Equifax revealed on Thursday that as many as 143 million Americans had their personal information exposed during a hack that took place sometime between mid-May and July 2017. This breach is one of the largest cybersecurity hacks to date.
The security breach placed at risk highly sensitive consumer information such as Social Security numbers, credit card information, names, birth dates, and addresses. Unlike other recent data breaches, such as the Target hack, those affected by the Equifax breach may not even know they're customers of the company.
Equifax is proposing that customers sign up for credit monitoring and identity theft protection through its free service called TrustedID Premier. To enroll and/or check whether you were affected, visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the Check Potential Impact tab. You'll need to provide your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. Once submitted, Equifax will advise whether you may have been affected. If you choose to enroll, each customer is provided an enrollment date starting earliest on Monday.
The catch to this service is that by enrolling you may be limiting your rights to sue and may be forced to arbitrate your disputes. However, you may opt out of the arbitration provision by notifying Equifax in writing within 30 days. Even if you fail to opt out, legal precedent may be on your side to circumvent the arbitration provision, which is why it is vital to discuss your rights with a consumer attorney.
This latest breach is yet another stark reminder to Nevada consumers that they must consistently monitor their credit profiles for fraudulent information and errors. Prevention and early detection are key elements to protecting your identity from data thieves. If you find out you may be a victim of this breach, you have rights under a federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act. To assert these rights, you must alert the credit bureaus of the fraud using a police report and FTC affidavit. If the lenders and bureaus fail to update, you have the right to bring a federal lawsuit and to obtain credit correction along with damages and attorney's fees and costs.
Nevada is the 5th most vulnerable state for identity theft and fraud, according to a 2016 study by WalletHub. Many of those Nevadans affected by identity theft reside here in Las Vegas and Henderson. The study looked at factors such as the number of identity theft complaints filed by consumers within each state, and the amount of money taken by identity thieves.
To protect yourself against identity theft, remember to check your national credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) regularly. If you find errors or fraudulent accounts, you should file a police report and prepare an FTC Identity Theft Victim's Complaint and Affidavit. Send each of these reports to the credit bureaus via certified mail. The bureaus have 4 business days to block the fraudulent information and 30 days to provide you an updated and accurate report. If the bureaus and lenders fail to update your information completely, you have a legal claim against them in which you may receive monetary damages, attorney's fees and costs, and credit correction.
Other important security measures to protect against identity theft include: keeping your personal documents and information secure, checking bank statements regularly, and reporting suspicious bank activity immediately.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an inaccurate consumer report established concrete injury sufficient to confer standing to sue in federal court. On remand from a prior Supreme Court appeal, the Ninth Circuit issued a decision on August 15, 2017 finding that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects consumers from harm to their reputation and privacy interests. The court further held that publishing false information in a credit report can itself constitute concrete harm. Specifically, the court found that by producing an inaccurate credit report, the defendant had distributed a materially inaccurate report resulting in injury to the plaintiff.
Through this decision, the Ninth Circuit applied an expansive interpretation of standing to sue in federal court. Although the original case was filed in California, the ruling applies equally to consumers here in Las Vegas/Henderson and throughout Nevada as we are within the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction. As a result, consumers in Nevada are permitted to bring claims against credit bureaus and lenders who report inaccurate information on their credit reports whether or not the consumers have experienced monetary damages like loan denials, out-of-pocket expenses, or increase in interest rates.
Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit found that having an inaccurate and misleading credit reporting is damaging enough to a consumer’s privacy and reputational interest to warrant a lawsuit to remedy this harm. If you have experienced inaccurate credit reporting, you may be entitled to damages under the FCRA, correction of the inaccurate reporting, and payment of your attorney’s fees and costs.
A Las Vegas lab tech was sentenced to two years in prison this week for unlawfully obtaining the personal information of patients to open personal credit cards. The tech, who worked at Children's Heart Center in Las Vegas, accessed the personal information of patient's parents through the center's records and used the center's computers to apply for multiple credit accounts.
As discussed in previous posts, identity theft has hit a record high in the U.S. with over 15.4 million cases reported in 2016 causing approximately $16 billion in losses. As a result, it is important for Las Vegas consumers to protect their identity by keeping personal documents secure, regularly checking credit reports, and only disclosing personal information when absolutely necessary.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) spotlighted its credit reporting complaints in a recent report submitted in February 2017. The bureau also submitted a special advisory report detailing ongoing problems in the credit-reporting industry.
According to these reports, 76% of credit-reporting complaints received by the CFPB concern the accuracy of information in consumers’ credit reports. Regarding Nevada consumers, the report highlighted over 13,000 separate complaints, many of which concerned consumers residing here in Las Vegas and Henderson.
Regarding furnishers of information (e.g. banks, credit card companies, etc.), the bureau stresses the importance of policies and procedures for proper recordkeeping to avoid credit reporting mistakes. The CFPB recommends that furnishers update their employee training and institute oversight and compliance procedures to prevent these issues in the future.
Regarding credit bureaus, the reports make clear that they must vet information coming from the furnishers to ensure accuracy. The CFPB expects that the bureaus will adhere to the 30-day timeline for resolving consumer disputes outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and provide notices describing the outcome of each investigation.
On June 19, a California jury awarded consumers $60 million after finding that Trans Union violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This is the largest jury award for FCRA violations to date. The jury found that Trans Union failed to correct “mixed files,” which occur where credit bureaus report information on the wrong consumer’s profile.
In this case, Trans Union reported on multiple consumer’s profiles that they were subject to an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) alert when the consumers were not subject to this alert. An OFAC alert includes persons who are subject to sanctions, such as terrorists and narcotic traffickers. The jury also found that Trans Union failed to provide the consumers with an opportunity to review and dispute the credit information.
This case highlights the continued problems associated with inaccuracies reporting on consumer’s credit profiles. To prevent these credit issues, it is important to check your credit reports at least annually and give each report a thorough review. If you find inaccurate or fraudulent information, you have the right to dispute the information with the credit bureaus, who have 30 days to investigate the matter and remove the incorrect credit reporting. If the bureaus fail to correct the inaccurate information, you have the right to a free lawyer, removal of the information, and an award of statutory and actual damages.
The nation’s three largest credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) will soon exclude tax liens and some civil judgments from their reports. The new rules will take effect July 1, 2017 as part of the credit bureaus’ effort to update their reporting and avoid credit errors. The bureaus will remove certain tax liens and civil judgments if reports on those debts fail to include the consumer’s name, address, Social Security number and/or date of birth. Many liens and judgments do not include this information on consumer credit reports because courts require such information to be redacted. In addition to the new reporting requirements, creditors must update the public records every 90 days with the appropriate court.
These changes likely resulted in part through settlements with 30 states attorneys general, including Nevada, which focused on the credit bureaus’ failure to update consumer’s credit profiles properly. Despite these settlements and efforts by private attorneys on behalf of consumers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received almost 200,000 complaints over the past 5 years regarding credit-reporting errors and failure to investigate disputes. Consumers throughout the nation hope these new rules will lessen the harmful impact of inaccurate credit reporting related to liens and judgments.
According to a recent study, identity theft hit a record high in the United States in 2016 with over 15.4 million U.S. victims and over $16 billion in losses. The study found that, despite efforts by U.S. businesses and federal watchdog agencies, identity thieves stole nearly $1 billion more in 2016 than in 2015 and affected 2 billion more consumers. There has also been a resurgence of existing card fraud, which has increased by approximately 40%.
With the continued rise in identity theft, it is more important than ever for Nevada consumers to take steps to protect their identity. Make sure to check your national credit reports for fraudulent accounts and/or charges on at least a yearly basis through www.annualcreditreport.com. If you discover fraudulent activity, you must obtain a police report and an FTC Identity Theft Victim's Complaint and Affidavit, which you should submit to the national credit bureaus along with personal identifying documents. You should also request a fraud alert to prevent future illegal access to your credit profiles.
The Nevada Attorney General's office also recommends taking the following precautionary actions to protect your identity:
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that governs the collection and use of information about consumers, including consumer credit reports. The FCRA provides a method for victims of identity theft and/or illegal credit reporting to fix the errors and hire an attorney at no charge if the errors are not corrected within 30 days of a written dispute. Below is a list of some of the most important rights you have under the FCRA:
On March 23, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a consent order with Experian, the nation’s largest consumer reporting agency. According to the CFPB, over the span of two years, Experian advertised that its credit score was the same score lenders relied on in making credit decisions. In fact, the score marketed to consumers was different than the scores provided to lenders.
Under the consent order, Experian agrees to pay a $3 million civil penalty, inform consumers about the nature and usefulness of their credit scores, and institute a compliance plan to ensure its employees follow the consent order.
You can access and review the consent order here.