A federal jury in Oregon has hit credit reporting agency Equifax with a $18.6 million verdict. The massive fine was handed down after the agency failed for years to fix major mistakes located on a customer’s credit report.
Julie Miller of Marion County had contacted Equifax eight times between 2009 and 2011. During each round of contact, Miller attempted to have Equifax correct inaccuracies including erroneous accounts and collection attempts. Miller also attempted to prove that her Social Security number and birthday were listed incorrectly.
Miller discovered her credit woes when she attempted to apply for a new credit loan from a bank in early December 2009. Miller immediately contacted Equifax and even filled out various forms that were then faxed to the credit reporting agency. After discovering the same errors with other credit reporting agencies, Miller said those firms immediately fixed the mistakes.
The federal jury awarded Miller with a likely to be appealed verdict that includes $18.4 million in punitive damages and $180,000 in compensatory damages.
In the lawsuit, Miller claimed that Equifax ignored her legal complaints and continued to incorrectly report her information.
Justin Baxter, a Portland attorney who worked on the case, tells the Oregonian:
“There was damage to her reputation, a breach of her privacy and the lost opportunity to seek credit… She has a brother who is disabled and who can’t get credit on his own, and she wasn’t able to help him.”
Equifax spokespeople are declining to comment at this time, noting only that the company has not decided whether or not it will appeal the decision issued by the Oregon Federal District Court.
The credit reporting industry is run by several companies who constantly report incorrect information. A new study by the Federal Trade Commission found that 1,001 consumers who reviewed 2,968 of their credit reports found 21 percent contained errors.
The FTC study also found that five percent of the outright errors would likely lead to a denial of credit.
Equifax and other industry leaders have done very little over the years to correct their systems, which are meant to favor businesses and not consumers.