September 13, 2017 at 11:13 pm #4233
Data Breach at Equifax: 143 million American effected
You’ve probably heard about the recent data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, so we just wanted to let you know that we are here to support you. The breach occurred at Equifax Inc. and there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax. Based on the company’s investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017.
According to Equifax, the hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. As well, they grabbed personal information of people in the United Kingdom and Canada.
What You Can Do Now
There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
- Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.
- Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
- If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.
September 19, 2017 at 4:00 am #4245
- File your taxes early — As soon as you have the tax information you need, file your taxes before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
The entrepreneur behind DoNotPay, a free online chatbot that has successfully fought around 375,000 parking tickets in New York, Seattle, and the U.K., is launching a new service on Tuesday that will allow people to sue Equifax for $15,000 in mere minutes.
On September 7, Equifax revealed a massive cybersecurity breach that potentially exposed the Social Security numbers and other personal information of 143 million people. The breach has spurred two dozen lawsuits in federal court involving lawyers who want to represent many plaintiffs. But it tends to be tough for individuals to sue companies like Equifax on their own.
“Three days ago I realized I should definitely be doing something for this,” Joshua Browder, DoNotPay’s creator, told Yahoo Finance. “I was doing research and I found no one is going down to small claims court on the state level.”
Despite the pending federal lawsuits, Browder sees small claims court as the ideal way to deal with this, without involving costly lawyers or complex cases that could last years.
“I think people should be empowered to do it themselves,” Browder said. “Instead of taking Equifax to federal court, they could take Equifax to small claims. In a lot of these states you’re not allowed lawyers, there are no legal fees, and state judges are more sympathetic and more fair. They don’t take kindly to big corporations pushing people around.”
Class action cases generally won’t affect a consumer’s right to take a corporation to small claims court, provided the company does business in that state. However, you may have to opt-out of a class action to be eligible, something for which DoNotPay might have to write another bot.
“The consumer can definitely go forward in small claims court, even if a class action is pending,” said F. Paul Bland, an attorney and executive director for Public Justice. “There’s no chance a class action would bar a consumer from bringing such a case.”
How the chatbot works
Earlier this year, Browder had developed a custom software that allows him to quickly create a “chatbot,” a program that asks users questions. Using the answers, the chatbot can create useful forms — in this case, the documents needed to take Equifax to court.
With a team of mostly volunteer lawyers, Browder worked around-the-clock to get this new Equifax-suing robot on his DoNotPay website.
“I thought, what if there were a way to file small claims in all 50 states? So I researched a process and found it’d be easy to do,” Browder said. “The small claims court is rigorous and efficient.”
The hard part, said Browder, was figuring out who to sue and the individual states’ quirks in the small claims suit-filing procedure. California is easy, but states like Texas make it very difficult, requiring a plaintiff to create their own lawsuit and complaint. The other challenge is figuring out where to serve.
In terms of damages, different states cap the amount differently, but somewhere between $10,000 to $15,000 is standard. Justifying these numbers is easy, according to Browder. “Our response is, we seek the maximum because of the permanent damage,” he said. “But in reality I think it varies. I think a lot of people will be hurt by this and will be able to demonstrate if someone has a $15,000 fraud there’s no reason they won’t get $15,000 back.”
DoNotPay does not make money or receive commissions so far, although Browder said perhaps an ad-revenue-based business model may appeal in the future. For Browder, a senior at Stanford, it’s more about the principle than money. In his view, DoNotPay can make a difference by handling the hard parts so a wronged consumer can more easily seek justice.
“It finds all the details of who exactly to sue and who to give the papers to,” Browder said. “All you have to do is provide your name and phone number. Then it spits out 8 pages with instructions and necessary forms. It probably takes about 20 seconds.”September 19, 2017 at 4:03 am #4247
Making the rounds today is a chatbot that claims it will let you sue Equifax for thousands of dollars in small claims court without using a lawyer.
The Verge boldly stated you can claim up to $25,000 dollars, and the chatbot says that it’s the “first case of a fully automated lawsuit.” While it would be cool to fill out a form and get a check a few months later, this isn’t the case.
In reality, this “fully automated” chatbot is asking for very basic personal information, like your address, and populating it into a PDF that you can use to start the process of taking Equifax to small claims court. The form is also pre-populated with Equifax’s address and the local state agent’s address, so I guess that saves you a few minutes of googling.
After you’re done using the chatbot you’re still going to need to turn in your form and pay a fee (usually in person) and, more importantly, actually show up to court on a designated day and argue your case in front of a judge. While the chatbot also fills in a few words of reasoning — on the New York form it fills in that “Equifax was negligent under Code § 1411 in revealing my data” — this is meaningless as you’re still going to need to argue your case in your own words.
Here’s where your troubles really begin. Small claims courts are for settling known, documented damages. If Equifax’s negligent security practices provably caused your credit card to be spoofed and your identity stolen, and you had to pay $4,500 to get that straightened out, small claims would be a good place to start.
But few will have seen concrete damages so soon after the hack, let alone have thoroughly investigated, resolved and documented them.
And because the form automatically is putting the maximum amount of damages allowed in each state, you’re going to look pretty dumb showing up to argue you suffered $10,000 worth of damages when you may not even have concrete evidence that your personal data was accessed.
Oh, and assuming you’re fine with the above, only one state (Tennessee) has a $25,000 limit for small claims court. Most states are below $10,000, and currently the chatbot only works for New York and California residents — so even if you do live in Tennessee you can’t file a claim for $25,000. The website says that the other states are coming in “12 hours,” but it’s said this since yesterday.Filing a lawsuit based on information you know to be wrong (i.e. that you have suffered $10,000 worth of damages but have no documentation) may also invite the ire of the court. Judges don’t take kindly to people wasting the court’s time and resources.
Even if you did manage to get the court to hear it, it’s entirely possible that Equifax would simply move to have the case taken out of small claims court and consolidated in a state or federal court. Once it’s out of small claims court — where, we’ve already established, most people using this service would already be at sea — you’d really be out of your depth.
This chatbot is an extension of DoNotPay, a bot designed to get you out of parking tickets. The founder, Joshua Browder, said he hopes his service “will replace lawyers, and, with enough success, bankrupt Equifax.”
While Browder told us they are working on handling the filing process as well, and that by “automated” he meant that it could be done without a lawyer, the initial claims of legal automation he set forth are extremely misleading. The tool he created, while clearly well-intentioned, is nothing of the kind. The most one can say is that if you were already planning to file a small claims suit, this could save you a little time. But it fails to account for anything but the initial pre-filing process and could hang its users out to dry as a result.
The Equifax breach is one of the largest of all time; the legal battle proving various points of neglect, damage, breach of contract and so on may take a year or more to settle. This isn’t something that’s going to be handled without lawyers, and if you take the law into your own hands you may jeopardize your ability to participate in a class action lawsuit — the class, for instance, may specifically comprise people affected by the hack who have not taken other legal action.
It may be frustrating to wait, but it’s unlikely that the company will go unpunished. But comprehensively justified legal action is a dish necessarily served cold. We’ll be following the various class action lawsuits against Equifax and will keep you apprised of your options as they develop.
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