Chaz Epps shouldn’t be mistaken for a felon anymore.
A case of identity theft and a jumbled credit report brought Epps, 32, to Bamboozled in 2013. Despite some pretty clear evidence, the credit reporting company refused to fix the mistakes Epps reported it made.
Epps, a Navy veteran who served three tours in Iraq, was looking for a new apartment back then. He paid an application fee to a rental agency, and it hired Screening Reports, an Illinois-based specialty credit reporting firm, to do a background check.
Screening Reports found that Epps was a felon and he was denied the apartment.
But that was wrong. Very wrong. The worst thing on Epps’ record was a parking ticket.
Epps knew his credit was good, and he realized the source of the misinformation. While Epps was in Iraq, his younger brother used his identity, so now, the name “Chaz Epps” appears as an alias on his brother’s record. While Epps was overseas, his brother was charged with six misdemeanors and 10 felonies. As part of a plea deal, all charges were dismissed except for one count of unlawful possession of a deadly weapon, public records showed.
Epps contacted Screening Reports to dispute the report multiple times, both on the telephone and in writing. He provided the company with copies of his driver’s license, birth certificate and other documents to prove his identity.
But the company didn’t respond, Epps said, so he called a manager.
“[She said] after a review of my file that there was in fact an error made on the company’s part and that the problem would be rectified and to call back a day later,” Epps said at the time.
When he called back, the manager insisted Epps get documentation from a court or police department showing he had a clean record. But when Epps made the request to police, he was told police had no documentation to give because Epps didn’t have a record.
Epps called the company again and again. It wouldn’t fix the errors, he said, so he filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
That didn’t help, so he contacted Bamboozled.
ASKING FOR WHAT’S RIGHT
Screening Reports, citing “privacy reasons,” wouldn’t discuss the case, but a rep said the company would look into it.
A few hours later, the company contacted Epps, and it again insisted that he provide documentation to prove his record was clean.
But by law, it’s Screening Reports’ responsibility to investigate and correct or remove any erroneous information within 30 days of a consumer’s complaint. When Epps told that to the rep, the rep said his report would remain as is.
After our story ran, help came from another place. A credit repair company stepped up and offered to take on Epps’ case without any cost to him.
Epps accepted the offer, and last month, we learned there was a settlement. But not surprisingly, the settlement came with a confidentiality agreement, so Epps can’t discuss the details.
In the case, attorney Abel Pierre, on Epps’ behalf, alleged that Screening Reports violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, saying it “adopted and maintained a policy and practice of knowingly, intentionally, recklessly and willfully reporting adverse public record information.”
The complaint went on to list a litany of alleged Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations.
“This was a long, uphill battle that involved multiple states and law firms,” said Paul Oster, the CEO of Better Qualified, the Eatontown credit repair company that volunteered to help Epps. “This is a great example of how the average consumer can fight the `system.'”
Pierre, the attorney, said consumers who encounter problems with credit reporting agencies can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
“But like many government agencies, the FTC and CFPB receive a large number of complaints,” Pierre said. “While they do an awesome job, not every complaint will receive individualized attention. Nonetheless, consumers can rest assured that they can turn to an experienced consumer law attorney who can represent them at no upfront cost to them.”
We don’t know exactly what the settlement was, but it’s safe to guess it included clearing up Epps’ credit report — which is all he wanted from the start.
“The whole experience was long and tedious, especially when you know that you have done nothing wrong and still have people looking at you as if you have,” Epps said.
But the lawsuit that was filed is public record.
He said that if even one consumer was helped as part of his fight, it was worth it.
“When the readers look at this update, I hope that if they themselves or if someone they know could use some help, that they would know where to begin to go for it,” Epps said. “I also hope what they take away from the story is never settle when someone tells you `no’ and that you need to fight for your rights at all cost.”
Epps, who now rents a home in Irvington, is trying to move on with his life. He graduated cum laude from Berkeley College last year and has returned to get his MBA.
We love a happy ending.
And Screening Reports, the credit company? It still has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau. it did not respond to requests for comment on the Epps case.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
You’re due a free copy of your credit report if information on your report leads to you being turned down for a loan, housing or a job. And once a year, all consumers can get a free copy of their credit report from the big three credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com.
To get copies of whatever reports are generated by specialty credit reporting firms like Screening Reports, you have to contact those reporting companies directly.
If there’s a mistake on your report, the credit agency has 30 days investigate and to notify you of its findings, and make the fix or remove information if it’s found to be wrong, per FCRA rules. The reporting company has 45 days if the error was found on an annual free credit report.
If you ask for a fix, make sure you do it in writing. Also ask for the credit reporting company to tell you where it got the wrong information in the first place. Then, contact the source of the bad intel to make sure it’s corrected there, too, so the mistake won’t pop up again and be reported in the future.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.