Question: After reading about the recent breach of security at Equifax, I went to the website and entered my personal information to find that Equifax “believe(s) (my) personal information may have been impacted by this incident.” What legal rights and remedies do I have if my information was compromised in the breach?
Answer: You and 143 million other people have the legal right to limit access to your personal information, and you can sue Equifax for damages incurred for violation of that right. Although our country lacks a comprehensive set of national laws on privacy and protection of personal information, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a consumer reporting agency is required to limit access to your personal information, something Equifax obviously failed to do.
Given the incredible numbers involved here, class-action attorneys are already filing cases on your behalf. A class action is a lawsuit filed by a plaintiff or plaintiffs who in turn represent a “class” of similarly situated individuals with similar injuries.
The courts have special procedural rules on class actions because the lawsuit automatically includes people as members in the class unless a person specifically opts out. You may be familiar with receiving a small postcard saying that you may be in a class-action lawsuit in some distant corner of the country. That card usually outlines your legal right to opt out of the class and go forward with the lawsuit on your own.
Depositing the card in the trash is a decision to stay in the case. Most of us can expect one of those postcards soon.
Sacramento attorney Rick Morin filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of millions of Californians. Morin states that the facts of this case are much more egregious than the cases at Target or Home Depot, given the fact that Equifax knew it was a prime target but still dropped the ball. Morin says he will be pushing for cash compensation for class plaintiffs, not merely a coupon settlement that is common in class-action consumer cases.
Although these class-action lawsuits may result in some modest payout and may spark some legislative change in the way our government oversees these consumer reporting agencies, it would not be advisable for you to simply sit back and wait. The most effective remedies you have are either closely monitoring your credit through a commercial service or requesting a “freeze” on your credit information at all three credit bureaus. Credit monitoring is where you are notified of any actions taken with respect to your credit.
Freezing your credit information, however, does more than simply notify you of action on your credit history; it locks it down. Obtaining the freeze requires paying a fee at the other two credit bureaus, but Equifax is waiving that fee until Nov. 21. The freeze is the most effective way to place the control of your personal credit information in your hands.
A potential lender is not free to access your credit to check your credit score or history by providing your Social Security number. For a temporary release of the freeze on an account, the consumer must provide to the credit bureau a complex password issued at the time of the freeze.
If credit reporting agencies can create a system that safely locks down information and provides it only when the consumer offers up a specific passcode, you have to wonder why that passcode method isn’t used all the time. As “Seinfeld” once noted, if the black box always survives the plane crash, why not build the whole plane like the black box?
When the IRS identifies an individual as the victim of identity theft (which I was), it issues a PIN number for any future tax return filing. Since most people’s Social Security numbers can be presumed stolen, shouldn’t issuing a PIN number be the norm? Again, build it like the black box.
This massive hack underscores our need to contact our representatives and make clear that things need to change.
Preston Morgan is a partner at Kopper, Morgan & Dietrich, a Davis law firm providing family law, estate planning and trust litigation representation. His column is published every other week in the Davis Enterprise. To pose a question to Preston Morgan, contact him at https://kopperlaw.com.
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