Equifax weighs appealing $18.6M award to consumer

Equifax said it is considering its next move after an Oregon jury’s decision to award $18.6 million to a woman who sued the Atlanta-based credit reporting company over errors on her credit report.

“We are currently studying our next steps, which include asking the judge to review the verdict as well as filing an appeal,” spokesman Timothy Klein told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.

The judgement comes as Georgia and other states continue to investigate Equifax, Transunion and Experian, the three major credit reporting companies, over their practices.

Over a two-year period Julie Miller of Marion County, Oregon, said she repeatedly tried to get Equifax to change an incorrect Social Security number, a false birthday and false collection accounts attributed to her on her credit report.

Miller said she tried nine times to get the information corrected and was denied bank credit along the way. She said Equifax repeatedly advised her to submit documentation she had already submitted numerous times to correct the report. Frustrated, she filed a federal suit under the Fair Credit Reporting Act in October 2011.

On Friday, an Oregon jury sided with Miller, awarding her $18.4 million in punitive damages and $180,000 in compensatory damages.

Justin Baxter, one of Miller’s attorneys, told the AJC on Monday that all three of major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian, had the erroneous information after Miller’s favorable credit report was “merged” with the poor report of another Oregonian.

Baxter said both Transunion and Experian corrected their reports before the lawsuit was filed against Equifax. “Transunion did it almost immediately. It took Experian a little longer but ultimately it removed the false accounts,” he said. “Equifax wouldn’t handle her disputes and wouldn’t investigate.”

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information on their credit report and consumer reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information. Consumers also may seek damages from violators, the act says.

Shawn Conroy, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection, said the state has an open investigation into practices at the three main credit reporting companies. He wouldn’t provide details on the investigation and would only say “we do get complaints.”

In the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Miller said she first noticed a problem when she was denied credit from Hubbard Bank due to her Equifax credit report in December 2009.

She requested a copy of her credit report from Equifax, setting the stage for a back-and-forth with the company that would last for two years and a lawsuit and court decision after four years.

In her suit, Miller said she made repeated requests for new copies of her credit report and submitted identifying information requested by Equifax. The information was still incorrect in March 2010, causing another loan from Key Bank to be denied, the suit said.

The same incorrect information was appearing on her credit report by September 2011, and Miller said the company provided no results of any investigation into her problem. She filed a suit a month later after her ninth attempt to get her credit report corrected.

Miller’s attorneys argued that Equifax “willfully” failed to comply with requirements under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Georgians are entitled to three free credit reports every 12 months, according to Conroy: one under federal law and two under Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act.