Missouri Woman Has Trouble Convincing Bank She's Alive
Date 2014/2/10 4:18:49 | Topic: News
|St. Louis (AP) - Kimberly Haman is not dead and would like everyone to know it — most of all her bank and a major credit bureau accused of reporting otherwise and failing to fix the mistake.|
Haman, 46, of unincorporated St. Louis County, filed suit Monday in federal court here against Heartland Bank, of St. Louis, and Equifax. The complaint says she was “shocked” to find that the bank declared her dead almost a year ago and that the credit reporting giant passed word along.
The suit alleges that she repeatedly complained to both, with no result.
“She’s contacting them, and saying, ‘Excuse me, I’m not dead.’ And even through that process, they continue to report her as deceased,” the plaintiff’s lawyer, Sylvia Goldsmith, said in an interview.
Twice, Haman has been blocked from refinancing her mortgage to a lower rate. She also has been refused a credit card, after potential lenders spotted her “deceased” status, the suit says.
“At this point, (Haman) is at a complete loss as to what else she can do,” the suit says. “The entire experience has imposed upon (Haman) significant distrust, frustration and distress, and has rendered Plaintiff hopeless as to her ability to regain her good name and the credit rating that she deserves and has worked hard to earn,” it continues.
Haman is a financial services supervisor. She declined to comment Friday.
Heartland did not return messages seeking comment.
In an email Friday, Meredith Griffanti, senior director of public relations for Equifax, said that after a reporter’s inquiry about the suit, staffers blocked the Heartland account so that information would no longer appear on Haman’s credit report.
A Federal Trade Commission study of the credit reporting industry, released a year ago, found that 26 percent of the 1,001 consumers surveyed found at least one “potentially material” error on at least one of the three major credit bureaus’ reports, and 5 percent had an error that could make insurance and loans more expensive.
The Consumer Data Industry Association pointed out that only 2.2 percent of reports had an error that would increase consumer prices, and 88 percent of the errors were the result of inaccurate information provided by lenders and others to the credit bureaus.
Experts recommend that consumers check their credit reports regularly for errors or suspicious activity.
Goldsmith is an Ohio attorney who specializes in consumer cases involving credit reporting and debt collection, and described herself as one of a handful of lawyers “that are really fighting … to make changes with the faults in the system.”
She declined to talk in detail about Haman, but said the case “is shining the light” on deficiencies in the procedures used by credit reporting agencies such as Equifax to investigate disputed customer information.
Those companies, Goldsmith said, out-source investigations to foreign workers who are paid “pennies on the dollar” and have financial incentives to conduct the inquiry as quickly as possible.
Goldsmith said that in almost every lawsuit she files, companies quickly fix the mistakes in credit reports.
“Because at that point a human being with an incentive to fix it, fixes it,” she said.
Haman’s suit says that the problems started Feb. 5, 2013, when she was added to her parents’ bank account. Goldsmith said it was done to assist them with financial matters as they age.
On March 29, a “reseller of credit information” to her prospective mortgage lender told Haman that her refinancing application was on hold. Her credit score had dropped, “as Heartland appeared to be reporting Ms. Haman as ‘deceased’ on her Equifax credit report,” the suit says.
“Shocked, confused and upset,” Haman contacted the bank, which replied with a letter April 2 saying that she was not listed as dead.
But Haman’s lender balked again in late June, saying she was, indeed, still shown as dead.
Haman called Heartland again, then called Equifax, and an employee assured her they would take care of the problem, the suit says.
In August, Haman was denied a credit card, again because she was listed as dead, the suit says.
Robert Healey, her local lawyer, said both of Haman’s parents are “alive and well,” and that nothing happened to cause anyone to report her as deceased.
“That’s what made it all the more baffling,” the lawyer said.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit reporting agencies to conduct “reasonable investigations into claims that information is inaccurate, correct the information and report back to consumers.
It allows consumers to seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as lawsuit costs and statutory penalties that can range from $100 to $1,000 per violation.
Goldsmith said that last summer, an Oregon woman won $18.6 million in a federal lawsuit against Equifax.
“Juries are starting to get pretty annoyed with the cavalier attitude that these bureaus are taking to their responsibilities,” she said.