After spending years fruitlessly attempting to reverse errors on her credit report, an Oregon woman walked away with one of the largest awards in history against a consumer credit agency.
Julie Miller, of Marion County, Ore., was awarded $18.6 million in damages against Equifax on Friday, winning a long battle in federal court.
Miller claimed she reached out to Equifax at least eight times between 2009 and 2011 to address errors she found on her credit report. Two other credit reporting agencies had no problem fulfilling Miller's request, but Equifax, for some reason, allegedly would not budge.
It wasn't as if Miller was complaining about a missing letter in her name or an incorrect address. She claimed her report showed credit accounts she never opened, along with debt collection attempts and a Social Security number that wasn't even hers. Just one of these flags could have dealt a nasty blow to anyone's credit score, let alone all of them at once.
"There was damage to her reputation, a breach of her privacy and the lost opportunity to seek credit," her attorney, Justin Baxter, told Oregon Live. "She has a brother who is disabled and who can't get credit on his own and she wasn't able to help him."
This is a huge victory for Miller, but it only underlines the seriously disjointed world of credit reporting in the U.S.
A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that as many as one in five consumers have errors on their credit reports that could hinder their ability to apply for new credit or stick them with sky-high interest rates.
Of those errors, 5% could have blocked consumers like Miller from access to credit and only 20% of people who disputed errors ever saw them corrected.
The sad part here is that she did everything right. As soon as she discovered the problems on her report, she reached out to all three credit bureaus and requested adjustments. She also asked for copies of her credit report.
There are literally tens of thousands of complaints against credit bureaus floating in the ether out there, either with state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, all of which are charged with protecting consumers from fraud.
So, what does a case like Miller's mean for the rest of consumers out there?
Hopefully, it will encourage credit bureaus to take consumer complaints seriously, but only time will tell. Equifax is pursuing plans to appeal the verdict as we type.
If you have a credit error you'd like to report, the quickest and easiest way to go about it is to fill out an error form at each of the three major bureau's websites. From then on, it's a game of wait and see. If you feel like you're getting the runaround, it could be time to call on the FTC, CFPB or your state attorney general for help.
If your claim is denied, you can submit supplemental evidence and request another look. Once an agency has recieved your request, they are legally obligated to reopen your case and resolve your claim within 30 to 45 days under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
If they fail to do so and the errors are seriously hindering your ability to obtain credit, you could consider hiring a consumer attorney.
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