By JACLYN PITTS
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
A federal jury has ordered Equifax Information Services LLC to pay a Nokesville woman $351,000 in actual damages from an identity theft lawsuit. The $45 million lawsuit against three major credit reporting companies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian Information Solutions and creditor CitiFinancial Inc., was the second in Suzanne Sloane's battle to reclaim her stolen identity. In June 2003, Sloane gave birth to a son at Prince William Hospital. A few months later, a woman working in the hospital's billing department lifted Sloane's Social Security number from hospital records and used it to open several credit accounts, running up thousands of dollars in debt in Sloane's name. The identity thief, a temporary worker named Shovana Sloan, had previous convictions for identity theft and was on probation at the time she was working at the hospital, according to lawsuits filed against the hospital and the temp agency that hired her. Sloane sought $3.35 million from NRI Staffing Inc., the temp agency, and $12.5 million from the hospital in lawsuits filed last fall. The hospital settled the suit in March for an undisclosed amount.
Court records show that Sloane's lawsuit against NRI, filed in federal court, was dismissed in March at both parties' request. More than two years after her Social Security number was stolen, Suzanne Sloane's credit score was still hundreds of points less than it was prior to the identity theft, the couple said in January. After countless phone calls and letters yielded little progress toward restoring Suzanne's credit, she and her husband, John, filed a federal lawsuit in November against the country's three major credit reporting companies.
TransUnion, Equifax and Experian compile credit reports on people and provide them to lenders. When the Sloanes discovered that they had been the victims of identity theft, they reported the crimes to the credit reporting companies. Their lawsuit says the three companies continued to show debts incurred by the identity thief on the Sloanes' credit report.
The suit also says the companies lack a mechanism to repair the damage done by identity theft to a person's credit report.
The suit sought a total of about $31 million from the credit reporting companies. The three companies each filed written responses to the lawsuit, denying the allegations. The federal lawsuit against the credit reporting companies also sought about $13 million from CitiFinancial. The suit says CitiFinancial passed one of the accounts Shovana Sloan had opened to debt collection agencies, which then harassed the Sloane family for money that Shovana Sloan had spent.
CitiFinancial denied the allegation in court filings.
A. Hugo Blankingship III, the Sloanes' attorney, said confidential settlements had been reached with Experian, TransUnion and CitiFinancial. The Sloanes said that litigation wasn't their first choice, but that it seemed to be the only way they could clear their credit history of the damage done by the identity theft.
They tried for a year to work with the companies to fix the credit reports before resorting to suing, they said.
Shovana Sloan was arrested in March 2004 and was later sentenced to two years in prison.