Julie Miller’s long battle to fix her credit report ended Friday, when a jury awarded her $18.6 million in her civil suit against credit reporting agency Equifax.
Miller says her troubles started in late 2009, when she was denied credit at Hubbard Bank due to her credit report. In 2009, she requested her credit report from Equifax, receiving a response nearly a month later asking for more information.
Supplying the new information, Miller says she requested her report again, which she received later that month with false identification information, an incorrect Social Security number, the wrong birthdate and collection accounts she didn’t owe. Miller says she acted swiftly, filing a dispute with Equifax by sending a copy of her report with the errors highlighted twice within five days after receiving it.
For the next two years, Miller claims she disputed her report six more times, and requested her new report several more times, receiving the same form letter in response each time, if at all. In her case, the root cause of the problems was a mix-up with another Julie Miller, whose information was mistakenly placed in the plaintiff’s record.
In a prepared statement, Equifax’s Senior Director of Public Relations Meredith Griffanti said, “We are very disappointed in the jury verdict and we are exploring our options.”
The multi-million dollar award Miller received is major news in the credit reporting industry, which has come under fire recently for the issue of credit report errors.
Credit Report Mistakes Not Uncommon
Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, testified in the Senate in May on this topic and says that errors like Miller’s are not uncommon. He believes that the most important part of this verdict is the message it sends to the credit bureaus.
“This is another shoe that drops on that industry. You’ve got the Senate looking into it, the CFPB investigating it, and this is another clear message to the industry,” he says. “Is this the tipping point where the industry changes its practices and actually maintains information? Who knows, but hopefully there’s a message here loud and clear that they better clean up their act.”
A ten-year study by the Federal Trade Commission released in February of this year found that 26% of the 1,001 participants filed a dispute with at least one of the national credit reporting agencies. Of those consumers (262 in total), 206 saw at least some modification of their credit report following the dispute, with 129 seeing a change in their credit score as a result.
One important reason to check your credit reports is to discover — and correct — errors that could be harming your credit score.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Americans are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can begin at AnnualCreditReport.com, and verify that your information and payment history is correct. (Monitoring your credit score using a free service like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card is a good way to do a regular check-up on your credit.)
“There’s a lesson here, and it’s of persistence,” Rheingold says. “When you see that you’re being denied credit wrongly, or when you discover there’s incorrect information in your credit report, it’s essential that you dispute it with the bureau and document that dispute.”