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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.

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 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 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  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  

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  Again, the article is very well written and a must read.

February 07, 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!

February 04, 2013

Identity Theft News

Interesting Identity Theft news found on the blog.  Click here to read -

February 02, 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.

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 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.  

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.

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.

January 15, 2013

What the Smurf?! Dr. Smurf guilty of identity theft!

A Lithuanian hacker who used the screen name "Dr. Smurf" has been convicted of identity theft and sentenced to five years in prison.  Tadas Petrauskus, 23, of Brick, New Jersey, sold passwords to an unidentified western Pennsylvania person that could have potentially given the buyer access to the financial accounts of approximately 10,000 people.  

Petrauskus was caught at John F. Kennedy International Airport after flying in from Belgium in the possession of a laptop containing many credit card numbers in its memory.  Dr. Smurf was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.  Hopefully his five year sentence will seem like a Smurfing long time!

January 13, 2013

Tax Refunds for Identity Theft Victims Likely to be Delayed

Are you an identity theft victim?  Well, you are likely to be more victimized this tax season.

Last year, identity theft victims were told to expect to wait 180 days (or approximately 6 months) for their tax returns to be processed.  According to Taxpayer Advocate Service, an IRS watchdog group, the delay this year could be similar or even longer than last year's wait.

The IRS waits to give tax refunds until it completes a load of internal paperwork, even if the IRS has already determined that the identity theft victim is entitled to a refund.

When the Taxpayer Advocate Service reported to Congress recently, it recommended faster refund access and setting up a single point of contact for victims.  However, the IRS contends that its current system is effective and that it has improved procedures for stopping identity theft.  Let's hope so, because tax return identity theft has been rampant the last few years.

January 09, 2013

10,000 Active Identity Theft Rings in the U.S.?!

According to an article written by Bob Sullivan for, there are 10,000 identity theft rings active in the United States, primarily in the Southeast, including a hot spot right down the road from me in Greenville, Mississippi.  Very interesting read.  I have reposted Mr. Sullivan's article below and here is a link to his article -

"There are 10,000 active identity theft crime rings across the United States, with the greatest concentration in a "ring of fraud" that stretches across the Southeast from Virginia to Mississippi, according to a new report by fraud-fighting firm ID Analytics.

A majority of these rings are what the firm calls "Friends & Family" groups, not professional criminal organizations, the report concludes. The rings are most highly concentrated in Washington D.C.; Detroit; Tampa, Fla.; Greenville, Miss., Macon, Georgia; and Montgomery, Ala., the report found.

ID Analytics compiled the results by examining its massive database of credit applications and other identity “risk events,” which now includes 1.7 billion entries.  The firm cross references credit applications from major banks, auto dealers, wireless firms and other credit grantors looking for evidence of systematic identity fraud. Previously, ID Analytics has used its data to help identify tens of thousands of registered sex offenders who are living digital double lives, and millions of U.S. residents who are"sharing" their Social Security number with someone else.

The crime ring project is a first, says head researcher Stephen Coggeshall.

"This is first time we raised it up a level and looked at how these people are connected," he said. "I am surprised at how many rings there are."
A "crime ring" was defined by ID Analytics as two or more individuals working in concert, repeatedly submitting fraudulent applications in an attempt to commit fraud. Collusion was determined by noting when multiple members of the rings used similar personal identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, in fraud attempts.
Not every fraudulent credit application is successful; many are detected and denied by lenders' fraud-fighting tools.  Still, the attempts indicate an active fraudster at work.
Examples of fraud rings published in the report read like short mystery novels.
One four-person group in the Indianapolis-area --  made up of two members in their 70s and two 48-year-old women -- has submitted 345 fraudulent credit card applications.  The individuals’ names were not provided by ID Analytics because they have not been charged with any crime.
Another six-member ring is run by a 52-year-old woman and her sister and operates out of an apartment complex in Washington, D.C., the report said.  
"Together this team has used 10 SSNs and multiple first names, last names and  birthdates to commit fraud," the report says. "In addition to identity manipulation, this group is also applying for accounts using stolen identities (identity theft). They have completed more than 69 credit card applications and defrauded four victims, including two deceased persons."
Near McCallum, Texas, two families appear to have teamed up and specialized, with one member targeting wireless providers and two others focusing on retail and bank credit cards, the report said.  Together they have submitted 142 fraudulent applications.
"It appears that the children in the group are stealing their own parents’ identities," it added.
While traditional organized crime and drug crime rings also form ID fraud rings, Coggeshall said the most surprising result of his research was the prevalence of what he called "Friends and Family" fraud rings.  More than half of the rings include multiple family members.
"This is a strong indication that more than half are not what we’d think of as professional groups," he said. "(It’s) a family or an innocuous neighbor committing fraud.”  
"The family dynamics is a big surprise," he said. "Rather than seeing a lot of what I would say are unrelated people collaborating, we see a lot of families doing this, sharing information. Siblings and parents toggling SSNs systematically, sharing dates of birth and committing identity theft."
Coggeshall said he excluded those family groups who might be sharing identities to simply avoid bad credit histories -- a brother and sister living together, and the brother allowing the sister to use his Social Security number to obtain cell service, for example.
"Every one of the (10,000) is committing fraud with the intent to not pay," he said, and doing it at least 10 times or more.
Another surprise in the report: Numerous studies have shown that the rate of identity theft is higher in urban areas, but the number of crime rings is much higher in rural areas, Coggeshall said.
"The map is a surprise, the systematic collusion in the South," he said.
One potential explanation:  Identity theft and methamphetamine crime rings often go hand in hand, with meth addicts trading stolen mail and credit card applications for drugs.  Meth addiction rates are also higher in rural areas. 
But that doesn't completely explain the ID fraud rings to Coggeshall.
"These rural areas must make it easier for people to collude, for some reason," he said.
ID Analytics, which was acquired last year by identity theft monitoring service LifeLock Inc., has indicated a willingness to share the crime ring data with law enforcement, but Coggeshall said he was unaware of any arrests that have resulted from the research.
That level of information sharing is in its early stages, he said.
"It's not our business to (encourage law enforcement to act). I would say law enforcement is very busy and has to pick priorities. ... We do this for our commercial clients. We are having conversations with law enforcement agencies, but they are not too far along. I would say law enforcement is cautiously interested."

January 08, 2013

New FCRA Lawsuit Against Equifax

The Kittell Law Firm filed a new Fair Credit Reporting Act lawsuit today against Equifax for mixing the credit file of our client with that of his father.  As a result, three of the father's tax liens were reported by Equifax on our client's credit report.  What's even worse than that?  Equifax failed to remove the father's tax liens from the son's credit report, even after the son provided documentation that the tax liens belonged to the father.  Equifax continued reporting the father's tax liens on the son's credit report, causing the son to be denied credit on at least three occasions. 

Its bad enough to mix up two people with different names, different Social Security numbers, different addresses and different dates of birth.  What's worse is that Equifax still could not get it right even after being told to fix the obvious error.  Good thing the Fair Credit Reporting Act exists to provide consumers with the opportunity to obtain justice for the aggravation and other damages caused by the credit bureaus' callous disrespect for the accuracy of the credit reports they generate.