Jury Awards $5M for Credit Error

August 1, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore.(AP) - A federal jury has ordered one of the nation's three largest credit reporting agencies to pay a woman $5.3 million for confusing her credit history with that of another woman.

The verdict is the largest ever awarded under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, according to consumer attorneys.

An eight-member U.S. District Court jury in Portland found Trans Union willfully violated the law, enacted in 1970 to ensure that credit companies provide accurate information, when it repeatedly misreported Judy C. Thomas' credit history. Monday's award included $5 million in punitive damages.

Since 1996, Trans Union had listed the bad debts of Judith L. Upton of Washington state on Judy Thomas' credit reports. The two women share the same birth year, similar first names and their social security ( news - web sites) numbers differ by only one digit.

"I think it will send a major message to (credit agencies) that juries don't like these practices," said James Fisherman, an attorney in New York who specializes in credit reporting cases.

Trans Union can accept the verdict, appeal it or ask a judge to reduce the reward. Calls to Trans Union's lead attorney and public affairs office were not returned.

Trans Union is one of the nation's "big three" credit reporting agencies, along with Equifax and Experian Information Solutions. According to accounts of testimony during Thomas' trial, Trans Union brings in about $200 million annually in revenues.

Thomas said she first discovered problems with her credit report in 1996 when a number of unfamiliar, unpaid debts appeared. She traced the bad debts to Upton, then of Stevenson, Wash., and reported her discovery to Trans Union. She also contacted the creditors who furnished the information to Trans Union. In 1999, when she applied for a mortgage, Thomas again disputed Upton's debts, which had reappeared on her report. The incorrect reports delayed her mortgage by three months, Thomas said.

She eventually got the mortgage after contacting Upton's creditors on her own and to get documentation of the mistakes.

"She only got the mortgage because she did the reinvestigations," said one of her attorneys, Robert S. Sola of Portland. "She did all the work."

Copyright:Associated Press

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