SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Credit reporting agency TransUnion frightens innocent customers into believing the Treasury Department considers them a "match or possible match to some suspected criminal" on a terrorist watch list, a class action claims.
Named plaintiff Brian Larson sued TransUnion in Superior Court.
He claims the consumer reporting agency violates the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act by "willingly failing to provide consumers with complete and truthful" Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) alert information it sells to third parties.
OFAC alerts supposedly advise financing companies if a credit applicant is a terrorist, money launderer, drug trafficker or other enemy of the United States.
Larson claims TransUnion breaks state law by refusing to allow consumers to see, dispute and correct inaccurate or incomplete OFAC alert information before it sells the report.
Under California law, consumers have the right to dispute inaccurate information in their credit files. The credit reporting agency must correct incorrect information within 30 days.
Larson says he got a copy of his TransUnion credit report in October 2011. After disclosing the usual information found on a credit report, and beneath the heading, "End of Credit Report," he says, he saw "Additional Information."
"'The following disclosure of information is provided as a courtesy to you. This information is not part of your TransUnion credit report, but may be provided when TransUnion receives an inquiry about you from an authorized party. This additional information can include special messages, possible OFAC name matches, income verification and inquiry analysis information. Any of the previously listed information that pertains to you will be listed below,'" the complaint states.
It continues: "TransUnion continues to intentionally misrepresent to consumers, such as plaintiff, that OFAC alerts are not actually part of their reports or files. This practice is also in contravention to the clear statutory requirements of the CCRAA.
"Because defendant states that OFAC alerts are 'additional information' provided only as a 'courtesy,' consumers such as plaintiff are misguided into believing that they cannot dispute, and have corrected, inaccurate OFAC information that defendant alone is attributing to them.
"Worse, plaintiff's file with defendant does not actually disclose the OFAC alert that defendant has determined matches with plaintiff. The file states:
"'Possible OFAC Match
"'The OFAC database contains a list of individuals and entities that are prohibited by the U.S. Department of Treasury from doing business in or with the United States. Financial institutions are required to check customers' names against the OFAC Database, and if a potential name match is found, to verify whether their potential customer is the person on the OFAC Database. For this reason, some financial institutions may ask for your date of birth, or they may ask to see a copy of a government-issued form of identification, such as a driver's license, Social Security card, passport or birth certificate. Some financial institutions will search names against this database themselves, or they may ask another company, such as TransUnion, to do so on their behalf. We want you to know that this information may be provided to such authorized parties.
"'As a courtesy to you, we also want to make sure you are aware that the name that appears on your TransUnion credit file is considered a potential match to information listed on the United States Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) Database.
"'The OFAC record that is considered a potential match to the name on your credit file is: [Intentionally left blank].'" (Brackets and parentheses in original.)
Larson says his credit report directed him to a Treasury Department website for more information about the OFAC database. He says TransUnion told him he is not merely a "possible match," but an actual "match" to the OFAC list.
Since the incomplete OFAC list information is part of his credit file, Larson says, his file is "not a complete and proper file disclosure" as required by California law and the federal Credit Reporting Act.
He claims that TransUnion's violations include "a. TransUnion falsely represented that the OFAC information was not part of plaintiff s credit report; b. The OFAC information was not included in the consumer's file but was instead set forth separately in a different disclosure labeled 'Additional Information;' c. TransUnion represented that plaintiff 'is considered a potential match to information listed on' the OFAC Database (emphasis in original), but did not disclose the OFAC record considered a potential match that it would sell to a third party." (Parentheses in complaint.)
But Larson says he "is neither a match to the OFAC list, nor a possible match, nor does any other entity or person 'consider' plaintiff to be a potential match."
He claims TransUnion is misleading him and others about what information it reports to third parties, and is uncertain if TransUnion is reporting that he is on the watch list.
"Further, plaintiff was deprived of all information in his file, to which he is entitled, and the opportunity to dispute and correct the inaccurate OFAC alert that defendant inaccurately associated with him on his report," Larson says in his complaint.
TransUnion is no stranger to such complaints.
Courthouse News reported in 2008 that TransUnion, a credit union and mortgage company, denied Thomas Hassan Kubbany a mortgage "on the basis of erroneous information ... (in his) credit report indicating that ... he was or might be a son of Saddam Hussein of Iraq."
Kubbany claimed the "match" with a name on a list provided by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control was solely because of his middle name, and that the defendants failed to timely respond to his attorney's demanded the "match" be deleted.
Larson is represented by Andrew Ogilvie and Carol Brewer with Anderson, Ogilvie & Brewer.