UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
EQUIFAX CREDIT INFORMATION SERVICES, INC., Defendant.
Civil Action No.
COMPLAINT FOR CIVIL PENALTIES,
Plaintiff, the United States of America, acting upon notification and authorization to the Attorney General by the Federal Trade Commission ("Commission"), for its complaint alleges as follows:
1. Plaintiff brings this action under Sections 5(a)(1), 9, 13(b), and 16(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act ("FTC Act"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 45(a)(1), 49, 53(b), and 56(a), as amended, and under the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681u, as amended, to obtain monetary civil penalties and injunctive and other relief for defendant's violations of Section 609(c)(1)(B) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(1)(B).
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
2. This Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1337(a), 1345, and 1355, and under 15 U.S.C. §§ 45(a)(1), 49, 53(b), and 56(a). This action arises under 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(1).
3. Venue in the Northern District of Georgia is proper under 15 U.S.C. § 53(b) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b-c) and 1395(a).
4. Defendant Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. is a Georgia corporation with its office and principal place of business located within the Northern District of Georgia at 1600 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30309.
THE FAIR CREDIT REPORTING ACT
5. The Fair Credit Reporting Act was enacted by Congress on October 26, 1970. On September 30, 1996 it was amended to include, among other provisions, Section 609. Most of the 1996 amendments ("1996 amendments"), including Section 609, became effective 365 days after the enactment of these amendments, or on September 30, 1997, and have since that date remained in full force and effect.
6. Section 609(c)(1) of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(1), requires a consumer reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis to establish a toll-free telephone number, at which personnel are accessible to consumers during normal business hours. This telephone number must be provided with each written disclosure of information in the consumer's file, by the consumer reporting agency to the consumer.
DEFENDANT'S COURSE OF CONDUCT
7. Defendant is a consumer reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis as that term is defined in Section 603(p), 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(p), of the FCRA.
8. Defendant advertises, offers for sale, sells, and distributes in or affecting commerce, as "commerce" is defined in Section 4 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 44, consumer credit information and other information on consumers for the purposes of furnishing consumer reports to third parties.
9. Defendant established a toll-free telephone number ("dedicated toll-free number") for consumers to call to speak with defendant's personnel during normal business hours concerning questions they have about their consumer reports or to dispute items that they believe to be inaccurate in their consumer reports.
10. After the enactment of the 1996 amendments on September 30, 1996, and prior to the effective date of these amendments on September 30, 1997, defendant did not take steps to ensure that it would be able to meet the legal requirement of consumer accessibility to personnel in Section 609(c)(1)(B) of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(1)(B), such as forecasting for incoming call volume and staffing to meet call volume.
11. After Section 609 of the FCRA became effective, defendant did not take steps to ensure that it met the legal requirement of consumer accessibility to personnel in Section 609(c)(1)(B) of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(1)(B).
VIOLATIONS OF THE FAIR CREDIT REPORTING ACT
12. Since September 30, 1997, a substantial number of consumers have been unable to access defendant's personnel when calling the dedicated toll-free number during normal business hours.
13. Since September 30, 1997, during normal business hours, hundreds of thousands of calls to the dedicated toll-free number received a busy signal or message indicating that the consumer must call back because all representatives are busy.
14. A number of callers to defendant's dedicated toll-free number experienced an unreasonable hold time while waiting to speak with defendant's personnel during normal business hours.
15. Defendant denies certain incoming telephone calls access to personnel at its dedicated toll-free number. Defendant denies access based upon telephone number of origin, including, but not limited to, area code.
16. The acts and practices alleged in Paragraphs 12-15 constitute violations of Section 609(c)(1) of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(1).
CIVIL PENALTIES AND INJUNCTION
17. Defendant committed knowing violations, which constitute a pattern or practice of violations, of Section 609(c)(1)(B) of the FCRA.
18. Each instance in which defendant violated Section 609 of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681g, in one or more of the ways described above constitutes a separate violation for which plaintiff seeks monetary civil penalties.
19. Section 621 of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681s, authorizes the Court to award monetary civil penalties of not more than $2,500 for each knowing violation of the FCRA that occurred since September 30, 1997.
20. Under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 53(b), this Court is authorized to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting defendant from violating the FCRA.PRAYER
WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests this Court, pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1681s, and to this Court's own equity powers:
DATED: This day of 1999.
FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
DAVID W. OGDEN
RICHARD H. DEANE, JR.
EUGENE M. THIROLF
FOR THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION: