Home security company Vivint fined for using the credit histories of unwitting victims to obtain financing for prospective customers

Smart home security and monitoring company Vivint Smart Homes Inc. has agreed to pay $20 million to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that the Utah-based firm misused credit reports to help unqualified customers obtain financing for the company’s products and services.

Under the settlement, Vivint will pay a $15 million civil penalty and an additional $5 million to compensate injured consumers.

In a complaint filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, the Commission alleged that Vivint violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by improperly obtaining credit reports in order to qualify potential customers for financing for its smart home monitoring and security products. The FTC also alleged that Vivint violated the FTC’s Red Flags Rule by failing to implement an identity theft prevention program, which is required of certain companies that regularly use or obtain credit reports.

“Vivint’s sales staff stole people’s personal information to approve others for loans,” said Daniel Kaufman, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “For misusing consumer credit reports and other sensitive data, and harming people’s credit, this company will pay $20 million.”

Vivint uses door-to-door sales representatives working on a commission-only basis to sell the company’s home security devices and monitoring services, according to the FTC complaint.

The FTC alleged that some Vivint sales representatives used a process known as “white paging,” which involved finding another consumer with the same or a similar name on the White Pages app and using that consumer’s credit history to qualify the prospective unqualified customer. Vivint sales representatives also sometimes asked customers to provide the name of someone they knew who had better credit, such as a relative, then added that innocent third-party as a co-signer to the account without their permission, and used their credit history to qualify the prospective customer, according to the complaint.

If customers qualified using these deceptive tactics later defaulted on their loans, Vivint referred the innocent third party to its debt buyer, potentially harming that consumer’s credit and subjecting them to debt collectors, the FTC alleged. Many consumers whose credit reports were misused by Vivint sales representatives complained to the FTC that they were victims of identity theft after being contacted by Vivint’s debt collectors.

The FTC alleged that Vivint was aware of the problem, and in fact terminated many sales representatives for misconduct only to rehire some of them shortly thereafter.

In addition to the monetary judgment—the largest to date for an FTC FCRA case—the settlement requires Vivint to implement an employee monitoring and training program, as well as an identity theft prevention program. The company must also establish a customer service task force to verify that accounts belong to the right customer before referring any account to a debt collector, and must assist consumers who were improperly referred to debt collectors.

In addition, Vivint must obtain biennial assessments by an independent third party to ensure the company is complying with the FCRA. Vivint is also prohibited from engaging in the types of improper conduct detailed in the complaint.

The Kittell Law Firm has previously sued Vivint for impermissibly accessing our client’s credit report without his permission.  If you did not sign up for Vivint’s services but were contacted by debt collectors or found Vivint accounts or inquiries improperly listed on your credit reports, please contact the Kittell Law Firm as soon as possible to determine if you have a claim under the Fair Credit Reporting Act or as part of the FTC settlement.

Free Credit Reports a week for the next year

Due to the financial strain caused to consumers due to the coronavirus pandemic, the national credit bureaus are each offering a free credit report once a week (instead of just once a year) via annualcreditreport.com.  The free weekly reports will last through April 2021.

Just like the free annual reports, the free weekly credit reports do not include your credit score.

Be sure to take advantage of this limited time opportunity and, if you find any errors on your credit reports, please contact the Kittell Law Firm for assistance.

Hernando Business CEO Charged After Allegedly Installing Hidden Camera in Women’s Restroom

David Hunter Moore, 23, CEO of Moore Advanced, was arrested by Hernando police after female employees of Moore Advanced noticed a hidden camera in the bathroom used exclusively by female employees.  Moore has been charged with photographing and filming without permission.

Moore Advanced is a temp agency located on Highway 51 in Hernando, Mississippi.  David Hunter Moore is listed as the President and CEO of Moore Advanced.

The hidden camera was disguised as a phone charger and looked like this:

It is unclear how the long the hidden camera was in place in the women’s bathroom.  One female employee indicated that she had seen the charger off and on for a period of months but did not think anything of it at first.  This past Wednesday, the employee pulled the charger out of the socket and discovered a blinking light.  She took a photo of the device and then researched the device online.  At that point, she learned that the device also contained a hidden camera.

She alerted the Hernando police, who obtained a search warrant and, upon searching the premises, located two additional recording devices, as well as a body worn camera, which was allegedly found in David Hunter Moore’s desk.  Investigators will now review the captured footage and photographs for additional evidence and/or charges, particularly if the hidden camera was used to record any minors using the restroom.

In addition to contacting the Hernando police to assist with the criminal charges, any persons videotaped or photographed by the hidden camera should also contact an attorney to discuss a possible civil lawsuit against David Hunter Moore and/or Moore Advanced for invasion of privacy.  The Kittell Law Firm would certainly be interested in discussing a possible civil claim with any of the victims of this crime.

Act NOW to Help Deployed Servicemembers Receive Free Credit Reports While Actively Deployed

Active duty servicemembers are often at greater risk of identity theft and fraud because they may be deployed overseas or away from home for weeks or months at a time. In 2018, Congress passed a law to give active duty servicemembers the right to free credit monitoring services from the Big Three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

Unfortunately, the new law only requires the credit bureaus to provide “electronic notifications” of material changes in a servicemember’s credit report, i.e., email, text, or other electronic alerts. The law does not provide servicemembers with full free access to their credit reports when they receive an alert that something has changed.

While notification is good, its just not enough. Its like telling someone your family member was sent to the hospital but only telling you why if you pay them. Our actively deployed men and women deserve better. As the law currently stands, they can only find out the details of the changes that they are notified about if they buy a credit report or use their one free annual credit report. The credit bureaus should not be allowed to make the deployment of our military as a way to make money, by sending notifications of changes but not providing free access to see what has changed.

Fortunately, Congress gave the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the power to mandate free credit reports as part of new requirements for free credit monitoring. The FTC has issued a proposed rule on credit monitoring but did not include free reports.

But we can do something about this oversight. Please use this link to go to the FTC website and tell the FTC that active duty servicemembers should get free online access to their credit reports when they get an alert that something has changed in their credit reports. Deadline to submit comments is Monday, January 7.

While there may be some delay to the FTC acting on the proposed rule due to the FTC currently being closed thanks to the government shutdown, you can still leave comments about the proposed rule via the above link.

What To Do If You Are Involved in a Car Wreck

Experienced car wreck attorney Christopher E. Kittell has several tips for steps to take if you are involved in a car wreck that is not your fault:

First, Call 911 and Report the Car Wreck

Even if the car wreck did little damage, call 911. Reporting the car accident to 911 will result in the police being called to the scene to investigate and, if there are serious injuries, an ambulance also being dispatched to help the injured.  The police report will be an important part of any lawsuit or insurance claimed filed as a result of the car wreck.

Exchange Information With the Other Driver

While you are waiting on the police officer to arrive, exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver.  If possible, take a picture of his or her insurance card and driver’s license.  Be sure to confirm that the address listed on the driver’s license is current and, if not, get the other driver’s current address.

Also, when talking to the other driver, take note of their condition and, in particular, if they are in any way impaired by alcohol or anything else.  If you smell alcohol or notice any other form of impairment, relay that information to the investigating officer when he or she arrives.

And, even though it may be the “polite” thing to do, do not say you are sorry or otherwise say anything that could be construed as admitting fault for the car wreck.

Talk to Witnesses to the Car Wreck

If there are any independent witnesses to the car wreck, be sure to talk to them and find out if they agree that the car wreck was not your fault.  If what they have to say is favorable to you, get their names, addresses and phone number.  And ask them to stay at the accident scene long enough to provide their statement to the investigating officer.

Take Photos and/or Video

Be sure to take photographs or video (or both) of the accident scene.  And the damage to your vehicle, inside and out.  And the other vehicle, including their license plate and, if possible, VIN number.

Talk to the Police Officer When He or She Arrives

When the car wreck is not your fault, it is important to convey your side of what happened to the police officer.  In Mississippi, the police officer typically obtains information from both drivers and, usually, any witnesses.  The officer then uses that information to make a determination as to who was at fault and creates a summary of how the officer thinks the car wreck occurred, including drawing a diagram of the car accident.

Get Checked Out by a Health Care Provider

If you have a serious injury, obviously, you should be taken by ambulance to an emergency room.  But, even if your injury is not serious, you should be checked out at either an emergency room or your  primary care physician.  The closer in time to the car wreck that you seek treatment, the better, as any delay in having your injuries treated could potentially be used to claim that the injuries are not related to the car wreck or were less serious than they are.

Contact Experienced Car Wreck Attorney Christopher E. Kittell and the Kittell Law Firm to Represent You

Last but not least, contact experienced car wreck attorney Christopher E. Kittell to represent you.  The Kittell Law Firm represents those injured in car wrecks anywhere in Mississippi.

Data Breach at Blue Cross Blue Shield

BCBS Data Breach

A potential data breach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan may have exposed the personal information of approximately 15,000 of its “Medicare Advantage” customers.  The potential data breach occurred when a laptop of an employee of a vendor contracted by a Blue Cross Blue Shield subsidiary was stolen.

The laptop theft potentially exposed the names, addresses, dates of birth, genders, medications, medical diagnoses and provider information of the Medicare Advantage customers.  Fortunately, Social Security numbers and financial account information were not on the stolen laptop.

Blue Cross officials also claimed that there has been no indication to date that the stolen information has been accessed by any unauthorized person.  Hopefully, it stays that way.

Alleged Credit Card Fraud Culprit on the Run in Hernando

The Hernando Police Department is searching for a man who allegedly committed credit card fraud.

According to Hernando Police, the man has scammed people out of more than $13,000.

He may be driving a newer model gray Dodge Journey.

If you recognize him, call the Hernando Police Department at (662) 429-9096.

And, if you are one of his victims and need legal representation or assistance correcting the damage caused by the credit card fraud, please contact the Kittell Law Firm at (662) 298-3456.  The Kittell Law Firm is located in Hernando, Mississippi and is the only law firm in Mississippi who specializes in representing victims of identity theft and other financial fraud.

Don’t Be Fooled By Offers of “Free” Credit Reports

As I have blogged about previously, there are a lot of companies that offer “free” credit reports … that aren’t really free.  There’s always a catch.  You’ll even from time to time see their ads pop up on my other FCRA blog.  I do my best to block them but, unfortunately like the multi headed hydra of mythology, as soon as I cut off one website, two more pop up to take their place.

The moral of the story is that there is only one place where you can go to get your truly free credit report directly from the credit bureaus.  That place is http://www.annualcreditreport.com/.    But you can only get one free credit report per year from each of Equifax, Trans Union and Experian.  You can also get a free credit report when you are denied credit but only from the credit bureau(s) whose credit report was used in the denial decision.

You can get a simplified version of your Equifax and Trans Union credit reports once a week by using www.creditkarma.com but these reports often do not match what Equifax and Trans Union are really reporting about you, either because the information is old or is not classified in the same way that Trans Union and Equifax do.

If you use any other option to get a “free” credit report, you need to watch out and read the fine print, as you are probably signing up for something you may not want.

Here is a link to an informative article that underscores what I just said and regarding efforts to eliminate the confusion about which credit reports are truly free and which have strings attached – http://www.snohomishtimes.com/snohomishNEWS.cfm?inc=story&newsID=926.  Happy reading.

When will your child have a credit report? When should you check? When should you be worried that your child does have a credit report or his or her credit is being used illegally? These are all questions that parents should ask themselves but often do not.

Typically children do not have a credit report until they actually obtain their first credit card, car loan or other financial account that is reported to the credit bureaus. This should not be until they reach the age of majority in your state and can legally enter into contracts. Or possibly when you add them as an authorized user on your credit cards, not that I am advising that you do that!

However, children are often the victim of identity theft long before they are old enough to obtain their own credit. Oftentimes, it is the children’s own parents that are the identity thieves. A credit application appears one day bearing the child’s name. A quick application later and a credit card is issued in the child’s name. An unscrupulous parent can then make charges that never are re-paid and that do not affect the parent’s credit report.

And it does not have to be a parent that commits the crime. Children can be the victims of identity thieves that are complete strangers. Or they can be “merged” with another adult consumer whose name, Social Security number or other personal identifiers are similar to your child’s. While the credit bureaus should never allow this to happen by simply complying with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it does happen because the credit bureaus are known to utilize faulty matching logic that allows such mergers of credit files to happen. And when it does, the adult consumer’s credit can and will land on your child’s credit report, which can cause your child to be saddled with a bad credit history before he or she even begins their adult life.

So how do you protect your child’s credit? What are the warning signs that a child has become the victim of identity theft?

You should check your child’s credit report with the big three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union). I suggest doing so when your child turns 16. At that point, the response from the credit bureaus should be that they have no file on your child. But, if there is a file, then you should obtain a copy (as the parent and guardian of your child) and confirm that no accounts have been opened in your child’s name. If there have been, dispute them to the credit bureaus, including a copy of your child’s birth certificate to prove that he or she is under age and thus not legally capable of entering into a contract to open the fraudulently opened account(s).

Should you ever check your child’s credit before their sixteenth birthday? Yes – if your child starts receiving credit card applications, collection letters, collection calls or anything indicating that they have been active in the credit arena. This could be an indication that your child’s identity has already been stolen. At that point, despite your child’s age, you should check his or her credit report and dispute anything that is not your child’s credit.

Ideally, such disputes will lead to the child’s credit reports being corrected. But, as often is the case, the credit bureaus will not perform reasonable investigations of the disputes. At that point, you should consult an attorney like me who specializes in Fair Credit Reporting Act litigation.

Ten Things the Credit Bureaus Won’t Say

Kudos to AnnaMaria Andriotis at MarketWatch.com for penning a very detailed, in depth article about ten things the Credit Bureaus won’t say. I have taken her ten items (in quotes below) and added my thoughts for each one. I even added an eleventh thing you won’t hear the Credit Bureaus dare say.

Ms. Andriotis’ ten things include:

1. “We track a lot more than just your credit.” What else do the credit bureaus track? Pretty much anything they can. Like how often you change addresses, your income, your neighbors’ income, your city’s average credit score, how often you change jobs.

2. “Selling your secrets is how we make our money.” That’s right. We are not their customers. We are the credit bureaus’ inventory. And they get that inventory virtually for free (and sometimes even paid to receive it). Our creditors provide our payment history to the credit bureaus, sometimes paying a fee to do so. The credit bureaus then turn around, compile the information provided by thousands of creditors into your credit report, then sell it to you and to your potential creditors. If they assign the oh so magical “credit score” to your report, you pay even more just to have this number (which is not even uniform among the credit bureaus, creditors, or any one else). Craziness. Even crazier … the credit bureau industry raked in about $4 billion in 2011 selling you to your potential creditors. Bet you did not see a dime of what your information was sold for.

3. “What we know could cost you a new job.” That’s right. Your credit report is not just used to determine your credit eligibility. Its also used by many employers (roughly 47%) during the hiring process. That often leads to a catch 22 type situation that I have talked about before, where you can’t pay your bills because you are unemployed but no one will hire you because your credit score dropped when you didn’t pay your bills. Again I say … craziness.

4. “Good thing no one’s reporting on our mistakes. Oh, wait.” That’s right, the credit bureaus sure wish there was no one paying attention to their accuracy level, or lack thereof. But watchdog organizations and even governmental entities are watching and keeping track. US PIRG releases a report on the credit bureaus every few years. And, recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued a very damning report that showed that one in five (20%) of consumers had at least one error on one of their credit reports. 13% had errors serious enough to effect their credit score (i.e. making their interest rates go up or their credit limits lessen) and 5% had errors so bad that the errors would cause them to be denied credit in their entirety. 5% may not sound like a big number but that equates to about 10 million consumers. Crazy scary.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the credit reports they create (and profit off of). Obviously, a 20% error rate is not “maximum possible accuracy” or anything close. Add that to an investigation procedure that does not come close to cutting it, and you have a recipe for a disaster for hardworking consumers.

5. “You all look so much alike…” This one hits on the faulty matching logic used by the credit bureaus. When the credit bureaus generate credit reports about you, they use the personal identifying information inputted by the entity seeking your credit report to match you to your accounts. At least that’s how its supposed to work. But the credit bureaus do not require an exact match of your identifiers to the identifiers on an account before putting that account on your report and publishing it as your history, good bad or ugly. This leads to what us consumer lawyers call mixed files.

I once represented a man whose brother had bad credit. They shared the same last name (most brothers do). Their first names started with the same first initial (again, a lot of parents name their kids like that). Seven out of nine numbers of their SSN match, but that’s not uncommon. If they got their SSNs in the same state and at the same time, its very likely the first five numbers match, since (back then) the first three numbers identified the state where the SSN was obtained and the middle two numbers indicate the grouping of SSNs. So if their parents got their SSNs at the same time (again, not uncommon), the first five numbers are very likely to match. The two brothers in my case also shared the same address at one point in time (about 10 years before, again not uncommon for brothers to at one point live at the same address). And their dates of birth were within ten years of each other, again not unusual for brothers. So the only personal identifier that match was the brothers’ last name. But that was enough for one of the credit bureaus to merge their credit histories together, ruining my client’s stellar credit with his deadbeat brother’s terrible credit history. And, even worse, the credit bureau refused to fix the problem, despite years of dispute from my client, until he finally hired me and we sued. Crazy crazy.

6. “… its tough to tell you apart from someone pretending to be you.” Ahhhh, identity theft. The reason I got into this area of law to begin with. While its often the fraudulent credit grantors that are to blame for the problems caused by identity theft, the blame also rests with the credit bureaus. What the credit bureaus want to ignore is the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s requirement that they perform reasonable investigations of disputes lodged with them. They want to pretend that only the furnisher of the disputed information has such a duty (the furnisher does have such a duty, but its in addition to the credit bureaus’ duty to investigate). So all the credit bureaus do to “investigate” is forward your dispute to the furnisher of the erroneous data and then … wait for it … the credit bureaus believe whatever the furnisher tells them, no matter what proof you have provided of your innocence. Unlike in baseball, where “a tie goes to the runner”, in the credit bureau’s world, you are out no matter how much you beat the throw, simply because the umpire says you are. And the umpire gets paid if he calls you out. Twice as crazy as crazy crazy.

7. “Your ‘credit dispute’ doesn’t quite capture our attention.” This ties into number 6. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to forward all relevant information provided to them by the disputing consumer to the furnisher of the information being disputed. But what’s nuts (I’ve run out of ways to say crazy)? The credit bureaus do not even have a system in place that allows them to forward any documentation or other proof from consumers to the furnishers. All they provide is a two digit code that is translated on the furnisher’s end to a basic dispute like “identity theft” or “not mine” or “never late”. So send proof that you were never late, including bank statements and cancelled checks. But don’t expect your proof to make it to that umpire waiting to get paid by calling you out.

8. “But bypass us on a dispute, and it’ll cost you.” This is one of the main weaknesses of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. There is no liability on the part of the credit bureaus or the furnishers of erroneous information if you do what most think is natural – dispute directly to the furnisher. For the duties to perform reasonable investigations under the FCRA to be triggered, the dispute must be made to the credit bureau, even though all they are going to do is pass the buck on to the furnisher. Many consumers do not know this and end up with no claim because they went straight to the furnisher instead of disputing to the credit bureaus.

But disputes to furnishers are important. See number 6 and 7. Because the credit bureaus do not pass on your proof to the furnishers and do a lack luster job translating your two page dispute letter to a two digit dispute code, sometimes it is up to you to let the furnisher know what your dispute really is. And disputing to the furnisher in addition to the credit bureaus eliminates a common defense I see from the furnishers where they claim ignorance as to a consumer’s dispute because they did not know what the credit bureaus meant by their two digit dispute code. So, all you consumers out there, be sure to lodge your disputes with both the credit bureaus (to trigger the FCRA) and with the furnishers (so they can’t avoid the FCRA by claiming ignorance).

9. “By the time you’re done fighting us, your toddler could be a teen.” This one I don’t necessarily agree with but only because the author of the Marketwatch.com article did not mention that you can stop the errors in most cases by suing the credit bureaus and/or furnishers. So, consumers, dispute the errors. Dispute them often. Give the credit bureaus and the furnishers multiple opportunities to do the right thing and fix their errors. And, if and when they don’t, hire a consumer lawyer like me and sue the bureaus and furnishers for all the heart ache their refusal to follow the law caused.

10. “Be careful what you pay for.” I’ve blogged on this topic multiple times at my blog located at www.fcralawyer.blogspot.com. The credit score that the credit bureaus so eagerly want to sell you is not even a score that is used by your potential creditors in most instances. It can be enlightening to see what your score is, but that’s about it. Creditor use different scoring models than what the credit bureaus sell. The most common used score is the FICO score which consumers can buy, but not from the credit bureaus. To see your FICO score, go to http://www.myfico.com.

All in all, a very informative and well researched and written article about the true story of the credit bureaus. But I will add a number 11 of my own:

11. “We spend top dollar to investigate your disputes.” Not only do they not pay top dollar, the credit bureaus do not even pay minimum wage to its investigators. Your disputes are being handled by outsourced investigators in such places as Chile, Jamaica and the Philippines, where the credit bureaus do not even have to pay minimum wage. And they work their third world work force by placing quotas on how many investigations they perform a day. One such credit bureau expected its investigators to perform an investigation every two minutes. That’s simply not enough time to “reasonably” investigate anything. Craziness to the nth degree.

Please read the full article at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-credit-bureaus-wont-say-2013-02-15. Again, the article is very well written and a must read.