White collar crime and identity theft are such a huge problem in the United States that most people have become accustomed to taking basic precautions to protect their identities. However, often even the best precautions are not enough. Human error can play a role in the equation as well. Everyone needs to be diligent about checking their credit rating on a regular basis. The only way for a person to know what is on their credit reports is to obtain a copy of their credit report from each credit bureau every year. Sometimes, errors that are made on the credit report can be caught and corrected early enough to protect your credit score. Credit scores affect every aspect of a person’s life. One can even be fired or not hired at all based on the information that is on your credit report. So when an employee of one of the credit bureaus or a company that reports to the credit bureaus makes a mistake, then the repercussions can be long ranging.
That is what happened to a woman named Rachel, who lived in New York. She found out that there was a mistake on her credit report when her student loan was cancelled. She contacted the loan company and they told her that they had cancelled her loan because she was under a lien from AT&T Wireless Services, Inc. Rachel was confused, she had never had an account with AT&T nor had she ever applied for one. She was very confused. The lien was associated with her address, it even showed her social security number, date of birth, and phone number, but it did not have her name. The name on the lien was Raqul.
While Rachel tried to convince the credit bureaus and AT&T that she did not know Raqul and was not responsible for the debt that Raqul had incurred, she could not get her school loan reinstated. That meant that she had to drop out of college. She finally filed a lawsuit against AT&T and the credit bureaus for personal injury. She made the allegation that her future has been damaged by the fact that she has been prevented from finishing college by the actions of these companies. Further, she contends that her reputation has been damaged by the problems that these companies have done to her credit rating. In order to make amends, she feels that these companies should pay punitive damages and take steps to restore her reputation, starting with her credit score.
The companies that were named in the suit filed a counter motion for the court to award a summary judgment in their favor relieving them of any liability associated with this incident. Their contention is that it was an innocent mistake involving two persons who had similar names. They maintain that accidents will happen and that they are not responsible when these incidents happen. They stated that they take normal precautions to ensure that they report information accurately, but that when they don’t, it is only an accident that they cannot be held responsible for.
The court disagreed. The court pointed out that the companies are in the business of collecting debts and reporting information correctly. They pointed out that the companies have a duty to ensure that the information that they report is accurate. They should take seriously any incorrect information that they should report. The damage that they can do to an innocent person who simply has a similar name is catastrophic as in this case. The court denied the companies’ request for a summary judgment in this case and referred the case to a trial court to determine if the company should pay damages to the woman.