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Monday, August 14, 2017

Equifax Continues to Profit from Identity Theft

Equifax has purchased identity theft protection company ID Watchdog for approximately $63 million.  ID Watchdog is a company similar to LifeLock that consumers and/or businesses pay to monitor their credit and "protect" them from identity theft.

Once again, Equifax is turning identity theft into a profit center for its bottom line.

Equifax is charged by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to perform reasonable investigations of disputes made to it by consumers regarding inaccuracies on their Equifax credit reports.  Many times these errors are actually credit cards, car loans or mortgages opened fraudulently as a result of the theft of the consumer's identity.  Sometimes they are collection accounts placed on the consumer's credit report for the purpose of collecting a debt that was fraudulently incurred by the identity thief in the consumer's name.

Unfortunately for the victims of identity theft, Equifax often does not properly investigate the disputes it receives, particularly those resulting from identity theft.  Instead of investing in its investigation department to make it better and thereby possibly comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and eliminate a lot of the problems caused by identity theft, Equifax instead turns identity theft into a means to profit by investing in a company that sells identity theft protection.

If Equifax consistently did the job that it is required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to do and actually investigate the disputes it receives, consumers would not need to pay for additional identity theft protection or pay for multiple credit reports per year or monitoring services to monitor their credit.  But instead of doing what it is required to do, Equifax instead chooses to profit from the misery of identity theft victims.

Equifax makes millions each year from the sale of credit monitoring services and the sale of extra credit reports to consumers worried about the contents of their credit report because their identities have been stolen.  A quick glance at Equifax's website makes it clear that Equifax's emphasis is on profiting from credit monitoring rather than properly investigating consumer disputes.  Equifax sells no less than 5 different plans to "monitor" and "protect" the contents of your credit report.  They give these plans catchy names like Premier Plans, Advantage Plans, Family Plans, Patrol and even Patrol Premier, but they all have the same goal, to play on consumers' fear of identity theft to line Equifax's pockets.

The purchase of ID Watchdog provides Equifax with another mechanism to use to prey on consumers' fears.  Instead of fixing the problem by deleting fraudulent accounts when disputed, Equifax wants consumers scared so they will buy more credit reports and purchase more monitoring plans.  Not that Equifax is likely to delete any fraud accounts found by the consumers using Equifax's monitoring products.

Equifax needs to be held accountable for its decision to put its profits over the well being of consumers.  The government has put in place the mechanism to hold Equifax accountable when it passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Now it is up to juries and judges to show Equifax and the other credit bureaus that putting profits over people will not be tolerated.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When to Check Your Child's Credit Report


When will your child have a credit report?  When should you check?  When should you be worried that your child does have a credit report or his or her credit is being used illegally?  These are all questions that parents should ask themselves but often do not.

Typically children do not have a credit report until they actually obtain their first credit card, car loan or other financial account that is reported to the credit bureaus.  This should not be until they reach the age of majority in your state and can legally enter into contracts.  Or possibly when you add them as an authorized user on your credit cards, not that I am advising that you do that!

However, children are often the victim of identity theft long before they are old enough to obtain their own credit.  Oftentimes, it is the children's own parents that are the identity thieves.  A credit application appears one day bearing the child's name.  A quick application later and a credit card is issued in the child's name.  An unscrupulous parent can then make charges that never are re-paid and that do not affect the parent's credit report.

And it does not have to be a parent that commits the crime.  Children can be the victims of identity thieves that are complete strangers.  Or they can be "merged" with another adult consumer whose name, Social Security number or other personal identifiers are similar to your child's. While the credit bureaus should never allow this to happen by simply complying with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it does happen because the credit bureaus are known to utilize faulty matching logic that allows such mergers of credit files to happen.  And when it does, the adult consumer's credit can and will land on your child's credit report, which can cause your child to be saddled with a bad credit history before he or she even begins their adult life.

So how do you protect your child's credit?  What are the warning signs that a child has become the victim of identity theft?

You should check your child's credit report with the big three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union).  I suggest doing so when your child turns 16.  At that point, the response from the credit bureaus should be that they have no file on your child.  But, if there is a file, then you should obtain a copy (as the parent and guardian of your child) and confirm that no accounts have been opened in your child's name.  If there have been, dispute them to the credit bureaus, including a copy of your child's birth certificate to prove that he or she is under age and thus not legally capable of entering into a contract to open the fraudulently opened account(s).

Should you ever check your child's credit before their sixteenth birthday?  Yes - if your child starts receiving credit card applications, collection letters, collection calls or anything indicating that they have been active in the credit arena.  This could be an indication that your child's identity has already been stolen.  At that point, despite your child's age, you should check his or her credit report and dispute anything that is not your child's credit.

Ideally, such disputes will lead to the child's credit reports being corrected.  But, as often is the case, the credit bureaus will not perform reasonable investigations of the disputes.  At that point, you should consult an attorney like me who specializes in Fair Credit Reporting Act litigation.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Nigerian Citizen Living in North Carolina Arrested for Phishing Scheme Targeting Connecticut and Minnesota School Districts


Nigerian citizen Daniel Adekunle Ojo was arrested last week at his residence in Durham, North Carolina.  He is being charged with fraud and identity theft charges filed by Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly.  

According to prosecutors, an employee of the school district in Glastonbury, Connecticut was duped by a phishing scam which Ojo was allegedly behind.  A phishing scam is one where an e-mail that appears to be legitimate asks for private information or asks the recipient to log into an account via a link in the e-mail that leads to a fake site.  Any information obtained via a phishing e-mail can then be used to commit financial crimes.

In the scam in this case, Ojo allegedly spoofed the e-mail address of one school employee to make it appear that that school employee had e-mailed the duped school employee requesting tax information for approximately 1600 school district employees.  Not realizing that the e-mail was not legitimate, the school employee provided the requested information, which was then allegedly used to file 122 bogus tax returns for nearly $600,000.00 in tax refunds.

At least six of the fake tax returns were successful, resulting in $37,000 in refunds being electronically deposited into various bank accounts.

It is also believed by authorities that Ojo is not a first time phisher.  Ojo's e-mail address is allegedly linked to a phishing scam in Bloomington, Minnesota earlier this year and that he may have been involved in a similar phishing scheme that targeted the school district in Groton, Connecticut.

A federal magistrate judge has ordered that Ojo be transferred to Connecticut for prosecution.

My advice on phishing:  Never, ever, ever click a link in an unsolicited e-mail even if it looks like it legitimately came from a company with which you do business.  Phishers used to be easy to spot due to their poor grammar and odd phrasing used in their e-mails.  But they have gotten better and thus less easy to spot.  So think hard before you click.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Former Member of U.S. Air Force Sentenced for Identity Theft

A Chicago federal judge has sentenced former U.S. Air Force member Ronnie Allen II to four years in prison for identity theft.  Allen, a 28 year old from Greensboro, North Carolina, used his position in the Air Force to illegally steal an Air Force personnel roster.  The roster contained the private identifying information of approximately 1400 Air Force members stationed in Idaho at Mountain Home Air Force Base.  The personal identifiers contained on the illegally obtained roster included the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of the Air Force personnel.

According to prosecutors, Allen distributed the private information contained on the stolen personnel roster with the hopes of profiting financially from the information's dissemination.  The information was then used to file tax returns and fraudulently open financial accounts using the names and other personal identifiers of the Air Force personnel on the list.  It is unclear how many Air Force members were affected by the dissemination of their personal identifiers.

Identity thieves often open credit cards and obtain loans using the names and other personal identifiers of their victims.  The criminals then make purchases using the credit cards and loans.  The charges are never paid, thereby ruining the victims' credit history while the criminals profit without any consequence unless caught.

Forged tax returns are a slightly different version of identity theft and has become more prevalent in recent years.  Instead of opening new financial accounts, the identity thief completes a fake tax return in the name of his or her victim.  This is usually done as early in the year as possible before the victim files his or her real return.  The taxes on the forged tax return are calculated in such a way as to result in a refund, which is then received by the identity thief instead of the victim.  The IRS has been cracking down on this type of identity theft over the past few years, including issuing pin numbers to persons who have been victims in the past to prevent the crime from reoccurring.

While four years seems like a light sentence to me (the damage to the victims' credit histories will last longer than that), it is good to see an identity thief like Allen being forced to spend at least some time behind bars.

Monday, July 18, 2016

New Blog Series - What Are Your Rights as a Consumer?

I represent a lot of consumers in litigation using different federal laws designed to protect consumers, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  Because of my experience representing consumers, I have learned what rights consumers have and, as often as not, do not know they have.  So I decided to do a series of posts about various rights of consumers under these particular laws.  I hope you enjoy and learn about your rights as a consumer.

This first post in the series will focus on when a consumer is entitled to a free credit report.

So when is a consumer entitled to a free credit report?  First bombshell - no consumer is ever entitled to a free credit report.  Why?  Because, in the eyes of the law, there is no such thing as a credit report.  Instead, there are "consumer reports" and "consumer disclosures". Consumer reports are basically what most people think of as a credit report.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA" for short) calls them "consumer reports" because consumer reports can deal with much more than just credit. Background checks are consumer reports. Compilations of insurance claims can be consumer reports. So can a lot of other types of  "compilations of data".

15 U.S.C. 1681a(d) defines a consumer report as "any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for:

(A) credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes;

(B) employment purposes; or

(C) any other purpose authorized under section 604 [§ 1681b]."

15 U.S.C. 1681a(f) defines a consumer reporting agency as "any person which, for monetary fees, dues, or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties, and which uses any means or facility of interstate commerce for the purpose of preparing or furnishing consumer reports."  And the term "person" includes corporations or other businesses.

So what does all that mean?  Basically, if a company or person compiles information about a consumer not for their own use but to provide it to a third party (usually in exchange for money), then that compilation of information is a consumer report.  When a consumer applies for a loan or a credit card, and the potential lender gets the consumer's "credit report", what they are actually getting is a consumer report.  Also, when a consumer applies for insurance or, in some instances, even a job, the insurance company or prospective employer often obtains a consumer report on the consumer before agreeing to insure or hire the consumer.

So when does a consumer have the right to get a free copy of his or her consumer report?  Again the answer is never.  This is true because consumer reports, by definition, only go to third parties (i.e. the credit card company or mortgage company).

A consumer disclosure, on the other hand, is basically the same thing as a consumer report (at least its supposed to be) but the recipient of a consumer disclosure is the consumer rather than a third party.  For the most part, the content of both a consumer report and a consumer disclosure is supposed to be the same, with the exception that the consumer disclosure has both hard and soft inquiries (i.e. records of access of the consumer's credit history).  

Why the distinction between consumer reports and consumer disclosures?  Because a credit bureau can not be sued for the contents of a consumer disclosure but can be sued, under the right circumstances, for the contents of a consumer report.  The concept is similar to the tort of defamation.  You can not sue me for telling you something untrue about you but you can sue me if I tell a third person a lie about you.  Congress wanted the credit bureaus to feel free to truthfully disclose the contents of a person's credit history to the person himself so they made it where the credit bureaus can not be sued for the contents of the consumer disclosure.  But they can still be sued for the contents of the consumer report, assuming they violated the FCRA in some way.

So, when is a consumer entitled to a free copy of his or her consumer disclosure?  

First and foremost, the big three credit bureaus Experian, Trans Union and Equifax are required to provide every consumer with one free consumer disclosure a year.  But this is not an automatic process.  Instead, each consumer must request a copy of his or her consumer disclosure.  There are three different ways to request your free annual consumer disclosure.  First, you can visit www.annualcreditreport.com which, despite the name, gets you your free consumer disclosures. This website allows you to choose which of your free consumer disclosures you want and then the site re-directs you to each of the credit bureaus' websites for the disclosures you want.

Second, you can use the form found at this location -  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0093-annual-report-request-form.pdf - to request your free consumer disclosure(s) by mail.  Takes longer than accessing them online but at least you know you are not agreeing to anything you do not want to agree to by using the credit bureaus' websites.

Lastly, you can call 877-322-8228 to request your free consumer disclosures by phone.

Consumers are also entitled to a free consumer disclosure from any credit bureau whose consumer report is used in an adverse credit decision.  If you are turned down for a credit card, a loan, insurance or a job based upon the contents of your consumer report, the "user" of the consumer report that turned you down is required to send you a letter that states that you were turned down and gives you the name of the consumer reporting agency (aka credit bureau) whose information they used as part of the basis for their decision to turn you down.  This adverse action letter is also supposed to either give you the reasons why you were turned down (i.e. too much derogatory credit) or tell you that, within 60 days, you can request the reasons for the turn down in writing.  In my opinion, you should always request the reasons why you were turned down because you might just learn something like that bad credit is wrongfully being reported on your consumer report and because you should make any user too lazy to include the reasons in the original adverse action letter have to take the extra step of having to write you a whole new letter to tell what they should have already told you.

You can also get a free copy of your consumer disclosure if you are a victim of fraud, including identity theft.  

To sum up - free credit report?  No such thing.  Free consumer report?  Not going to happen.  Free consumer disclosure?  Once a year from each of Experian, Trans Union and Equifax and also any time you suffer a credit denial or other adverse action or are the victim of fraud.

Last but not least.  If you find an error on your consumer disclosure, you should dispute it to the credit bureaus in writing using their addresses found on this page of our website - www.kittell-law.com/practiceareas/consumerprotection/faircreditreportingact.  

And, if the credit bureaus fail to correct the error, you should contact the Kittell Law Firm to seek possible representation in a Fair Credit Reporting Act lawsuit.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Beware of Credit "Repair"

Be wary of anyone claiming that they can get current accurate information on your credit report deleted.  Information can only be deleted from your credit report if it is inaccurate (i.e. not yours) or if it is obsolete, which usually means a derogatory item that is more than seven years old. Lately, I have seen a lot of ads on the internet promising to "repair" your credit by having accurate, current information removed from your credit report.  This simply does not happen and is, at best, a waste of money and, at worst, a scam.

Some of the ads I have seen for credit "repair" are obviously untrustworthy.  For instance, I keep getting Craigslist ads in my Google alerts for credit repair.  You should always beware anything on Craigslist but even more so when it involves a service that sounds too good to be true. These ads are clearly suspect and are easy to avoid.

Other ads are a bit slicker, like the ones for so called law firms in the credit repair business. From my experience from potential clients who seek to hire me after one or more credit repair law firms fail to help them (after taking a lot of their money, of course), the disputes lodged by the credit repair "law" firms look like they are written by a toddler with a thesaurus, using long words that sound impressive but make no sense in the context they are used and, as a result, are not even likely to get an error deleted, much less an accurate item.  From what I have been told, the credit bureaus routinely ignore disputes from known credit repair law firms since they dispute all derogatory items, not just the erroneous items, and thus have little or no credibility left with the credit bureaus.  

Do not fall for these scams.  If you want an actual error corrected on your credit report, contact the Kittell Law Firm in Hernando, Mississippi and we will be glad to assist you in correcting your credit reports.  Not only will we do our best to get your credit report corrected, if a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act has occurred, we will seek compensation for you as well.  Unlike credit repair "law" firms, we try to put money in your pocket, not take it from you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Identities stolen at a pace of one every three seconds in 2012!


One Mississippi ... Two Mississippi ... Three  Mississippi.  Uh oh, someone's identity was just stolen.

The crime rate for identity theft rose to a three year high in 2012 with more than 5% of the adult population in the United States having their identities stolen last year. That's 12.6 million consumers.  That also means that an identity was stolen every three seconds last year.

Yes, every three seconds someone in the U.S. fell victim to the life changing, financial ruining, most under prosecuted crime in the nation. Not to mention a crime that is nearly impossible to recover from absent a lawsuit due not to the complexity of the crime but the utter disdain for consumers held by the consumer reporting agencies and the furnishers of credit information, i.e. those charged by the Fair Credit Reporting Act with investigating credit errors but instead refer those investigations to out sourced, less than minimum wage, third world citizens who are not even given the authority or tools to investigate or correct any error.

The percentage of identity theft rose to more than 5% in 2012 , up from 4.9% in 2011 and 4.35% in 2010. Identity thieves made off with over $21 billion in fraudulently obtained goods and cash, the most since 2009. Also, not surprising, the same study revealed that the most important information to keep private is your social security number. According to the study, consumers whose social security number were compromised were five times more likely to have their identity stolen than an average consumer. So keep your social security number private as much as you can. And, if you are one of the unlucky 5%, be sure to hire the Kittell Law Firm and regain your correct financial reputation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ten Things the Credit Bureaus WON'T Say

The lastest blog post from the Kittell Law Firm website:


Kudos to AnnaMaria Andriotis at MarketWatch.com for penning a very detailed, in depth article about ten things the Credit Bureaus won't say.  I have taken her ten items (in quotes below) and added my thoughts for each one.  I even added an eleventh thing you won't hear the Credit Bureaus dare say.  

Ms. Andriotis' ten things include:

1.  "We track a lot more than just your credit."  What else do the credit bureaus track?  Pretty much anything they can.  Like how often you change addresses, your income, your neighbors' income, your city's average credit score, how often you change jobs.

2.  "Selling your secrets is how we make our money."  That's right.  We are not their customers.  We are the credit bureaus' inventory.  And they get that inventory virtually for free (and sometimes even paid to receive it).  Our creditors provide our payment history to the credit bureaus, sometimes paying a fee to do so.  The credit bureaus then turn around, compile the information provided by thousands of creditors into your credit report, then sell it to you and to your potential creditors.  If they assign the oh so magical "credit score" to your report, you pay even more just to have this number (which is not even uniform among the credit bureaus, creditors, or any one else).  Craziness.  Even crazier ... the credit bureau industry raked in about $4 billion in 2011 selling you to your potential creditors.  Bet you did not see a dime of what your information was sold for.

3.  "What we know could cost you a new job."  That's right.  Your credit report is not just used to determine your credit eligibility.  Its also used by many employers (roughly 47%) during the hiring process.  That often leads to a catch 22 type situation that I have talked about before, where you can't pay your bills because you are unemployed but no one will hire you because your credit score dropped when you didn't pay your bills.  Again I say ... craziness.

4.  "Good thing no one's reporting on our mistakes.  Oh, wait."  That's right, the credit bureaus sure wish there was no one paying attention to their accuracy level, or lack thereof.  But watchdog organizations and even governmental entities are watching and keeping track.  US PIRG releases a report on the credit bureaus every few years.  And, recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued a very damning report that showed that one in five (20%) of consumers had at least one error on one of their credit reports.  13% had errors serious enough to effect their credit score (i.e. making their interest rates go up or their credit limits lessen) and 5% had errors so bad that the errors would cause them to be denied credit in their entirety.  5% may not sound like a big number but that equates to about 10 million consumers.  Crazy scary.  

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the credit reports they create (and profit off of).  Obviously, a 20% error rate is not "maximum possible accuracy" or anything close.  Add that to an investigation procedure that does not come close to cutting it, and you have a recipe for a disaster for hardworking consumers.

5.  "You all look so much alike..."  This one hits on the faulty matching logic used by the credit bureaus.  When the credit bureaus generate credit reports about you, they use the personal identifying information inputted by the entity seeking your credit report to match you to your accounts.  At least that's how its supposed to work.  But the credit bureaus do not require an exact match of your identifiers to the identifiers on an account before putting that account on your report and publishing it as your history, good bad or ugly.  This leads to what us consumer lawyers call mixed files.  

I once represented a man whose brother had bad credit.  They shared the same last name (most brothers do).  Their first names started with the same first initial (again, a lot of parents name their kids like that).  Seven out of nine numbers of their SSN match, but that's not uncommon.  If they got their SSNs in the same state and at the same time, its very likely the first five numbers match, since (back then) the first three numbers identified the state where the SSN was obtained and the middle two numbers indicate the grouping of SSNs.  So if their parents got their SSNs at the same time (again, not uncommon), the first five numbers are very likely to match.  The two brothers in my case also shared the same address at one point in time (about 10 years before, again not uncommon for brothers to at one point live at the same address).  And their dates of birth were within ten years of each other, again not unusual for brothers.  So the only personal identifier that match was the brothers' last name.  But that was enough for one of the credit bureaus to merge their credit histories together, ruining my client's stellar credit with his deadbeat brother's terrible credit history.  And, even worse, the credit bureau refused to fix the problem, despite years of dispute from my client, until he finally hired me and we sued.  Crazy crazy.

6.  "... its tough to tell you apart from someone pretending to be you."  Ahhhh, identity theft.  The reason I got into this area of law to begin with.  While its often the fraudulent credit grantors that are to blame for the problems caused by identity theft, the blame also rests with the credit bureaus.  What the credit bureaus want to ignore is the Fair Credit Reporting Act's requirement that they perform reasonable investigations of disputes lodged with them.  They want to pretend that only the furnisher of the disputed information has such a duty (the furnisher does have such a duty, but its in addition to the credit bureaus' duty to investigate).  So all the credit bureaus do to "investigate" is forward your dispute to the furnisher of the erroneous data and then ... wait for it ... the credit bureaus believe whatever the furnisher tells them, no matter what proof you have provided of your innocence.  Unlike in baseball, where "a tie goes to the runner", in the credit bureau's world, you are out no matter how much you beat the throw, simply because the umpire says you are.  And the umpire gets paid if he calls you out.  Twice as crazy as crazy crazy.

7.  "Your 'credit dispute' doesn't quite capture our attention."  This ties into number 6.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to forward all relevant information provided to them by the disputing consumer to the furnisher of the information being disputed.  But what's nuts (I've run out of ways to say crazy)?  The credit bureaus do not even have a system in place that allows them to forward any documentation or other proof from consumers to the furnishers.  All they provide is a two digit code that is translated on the furnisher's end to a basic dispute like "identity theft" or "not mine" or "never late".  So send proof that you were never late, including bank statements and cancelled checks.  But don't expect your proof to make it to that umpire waiting to get paid by calling you out.

8.  "But bypass us on a dispute, and it'll cost you."  This is one of the main weaknesses of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  There is no liability on the part of the credit bureaus or the furnishers of erroneous information if you do what most think is natural - dispute directly to the furnisher.  For the duties to perform reasonable investigations under the FCRA to be triggered, the dispute must be made to the credit bureau, even though all they are going to do is pass the buck on to the furnisher.  Many consumers do not know this and end up with no claim because they went straight to the furnisher instead of disputing to the credit bureaus.  

But disputes to furnishers are important.  See number 6 and 7.  Because the credit bureaus do not pass on your proof to the furnishers and do a lack luster job translating your two page dispute letter to a two digit dispute code, sometimes it is up to you to let the furnisher know what  your dispute really is.  And disputing to the furnisher in addition to the credit bureaus eliminates a common defense I see from the furnishers where they claim ignorance as to a consumer's dispute because they did not know what the credit bureaus meant by their two digit dispute code.  So, all you consumers out there, be sure to lodge your disputes with both the credit bureaus (to trigger the FCRA) and with the furnishers (so they can't avoid the FCRA by claiming ignorance).  

9.  "By the time you're done fighting us, your toddler could be a teen."  This one I don't necessarily agree with but only because the author of the Marketwatch.com article did not mention that you can stop the errors in most cases by suing the credit bureaus and/or furnishers.  So, consumers, dispute the errors.  Dispute them often.  Give the credit bureaus and the furnishers multiple opportunities to do the right thing and fix their errors.  And, if and when they don't, hire a consumer lawyer like me and sue the bureaus and furnishers for all the heart ache their refusal to follow the law caused.

10.  "Be careful what you pay for."  I've blogged on this topic multiple times at my blog located at www.fcralawyer.blogspot.com.  The credit score that the credit bureaus so eagerly want to sell you is not even a score that is used by your potential creditors in most instances.  It can be enlightening to see what your score is, but that's about it.  Creditor use different scoring models than what the credit bureaus sell.  The most common used score is the FICO score which consumers can buy, but not from the credit bureaus.  To see your FICO score, go to http://www.myfico.com.  

All in all, a very informative and well researched and written article about the true story of the credit bureaus.  But I will add a number 11 of my own:

11.  "We spend top dollar to investigate your disputes."  Not only do they not pay top dollar, the credit bureaus do not even pay minimum wage to its investigators. Your disputes are being handled by outsourced investigators in such places as Chile, Jamaica and the Philippines, where the credit bureaus do not even have to pay minimum wage.  And they work their third world work force by placing quotas on how many investigations they perform a day.  One such credit bureau expected its investigators to perform an investigation every two minutes.  That's simply not enough time to "reasonably" investigate anything.  Craziness to the nth degree.

Please read the full article at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-credit-bureaus-wont-say-2013-02-15.  Again, the article is very well written and a must read.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


You'd better start reminding your neighbors to pay their bills on time!  Now, at least one of the big three credit bureaus is keeping track of credit scores by metro area as a reflection on your personal likelihood to pay your bills.

This should go in the "surely they've got to be kidding" file.  But its apparently true.  Trans Union, one of the big three credit bureaus and perennial defendant in Fair Credit Reporting Act lawsuits filed by the Kittell Law Firm, is tracking not just individuals' credit scores, but the average credit scores for metropolitan areas.  This means that, even if you pay all your bills on time, you are at risk for getting turned down for a loan or credit card just because the area you live in has a low average score, which, according to Trans Union, could indicate that you are less likely to repay your creditors.  

Calling them "metro ratings", Trans Union has determined the average risk for a collective group of people based upon where those people live.  Trans Union contends that a low metro rating does not just reflect a geographically localized group of lackluster bill payers, but could indicate places where the unemployment rate is high or that were hit hard by home foreclosures.  

Talk about hitting where it hurts.  Trans Union, who cares about nothing other than its bottom line, is now making it harder for entrepreneurs who want to start a new business in an economically deprived community to get a loan because the unemployed workforce who need the jobs the entrepreneur is trying to create have low credit scores because (duuuhhh) they are unemployed and can not pay their bills.  I have not seen a vicious cycle like that since employers started reviewing credit reports during the job application process, which lead to the old "you don't have a job so your credit score is low so I can't give you a job because your credit score is low" catch 22.  

So, neighbors of mine, don't be surprised if I start calling you once a month to make sure you are paying your bills timely, particularly since the area I live in (the Memphis Tenn-Miss-Ark area which us local folks call the Mid South) has the worst metro rating in the nation at a measly score of 638 (using a scoring range of 501 to 999).  

The complete list of the worst metro scores are:

Memphis, Tenn-Miss-Ark. 638;
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas 639;
Jackson, MIss. 642;
El Paso 650;
Columbia, SC 650;
Las Vegas-Paradise 650;
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway 651;
Baton Rouge 651;
Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla. 651; and
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 651.

The best metro scores are:

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. 700;
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. 696;
Madison, Wis. 694;
Honolulu 693;
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis. 691;
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. 690;
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H. 689;
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif. 685;
Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine 685; and
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. 685.

What's next?  Trans Union tracking people's credit worthiness by the average score of their Facebook friends?  Now where was that "unfriend" button again?!

Or how about by party affiliation?  Interesting to note that the 8 of the 10 bad metro scores came from "red" states while all 10 of the best metro scores came from "blue" states.  I guess Trans Union will now be claiming that Democrats are better financial risks that Republicans!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Identity Theft News

Interesting Identity Theft news found on the Kittell-law.com blog.  Click here to read - http://www.kittell-law.com/blog/2013/02/04/bullet-points-identity-theft-news-121708

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Equifax is selling your private employment info - including how much you make!


Think your income is a secret?  Think again!  Equifax, one of the big three national credit bureaus, has accumulated a database of over 190 million employment and salary records (including income) and is in the business of selling it without the consent of the consumers to which the information relates.

Equifax calls this database the "Work Number" database, which is comprised of what many until now considered private information.  The Work Number database contains week to week pay stub information dating back years.  It also contains information about whether a consumer ever filed an unemployment claim, information about their health care providers and whether the consumer has dental insurance.

How does Equifax obtain this information?  Directly from thousands of U.S. businesses, who actually pay Equifax to accept the private information of their employees.  These businesses should be ashamed of themselves for disclosing this private information of their employees.  The businesses involved in this nefarious scheme include many of the Fortune 500.  Some even allow Equifax direct access to their data so Equifax always has the most up to date information.

Equifax sells your personal income data to various types of buyers, including debt collectors and student loan issuers.  Doing so enhances the debt collectors ability to coerce consumers into paying.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Huge Data Breach At South Carolina Department of Revenue


As I learned today, the powers that be at the South Carolina Department of Revenue did not believe they needed all the security features to protect the information included with the tax returns sent when tax payers electronically filed  their returns.  As a result, the information of 3 million people and over 200,000 businesses was stolen by a data thief in Eastern Europe.

What's even worse than being exposed to identity theft by an Eastern European identity theft ring?  Having the state that did not care enough to protect your data "compensate" you for the risk it put you in by signing you up for a year's worth of credit monitoring from Experian.  Why is that so bad (other than the fact that credit monitoring does not help protect consumers much, if any)?  Because Experian requires anyone using their monitoring service to agree to binding arbitration.  So for the 3 million South Carolinians and 200,000 plus South Carolina businesses to receive the offered "protection" from the risk of identity theft caused by South Carolina's negligence, the consumers and businesses have to give up their right to a jury trial against Experian, which basically means they lose again if their identity is actually stolen.  

South Carolina, you should be ashamed of yourself for doing this to your own people.  My advice to those affected in South Carolina.  Don't use the monitoring service.  Instead, use annualcreditreport.com and stagger  your annual three free credit reports (one from each of the big three credit bureaus) to one every four months and thereby monitor your credit for free without giving up any of your rights.  Oh, and if your identity is stolen, hire the Kittell Law Firm to sue the credit bureaus and creditors who refuse to remove the fraud accounts that will show up on your credit reports.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Identity theft insurance? Is it really worth it?


Is Identity Theft Insurance worth the money?  Not really.

In fact, is it even insurance?  Insurance is supposed to pay for things to be replaced or repaired in the event something bad happens.  Home insurance pays for repairs to your house after its damaged by a fire or a storm.  Flood insurance will pay to replace something damaged in a flood.  Car insurance will pay to repair your car after a wreck.  Life insurance replaces the income of a deceased family member.

Identity theft "insurance," on the other hand, does little to repair the damage caused by identity theft.  Sure, it will reimburse a victim for some out of pocket costs, such as certified mail costs and notary charges.  At a cost of $15.00 to $20.00 a month, identity theft insurance seems like its a good deal.  But its not.  It covers little.  

Identity theft insurance does nothing to fix the main thing damaged by identity theft - the victim's good name.  Identity theft insurance does nothing to correct the errors on the victim's credit reports caused by the appearance of the numerous fraud accounts opened in the victim's name.  It does not eliminate from the victim's criminal record any charges for crimes committed in the victim's name.  It does not reimburse the victim for the mental anguish and stress caused by dealing with uncaring credit bureaus, fraud credit grantors and relentless collection agencies.  Nor does identity theft insurance reimburse victims for the embarrassment they suffer when denied credit due to the unpaid fraud accounts appearing on their credit reports.

Instead of wasting money on identity theft insurance, consumers should save that money and instead be proactive about protecting their Social Security Number and disputing the fraudulent accounts if and when their identities are stolen.  Then, if the credit bureaus and the fraud credit grantors fail to fix the errors caused by the identity theft, the consumer should hire an experienced Fair Credit Reporting Act attorney (like me!) and sue the credit bureaus and credit grantors using the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Not only does filing such a lawsuit not cost the consumer his or her hard earned money (like identity theft insurance does), if the consumer prevails at trial or settles with the credit bureau, the consumer receives compensation for all he or she has gone through.  

Do yourself a favor.  Don't pay for identity theft insurance and, if you feel like you must, simply add it as a rider to your existing homeowner's insurance.  That's a much cheaper option (usually $20 or $30 a year, rather than a month) and provides the same level of coverage.  And, if you end up being a victim of identity theft, don't just look to your identity theft insurance for reimbursement.  Hire an experienced consumer attorney who can get your credit report corrected and get you fair compensation for your damages.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Experian purchases Australian company Pacific Micromarketing

Expanding its Australian presence, consumer reporting agency Experian Information Solutions, Inc. purchased Pacific Micromarketing for $6.17 million dollars. Pacific Micromarketing was the analytics arm of Australian publisher PMP. Pacific Micromarketing surveys, records, classifies, segments and analyzes customer databases for commercial clients. The 15 year old company operated in Australia and New Zealand. All of its employees will transfer to Experian offices as part of the sale. PMP will continue to exist as its own company.