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Comcast sent Karen to collections for a bill she didn’t owe, and it took her several months to clear it up. She’s angry and wants to take them to court to sue them for damaging her credit. She wants to know how much she can ask for.

Here’s how Karen described it in an email to us:

Comcast had me in collection for 4 months or so knowing the whole time I did not owe them one dime. Everyone from the local office to corporate headquarters agreed I had returned all of my equipment from them within the 30 day trial period and I had the paperwork to prove it if need be. Still it took them over 4 months to remedy their mistake.

I want to collect damages from them by sending a demand letter for starters (hoping to avoid small claims court) and I wondered if you might have an idea what I should ask them to pay me for those damages?

How does one figure something like this out and is there a formula or precedent-setting cases?

First Things First

The first thing consumers who believe their credit may have been damaged need to do is get a full credit file disclosure, says William Howard founder and managing partner of the consumer protection division at Morgan & Morgan. That’s different than getting your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, he says, because it may contain additional information. He provided a sample letter consumers can send to the credit reporting agencies for this purpose.

After you receive the disclosure, you must dispute mistakes with the credit reporting agencies that are reporting the wrong information. That’s true even if you know that the lender (called the “furnisher” in the Fair Credit Reporting Act) is the source of the mistake. Otherwise, you cannot sue under the FCRA.

“If (a lender) puts a bankruptcy on your credit and it’s wrong, you can dispute it with (the lender) until the cows come home but you can’t sue them,” warns Howard. “You are required to dispute it with the credit reporting agencies.”

Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center concurs. “Under the Fair Credit Report Act the only time when the consumer has a private remedy is when they file a dispute with the credit reporting agency. If you send a dispute just to the furnisher and they don’t properly investigate then you have no recourse.” She also adds that, “You can’t sue the furnisher under the FCRA for the initial reporting of information.”

If Karen finds the collection account listed on her credit reports, then she needs to dispute that. “Send a certified letter that says, ‘Attached is my credit report and you are reporting this mistake,'” recommends Howard. If you dispute a mistake and can’t get it corrected, then a lawsuit may be required to set the record straight.

How Much is Credit Damage Worth?

Assuming that you have found a legitimate mistake and can’t get it fixed through the usual dispute channels, how much can you sue for?

Under the FCRA, consumers can sue for:

  • Statutory damages of $100 – $1000 per violation
  • Actual damages for injury the consumer suffered
  • Emotional damages for stress or physical ailments resulting from the ordeal
  • Punitive damages to punish the violator for their actions

In Karen’s case, she had recently bought a home, which is why she had recently set up cable service through Comcast. She cancelled the service during the free trial period because it didn’t work properly and the service technician sent to her home couldn’t fix it to her satisfaction. But Comcast billed her anyway, despite the fact that she had proof she was well within the time frame to cancel without being charged.

While all that was going on, she was trying to remodel her home and the collection account prevented her from getting the credit she needed to proceed. “It was a mess,” she says.

While that was a lousy experience, it’s probably good if she wants to pursue a credit damage case. “The best way to be able to show actual damages is to show you were turned down for credit,” says Howard. “If you were turned down multiple times for credit or you were forced to pay a higher interest rate on something,” then you would be able to demonstrate actual damages.

And in the case of emotional and punitive damages, the figures can go quite high in some situations. “There have been some multi-million dollar verdicts in these cases when they include punitive damages,” Howard explains.

But trying to go it alone as Karen wants to do may prove challenging.

Wu warns, “These are not easy lawsuits. If you can find an experienced lawyer, that’s always best.”

Howard agrees and says that attorneys who regularly take these kinds of cases will typically take them at no cost to the consumer if they believe there is a strong case, since the attorney will recover his or her fees from the other party. “If you are charged an upfront fee (in a credit damage case), that’s a sign you have the wrong lawyer,” he insists.

Image: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr

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  • Harry John Davis

    I am Mr. Davis and I have been out of worked since Sept.12,2012 and I have been tryiong our best to handle our payments each month, but now we are in a complete stone away of maybe have to file B/K and we do not want to do this, we do not have alot of bills, but what we do have if I or we can get something to come in and help out to see what we have and try to handle our finances for us, till we get all in better ordeal, if you know how and see and get someone to come out to talk to me this would make me easy for us

    • Reynaldo

      Uhhh…what?

  • confused

    i am really confused. 5 years ago my lender was court ordered to fix my credit and never followed through with the order. do i have a case?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It sounds like it to me. Did you have an attorney at the time? Have you checked with him or her?

  • Jpark

    Someone’s bankruptcy landed on my credit score. Turns out it had been on my account since 2012, almost 3 years. I found out that it was on my account when applying for a wedding ring. And was turned down. I did some research and it turned out transunion had a 3100 dollar judgement on my account. I called up the lender and they quickly agreed that it was not mine. I contacted the bankruptcy court and they stated that I never had a bankruptcy. I contacted transunion and they said that it was mine even after I sent them my drivers license, SSN, credit report with the error, bankruptcy court letter stating it wasn’t mine, lender stating it wasn’t mine, transunion still had the nerve to say it was mine. The other two credit bureaus even stated I had no judgement or bankruptcy on my credit score. Finally after months of arguing, even my bank got involved since I had applied for a mortgage, they stated it wasn’t mine. They removed it off my score. However, the damage is done. I’m still unable to get a mortgage because of residual damages on my credit score. I have contacted over 7 attorneys. 1 only specialized in this and he wanted me to pay per hour and said my case would actually cost me more than what I would get in return. I literally can not find a lawyer in Utah who is trained in this field. I now have to pay a higher interest rate (housing market interest rates were raised) and that’s even if I could get a mortgage loan. I’m exhausted fighting. I’ve lost 2 homes already and lost earnest money. I also had to pay for an appraisal because my loan didn’t go through. If there’s anyone who could help me find an attorney to bring justice, please let me know. I need all the help I can get.

    J park
    Utah

  • Gary Price

    Corporations, some landlords and etc just need to change their name to Gambini’s and Caruso’s as they tend to follow the example set by politicians.In other words, you are dealing with mafia crime families.

  • zethu

    My issue is was on traffic suddenly i brake i lean closely to a bumper of another car not impact was on this happened 2013 now the guy sueing me for car damages yet we were all okey we just exchange contacts no damage whatsover on his car or mine i need advice

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      We are not lawyers, and we cannot give you legal advice. It sounds like you may need some. We suggest you contact a lawyer.

      • zethu

        Tanks

  • AnnMarie

    Okay, hopefully this posts. I NEED HELP! I recently placed a bid on a home and won it. I have applied for a mortgage and subsequently found out that a charge off over 8 years old of a second mortgage (secondary to 1st mortgage foreclosure) is appearing on my TransUnion credit report showing most recent account activity March 2015, and being reported as “charge off unpaid” under collectibles October 2015 by the lender. I have filed a dispute through TransUnion and have filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The financial institution through which I have applied for a mortgage stated that they are unable to give me a pre-approval until it is removed from my report. I may lose the house d/t time constraints of gaining a pre-approval. I had NO idea this issue was on my credit report. I have worked doggedly to rebuild my life and my credit to 750+ since 2007. I have been gainfully employed as an RN since 2010 and earn approx. $60,000/year. This error is not showing on Experian or Equifax. Is there anything I can do to expedite the process? I am very ill that all of this is happening and out of my control; additionally this would be a crushed dream for my 3 children of which they do not need to experience. PLEASE HELP!
    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Ann-Marie

  • gwhiz man

    I sold a property in April 2014 to a local Realtor who turned around and rented it. Nov. 2015 I noticed my Fico score fell to 650 from over 800. On investigation the Realtor never paid the property tax to Fulton Co, Ga and the Tax lien is filed on the property owner as of Jan 2014 (year of sale) The Realtor will do nothing to help straighten this out with the county and TransUnion. Can I sue him?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi,

      You may want to consult a consumer attorney to see if you have a legal claim.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

  • Seda Hambarchian

    I have a credit score ranging from 787 to 840..I am in dispute about an invoice from a dental office for $41.00 . I refuse to pay because they did not verify my information correctly. The office is being rude and is threatening to send my account to collection. i would like to know what this would do to my credit and if they do send it if I have can sue them for damaging my credit.
    thank you!
    Seda

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      If they report the debt to the credit bureaus, it will hurt your score. If you owe the debt, reporting to the bureaus is legal. But there are other things they can’t do when trying to collect. You can find more about your debt collection rights here:

      https://www.credit.com/debt/collections-crash-course/

      Thanks,

      Jeanine

      • Seda Hambarchian

        if they do how much is my score going to go down? And could I dispute and have it taken off?
        So pretty much whoever feels like I owe them money can send to collection?

        • Jeanine Skowronski

          Whether or not you can dispute depends on if the debt is legitimate. How much your score will go down depends on your credit profile at the time new negative information hits your credit reports.

          Thank you,

          Jeanine

  • Jeziel Nova

    I used to leave in an apartment for a year back in 2012-2013 period. After my lease was over I desired to move. However, staff members from the apartment office went to inspect the apartment then days later the apartment office notified me and told me that the floor carpet was damaged and needed to be replaced and that was gonna cost me $540 dollars. I paid the full amount on time and they still sent me to collections. I went to the apartment office in 2014 again to tell them that they needed to fix this and the manager said they were going to fix it but it hasn’t been fix yet. Even to this day I still have proof that I paid that amount on time. My credit score is very low because of it and I got rejected for different banks while trying to get a car loan. I got a loan for a car and the interest were high sky because of my credit score. It has been 3 years since they sent me to collections and it hasn’t been fix yet. Can I sue them for not solving my problem and damaging my credit score for the past 3 years?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      You may want to consult a consumer attorney about whether you have a claim. You could try disputing the issue with the credit bureaus to get it removed from your credit reports. You can provide proof of payment as documentation. More info here: https://www.credit.com/credit-repair/dispute-credit-report-error/

      Thanks,

      Jeanine

  • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

    Hi Jenni — You’re making a lot of the right moves! A secured card is the best place to start building credit. His credit scores should have improved after he had the incorrect information removed from his credit report. It would likely be helpful to have a small installment loan (aka a car loan, personal loan) in his name to build up the credit mix part of his credit profile. After about a year of secured cardholder-ship, he should be able to upgrade to a “non-secured” credit card, where he doesn’t need a deposit anymore. He may benefit from being added as an authorized user to any credit cards you currently have, but just be aware you’ll be liable for any purchases he makes on those cards.

  • R

    My identity was stolen stopped American express but person opened3 cards I know of in my name. Will credit bureus take these off and will my FICO score go back it is showing to many requests for credit.

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