Equifax Security Breach

The credit bureau, Equifax, disclosed a breach of up to 143 million Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other personal data.

The types of information taken from the massive credit bureau, particularly Social Security numbers and dates of birth, are the keys to new account identity theft. This means identity thieves could open fraudulent credit accounts and rack up tons of debt in your name.

What to do now?

PennPIRG, a consumer advocacy group based in Philadelphia, PA, stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On September 7, 2017, PennPIRG issued a news release in relation to the security breach by Equifax.  They made the following recommendations:

Q:  How do I know if I’ve been hacked?

A:  Equifax has a website where you can use a tool to see whether your information has been hacked. We have seen numerous press reports stating that it gives different results at different times. For now, it’s safer to assume that your information has been compromised.

With your credit report, you can spot any unauthorized activity. By law, you can request a copy of your credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months. If you request one report every three to four months, you have your own version of free credit monitoring throughout the year.

Q:  What can I do to make sure my identity is safe going forward?

A:  Consumers can place Fraud Alerts or Security Freezes on their credit reports. Taking this step instructs any potential lender or credit issuer to contact you by phone and request verification that you requested to open a new account, increase a credit limit, or obtain a new card. If you decline or can not be reached, the request for new credit will be denied.

Manage Your Finances

It’s important to keep a close eye on your credit, bank accounts and statements, and credit reports.  Managing your credit and finances will help ensure that identity thieves do not harm your good name.

  • Review your bank and credit card statements regularly. If you notice suspicious activity, contact the bank or creditor.
  • Obtain current credit reports. If accounts are listed that you did not open, write to the credit bureau to request documentation from the furnisher, such as the copy of a signed loan application.
  • Keep your bills paid. Having strong credit makes it easier to identify actual problems with a creditor or inaccuracies on a credit report.

Identity Theft Victims

If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, the following steps must be taken:

  • File a police report.
  • Request a current credit report from each Transunion, Experian & Equifax.
  • File a Fraud Alert.
  • Contact creditors and banks to inform them of the identity theft. Review all charges on your accounts. Dispute, in writing, any unrecognizable charges.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission by submitting an Identity Theft Affidavit.
  • Maintain a file documenting all calls and correspondence related to the theft, police reports, credit reports, credit card statements, etc.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a consumer protection law firm representing victims of credit reporting errors and privacy violations.  Contact Us for a free evaluation of your credit reports.

Obsessed about your Credit Score?

Last month, Discover announced it would give consumers free access to their credit scores. No more need to sign up for an actual service from Discover, like a credit card, as in the past. A mere email address would do. It was, Discover executives all but admitted, a marketing play. “I’m not going to say we don’t want to be America’s favorite credit card,” the company’s chief marketing officer told the New York Times. “We would love it if they all applied for Discover Cards,” added company president Roger Hochschild in USA Today.

Make no mistake. A credit score is a lure. We care about that three-digit number that purports to measure our creditworthiness. Many of us see it as a measure of our self-worth, not to mention the character of others.

Checking Your Credit Score

Looking to improve your credit score? Checking those numbers frequently could influence your score’s direction.

Whether you are buying a home, applying for a credit card, or securing a job, the importance of your credit score is not a new phenomenon, and according to a recent survey conducted by Discover (DFS), consumers who keep track of their credit scores see positive benefits.

Court Ruling: Debt Collector May Not Falsely Threaten IRS Reporting

Despite clear instruction in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which bans deceptive statements, and from the federal courts, debt collectors continue to try to intimidate consumers by mentioning the IRS or its forms, in collection letters.

Enhanced Recovery Company of Jacksonville, FL was sued for language in their collection notices which threatened consumers with Internal Revenue Service reporting. The federal district court in Philadelphia, PA agreed that the misstatement of IRS reporting might well influence the consumer’s decision making. For more detail, see Velez v. Enhanced Recovery.

If you are receiving notices from collection agencies or law firm collectors, it is wise to have them reviewed by a qualified consumer protection attorney. Whether the debt is owed or not, the collector must comply with consumer protection laws.

Court Ruling: New Jersey Debt Collector Threatens Wage Garnishment

Hayt Hayt & Landau, a collection law firm with offices in Philadelphia, PA and Eatontown, NJ, was sued in 2016 for repeatedly garnishing bank accounts of an innocent consumer who bore a similar name to a relative who actually owed the money. Needless to say, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that it is unfair and deceptive to take these measures.

The law firm disagreed and filed a motion asking the federal judge in Trenton, NJ to dismiss the case. The Federal court held that this may well violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and denied the law firm’s motion to dismiss the case. This case will proceed against Hayt Hayt & Landau for violation of the FDCPA.

If you have been sued or garnished over a debt you don’t owe, seek the help of a qualified consumer protection attorney. Collection agencies and law firm collectors must comply with consumer protection laws.

Class Action Lawsuits: Banning Arbitration Unfavorable for Consumers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, is typically portrayed as a federal agency that protects the little guy from powerful big banks. But reality looks much different. Read the full article…

Comments from Cary Flitter:

The financial crisis of 2008 brought on a recession and drove the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse. Much of this was caused by the repeal, over a period of years, of laws and regulations governing Wall Street and the spread of Forced Arbitration. Consumers and the public can take a step to rein in Wall Street excesses through Class Action Lawsuits.

In a class action, one consumer can sue on behalf of a larger group of consumers who were harmed in the same way. This allows them to hire top lawyers at no cost, and to spread the expense. Banks and other lenders never liked class action lawsuits because they can require banks to refund millions over a large group of consumers. They would rather each individual consumer be forced to try to find a lawyer and sue for a refund of say, $50.

For over fifteen years, banks have been abusing the Arbitration law by inserting an arbitration provision into many, or most, loan agreements, credit card applications, and all manners of consumer contracts. (Arbitration clauses almost always ban class action suits.)

A 2010 financial reform law permitted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to study – and if warranted, to ban – forced arbitration in certain consumer contracts. The CFPB study revealed what most had thought: banks and other lenders use Arbitration to get immunity from class action suits. And Wall Street isn’t at all happy that their party is coming to an end soon.

Forbes and other Wall Street publications can pick on the class action lawyers, but these specialized consumer attorneys take a great risk, usually over many years, to achieve justice, and often refunds, for large groups of consumers that would never occur otherwise. So, applause please for the CFPB and its Director Richard Cordray for standing up to Wall Street and, hopefully soon, restoring your legal right to go to court as a group to enforce your rights as a consumer.

U.S. Court of Appeals Ruling: Consumer Privacy

In 2014, the U. S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, PA ruled that the display of a consumer’s account number through a window envelope of a collection letter violated the consumer’s right to privacy, which is protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

In 2015, United States District Court sitting in Philadelphia, PA granted judgment in favor of a consumer where a different debt collector displayed a bar code revealing sensitive account information through a collection envelope window.

For more information on this precedent setting area of consumer privacy, see Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing and Palmer v. Credit Collection Services, Inc.

Why It Pays to Know Your Credit Score

Anyone who has a credit card, auto loan, student loan or mortgage has a credit score. What your score is and how you use credit every day should be as important to you as it is to the many others who do know your score and use it for their own purposes.

Comments from Cary Flitter:

There are many reasons that could contribute to low credit scores. Flitter Milz recommends that consumers start addressing their credit score by viewing current credit reports from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax for inaccurate listings, such as incorrect payment histories, duplicate entries for the same account, re-aged listings, or a mis-merged file. When these errors are cleaned up, credit scores will rise.

Where Did the Telemarketer Find Your Number?

The tragic case of Edna Schmeets is not hard to understand, and is alarmingly common. The Harvey, North Dakota, woman turned over some $400,000 to telephone con artists who convinced her that the money would allow her to claim a $19 million Jamaican lottery prize. Of course, there was no prize, no lottery and Edna’s money went straight to a bunch of crooks. Read the full article…

Comments from Cary Flitter:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone has contacted you about being the winner or a lottery, file complaints by contacting the Federal Trade Commission. 1-877-FTC-HELP, the Attorney General, 1-800-441-2555, or if the prize promotion came in the mail, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, 1-800-275-8777. Are you a victim of Identity Theft? Click here for more information.

Don’t Let Scammers Ruin Your Summer Vacation

As summer approaches, families and friends are busy making vacation plans to popular travel destinations. Most vacations go as planned, full of fun and sun. However, everyone has heard a vacation nightmare story. To avoid a horror story, consumers need to be extra cautious when renting a home or apartment for their trip. Scammers lurk online to fool innocent vacationers out of thousands of dollars.

Online classifieds are a favorite place for scammers to target victims. They often tap into listings for legitimate rental properties and make themselves the contact person in hopes that consumers will pay for the full rental or give a deposit up front. Sometimes vacation rental scammers create a completely fake rental listings for a popular vacation spot and ask consumers to make a deposit to hold their reservation, lying to people and stealing their saved up vacation funds.

To avoid falling victim to a vacation rental scam, it is important to do some research before agreeing to anything. You should research the rental property and the rental company to make sure it exists. Checking online for customer reviews and information from the Better Business Bureau are also good ideas when looking into a rental property. It is also best to avoid anyone who asks you to wire them money and pay with a credit card instead. If there is a problem with the rental, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company and request they reverse they charge.

Be sure to check and double-check details and background information about the property before you make any payments. The Federal Trade Commission and AARP have some more helpful tips to avoid these horrible summer trip scams.