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Randolph Librarian, Privacy Activist Sues Equifax

  • Jessamyn West, of Randolph, checks her mail in Randolph, Vt., Wednesday, September 27, 2017 and finds a return receipt for a small claims court summons she sent to an Equifax representative in Barre, Vt. West is taking Equifax to court after her personal information was stolen in a security breach. "I'm really surprised more people haven't done this; it's super-easy," said West. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, October 01, 2017

Randolph — A librarian and activist from Randolph is suing Equifax in small claims court to protest the credit agency’s compensation to consumers after a major security breach.

Jessamyn West filed suit against Equifax in Orange County Superior Court after learning that her personal data likely was accessed in a massive hack that the company reported earlier this month.

The breach affected more than 100 million people whose data — names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and the like — Equifax compiled for credit reports and, last week, forced the retirement of the company’s CEO. Credit card information for hundreds of thousands of people was taken, too, the company revealed.

West, a librarian at the Randolph Technical Career Center and a prominent privacy rights and online security activist, received the news about her personal information while coping with the death of her mother this spring.

Feeling frustrated with the remedy that Equifax was offering, West remembered her mother’s tenacity in confronting unfair situations.

“They shouldn’t get away with this,” she imagined her mother saying in response to the breach. “People should get up and do something.”

West felt grief at losing a loved one, but also concern about how the security disaster could affect others in her life.

Her information is now intertwined with her mother’s estate and the personal data of her sister, who is also helping with their mother’s affairs.

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.

So instead, West filed a small claims suit in the Chelsea court. Her complaint outlines why she feels Equifax’s response was inadequate and asks that she receive credit monitoring from a third party and for a longer period of time than Equifax was offering, which was a year.

“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,” she said in her letter to the court.

Based in Atlanta, Ga., Equifax is one of the “Big Three” ratings agencies in the United States. It compiles credit information on millions of consumers and reported $3.1 billion in revenue in 2016.

A noted public voice at the intersection of library science, security and privacy discussions nationwide, West was one of many librarians to fight information-gathering clauses of the USA Patriot Act seen as intrusive.

West said Equifax hadn’t yet answered her filing, which was not unexpected, she said, given that nearly a month still remained until the deadline to respond. On Wednesday, West said, a receipt arrived in the mail indicating that her summons had arrived at Equifax’s headquarters.

Emailed questions to Equifax representatives Ines Gutzmer and Marisa Salcines in the company’s Atlanta office were met with a response from a general media inquiries account that offered assurances to consumers but declined to comment on the case’s specifics.

“We cannot comment on pending litigation, but want to reassure consumers that we are remaining focused on helping them navigate the situation and providing the best customer support possible,” the statement said.

“We are listening to issues consumers have experienced and their suggestions, which are helping to further inform our actions as we continue to improve this process.”

The breach has prompted numerous lawsuits against Equifax, including a class-action suit on behalf of a pair of Oregon residents whose data was stored by the company. The plaintiffs in that case are seeking up to $70 billion in damages.

Small claims court in Vermont handles cases involving claims of $5,000 or less, according to the Vermont Judiciary website.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.