Suing Equifax in Small Claims Court

small town librarian sues megacorporation, the story thus far

Background

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.

September 12

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.

September 14

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.

September 18

I get my letter!

Informed Delivery from USPS is an amazing tool.

September 21

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
Dear Equifax,
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.
Jessamyn West

September 22

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.

September 25th

I talked with Mark Hurst on his Techtonic radio show on WFMU about the case. Here is the transcription of that conversation.

September 27

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.

October 1

The article Came out in the Valley News. It’s really good.

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.

October 5

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.

October 10

I got interviewed by Jane Lindholm on VPR’s Vermont Edition. Here is a text transcript of that interview.

October 16

I got my reply from Equifax. Unsurprisingly, they do not agree with my assertion about how they handled this.

Not entitled to relief set forth in my prayers. And what is with these numbers?

to be continued…