Suing Equifax in Small Claims Court
I have been in a bad mood all summer. My mother died, and while that all went as well as it could — no seriously, that lady knew how to live, and die — it left me with grief, and responsibilities. So when I read about the Equifax breach, and went to their site a few days after my birthday, only to get some vague language about what happened and “Come back on September 13th and sign up for credit monitoring and protection from a company we sort of own…” I decided that I had HAD IT.
I’m managing an estate, with my sister. I suddenly own a second house. I’ve filled out more paperwork in the past five weeks than I have in the past five years. I own two very small businesses. One is just mine, started last month; one I started earlier this year. I run it with other people. I have very good credit. Many people’s credit is intermingled with my own. I am not comfortable with Equifax’s approach to their monumental gaffe, and I do not accept the remedy they are offering.
I’ve sued in small claims before and won, different sort of issue and my roofer never paid up. But I figured what the hell? Small claims court is cheap, someone has to show up, it will help me raise awareness about data privacy issues, and hey, I might even win. Mom would have loved it. So here is what I did.
As I’m contemplating going back to Equifax’s website as they told me to do, I wonder what they could offer me that would make me feel secure? I decide: nothing. I read about a chatbot that can file small claims cases.
The chatbot’s abilities are, unsurprisingly, overstated. It can only file suit against Equifax in California and New York. It’s told me to “come back in 12 hours” for days now. How hard can it be if a bot can do it?
I used my librarian skills and found a really nice website that stepped me through the paperwork process… once I updated Flash.
Turns out the Vermont Judiciary has a pretty good website of its own. I got a little bit of useful kibitzing from the lurker lawyers who support me on Twitter and I filed the paperwork. It costs $90.
I get email from the court. They have accepted my pleading! I figure at some point this entire thing will wash out because I’ve missed a deadline or written 2016 instead of 2017 on a form, but so far so good.
I run into my accountant in the gym who tells me he loves me for doing this. I wait for a letter.
I get my letter!
My financial manager sends all his clients a letter outlining how they should deal with the data breach. I tell him what I am up to and he says “I wish you great success.”
Part of the drill with small claims is you have to send a summons to the defendant. They then have 30 days to fill out an answer form. If they don’t get back to you, you have to send a sheriff after them to serve them. I prepare mailing packets. I’ll send one to the corporate offices in Atlanta and one to their registered agent in Barre, Vermont. Here is my letter.
September 21, 2017
You guys are having a MONTH, huh?
Look, I am not mad, but I do think the remedy that Equifax is offering here — one year of credit monitoring in a slightly convoluted manner by a company not wholly distinct from Equifax — is not sufficient to match both the egregiousness of the offense and the complete and total hassle this is causing for me and many others.
My mom died this summer. This is not your issue, except that it means my social security number and other personal information are now tied up within the estate and are linked for the time being to my sister’s social security number. So the timing of this is more of a hassle than it might be usually. I am a well-known person, someone whose secret question answers can be looked up on Wikipedia. I have concerns.
My assertion here is that
- Equifax acted recklessly;
- Equifax ignored best or even good practices of data security;
- Equifax’s actions have caused me emotional distress;
- Equifax’s actions will require me to either pay some company money or take my own personal time to be vigilant about not just my own but at least two other credit accounts for years into the future.
This could have been prevented. Equifax needs to own that and take true responsibility for this mess.
Thank you for your time. See you in court.
Always fun to go to the post office. Turns out Equifax has the wrong zip code on their website and we fuss a little til we get the address correct. I sent two letters, return receipt requested, and a note to the court telling them I have sent these letters. It costs about $12.
I talk about data security with the guys at the post office — and three other neighbors who stop in — and discuss how if I get any money I am giving it to the food bank.
Valley News sent a photographer and called me on the phone to talk about this. I walked down to the post office to re-enact most of the parts of this situation so far (sending mail, receiving mail) and it turned out I actually had a return receipt indicating that Equifax had received my summons! Exciting but also a little scary.
The credit rating agency’s compensation offer was a year of credit monitoring from a company affiliated with Equifax, but West said she no longer wanted to do business with Equifax in any capacity.
“It’s like a guy you got in a car accident with — the remedy is he drives you to work from now on. No, thank you,” she said.
There was a front page article in my local paper, the Randolph Herald. It came out well. However they embargo their articles online for a week so I’ve only been able to post it today.
I got my reply from Equifax. Unsurprisingly, they do not agree with my assertion about how they handled this.
I get a letter and a docket number and a date to show up in court. I’m going to jump ahead a little bit here and tell you that the date on my letter is January 17th and I write it down as January 19th and forget all about it.
I get ready to prepare my statement for court in two days. I start sifting through my folder of papers only to notice that my court hearing was three hours earlier on the 17th and not on the 19th. I call the court to see if there are options and I get shunted to the voice mail of someone who doesn’t call me back. I die inside.
I tell a few people my embarrassing story and prepare to update this article with the sad tale of how my spaciness screwed up what was otherwise a pretty fun and entertaining adventure.
I wake up ready to tell everyone about my massive-feeling mistake. Someone mentions that it’s possible I might have another chance. I make a telephone call (not my favorite thing) and it turns out there’s legally one more option, I can file a Motion to Reopen. These are usually granted. The woman on the phone at the courthouse drops one more bit of information on me.
I die inside again. Off to file more paperwork.
I get a new date in May!