelihood that if an ID thief tries to open a new account under your name, they will be denied.
  • Beware of unsolicited calls or emails offering credit monitoring or identity theft services.  Consumers should never provide their Social Security number, credit card numbers or other personal information in response to unsolicited emails or calls.

If you find unexplained activity on your credit reports, or if you believe you are the victim of identity theft, check these resources for information on steps you can take to protect yourself.

This entry is republished from an Oct. 9, 2015 blog entry at http://nw-injurylawyers.com/.