How a legal startup wants to bury Equifax in small claims

Equifax is facing new legal trouble over its massive security breach. The city of San Francisco is suing the credit reporting agency over the hack that exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans. That news follows the sudden retirement of the company's chief executive on Tuesday.  If you're a victim of the Equifax hack, you may be eligible to be part of a class-action lawsuit, but a startup in San Francisco says it has a better idea: it'll help you with your own claim by taking Equifax to small claims court, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner. Equifax data breach and credit freeze: Beware these 3 scams Equifax hack victim Devin McGahey is a legal assistant, but even so, says he found the idea of going to small claims court against Equifax a little intimidating -- until he found the company Legalist. McGahey filed court papers already filled out by the company which also paid his $90 filing fee. "I thought that it was unique, I thought it was bold. I thought it was kind of a good way to shake up the legal industry," said Legalist co-founder Christian Haigh. "It was incredible to me that a company the size of Equifax could be so incompetent and negligent with consumers' data," Haigh said. They say Equifax presented a chance to make a statement. The goal, according to Shang, is that Equifax is fighting thousands of lawsuits in small claims court. So Legalist pays the court fees and if you lose, you don't even have to pay them back. The catch? If you win, Legalist gets 30 percent of anything won. But do consumers need to pay for the help? He says better than small claims are class-action lawsuits against Equifax, which can be brought on behalf of all victims and force companies to change. "Making Equifax do things going forward to do a better job of protecting its data, so that people don't get subjected to this kind of injury in the future. Those are the kinds of things that class actions do and do really well, and they are Continue Reading

How to Avoid Those Nasty Bank Overdraft Fees

Last Updated Sep 28, 2009 1:57 PM EDT When a little white postcard from Bank of America arrives for my son, I shudder because I know what it is without opening it: another $39 overdraft fee from Bank of America. So far this year, he's piled up probably five or six. He's a college student and lives on a shoestring. But, thanks to overdraft fees, the shoestring has become a thread. Don't tell me he should be more responsible and keep better track of spending. That goes without saying -- and his dad and I have said it to him over and over in rants that contain lots of bleep-worthy words. But even I can understand that when you're out doing errands, using a debit card, it's not always knowable when the last pizza or mocha latte sends you into O.D. territory. And, if you buy a batch of items on the same afternoon, say, shaving cream at Walgreen's (2.29), tube socks at Target ($10.99) and a notebook at Staples ($3.79) for a total of $17.07, you can wind up with overdraft charges of $117. And don't even get me started on the extortionate interest rate which usually translates to an APR well over 100%--basically for a loan that nobody ever wanted. There's a simple solution. Banks could decline withdrawals at the ATM or the point-of-sale if you don't have enough in your account. True, you would be embarrassed when your debit card was declined at Staples, (though I suspect you'd withstand the humiliation to avoid a $39 fee). But those fees are a huge source of profit of banks' profit, about $38.5 billion annually, according to the FDIC, so the problem has gone unfixed. Both Carolyn Maloney (in the House) and Christopher Dodd (in the Senate have proposed bills that would require consumers to opt-in to overdraft protection. (And the Fed is contemplating rules, meaning we'll see them maybe in the year 2057.) Most people would, of course, would not opt-in to a "protection" system that has them paying through the nose. To counter any reforms. a few of the banks are pulling back. Continue Reading

A devastating mismatch: City vs. scofflaw landlords A devastating mismatch: city vs. scofflaw landlords Illegal apartment, with only one way out, claims a life Overcrowding rampant in student neighborhoods City no match for scofflaw landlords Watch The Boston Globe documentary ‘Shadow Campus’

Visit The Boston Globe Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Comment on this Scroll to top of page By Globe Spotlight Team reporters Jonathan Saltzman, Jenn Abelson, Casey Ross, Todd Wallack and editor Thomas Farragher. It was written by Saltzman. Globe Staff  May 06, 2014 presents A Spotlight Team investigation Part 3 of 3 Continue reading Part 1 A house jammed with students, a life of promise lost Part 2 Overcrowding rampant in student neighborhoods Video Watch The Boston Globe documentary 'Shadow Campus' Part 3 Some of the giants in the student rental trade also lead the pack in health and safety code offenses. Their victims are beleaguered, sometimes endangered, tenants — and also a college town's reputation. This story was reported by Globe Spotlight team reporters Jenn Abelson, Jonathan Saltzman, Casey Ross and Todd Wallack, and editor Thomas Farragher. It was written by Saltzman. A Globe Spotlight Team investigation Part 1: A house jammed, a life lost Part 2: Overcrowded and at risk Watch The Boston Globe documentary 'Shadow Campus' The two city inspectors upbraided the gray-haired man in a lavender button-down shirt as if he were an unruly teenager instead of one of Boston’s biggest landlords.“Are you serious, Anwar?’’ inspector Iris Figueroa-Jones asked indignantly as she entered a squalid vacant apartment in one of Anwar N. Faisal’s buildings in Fenway last September. “What’s the problem, Anwar?’’It was move-in weekend, that annual rite of late summer when tens of thousands of college students lug mattresses, flat-screen televisions, and 30-packs of beer into off-campus apartments all across Boston. It’s the U-Haul marathon, those exhausting but giddy days of settling in. Advertisement But three Berklee College of Music students weren’t feeling it. The young men had called the city in a Continue Reading

Jailed over unpaid fines, court costs: debtors’ prisons?

Published 12:05 am, Saturday, February 24, 2018 Photo: Stephanie Strasburg, AP Image 1of/1 CaptionClose Image 1 of 1 ADVANCE FOR RELEASE SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2018 Gregory Mauk, 50, of Rector, stands for a portrait on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Greensburg. Mark was sentenced to two weeks in jail by a Cambria County judge for being late on (but still paying) court fines. (Stephanie Strasburg/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) less ADVANCE FOR RELEASE SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2018 Gregory Mauk, 50, of Rector, stands for a portrait on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Greensburg. Mark was sentenced to two weeks in jail by a Cambria County judge for ... more Photo: Stephanie Strasburg, AP Jailed over unpaid fines, court costs: debtors' prisons? 1 / 1 Back to Gallery PITTSBURGH (AP) — In October 2015, Harrison police pulled over Judith Snock and gave her a $138.50 speeding ticket. Snock, 59, of Apollo, had recently broken her arm in a car accident and lost her job at a cement factory. She couldn't pay the fine. Three months later, a constable arrested her and took her to a courtroom in Brackenridge. Snock said District Judge Carolyn Bengel showed no concern for her financial circumstances. "I said, 'I don't have a job.' I had a cast. She said, 'You have one hour to pay the fine.' " Snock could not come up with what she owed and spent the night in jail. She was released after her retired mother scraped together the money. LATEST SFGATE VIDEOS Now Playing: Now Playing Tornado rips across an open field 40 miles north of Sacramento Jacklyn Johnson Tempe Police release video from inside the Uber self-driving car that killed pedestrian Uber A brief history of the Facebook scandal Alix Martichoux / SFGATE Alcatraz: How much do you know about "The Rock?" Ted Andersen, SFGATE Continue Reading

People finding success taking Equifax to small-claims court — using a chatbot

By Dianne de Guzman, SFGATE Published 3:21 pm, Thursday, February 1, 2018 window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-3', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 3', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); Photo: Mike Stewart, Associated Press Image 1of/3 CaptionClose Image 1 of 3 FILE - This July 21, 2012, file photo shows signage at the corporate headquarters of Equifax Inc. A handful of customers of the company who elected to sue the company in small claims court using chatbot Do Not Pay say they have won their judgements against the company. less FILE - This July 21, 2012, file photo shows signage at the corporate headquarters of Equifax Inc. A handful of customers of the company who elected to sue the company in small claims court using chatbot Do Not ... more Photo: Mike Stewart, Associated Press Image 2 of 3 An Equifax Inc. slide is displayed on a monitor during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. The hearing was titled Examining the Equifax Data Breach. Equifax Inc., already reeling from American probes into the loss of data on 145.5 million customers in a computer hack, will face an investigation in the U.K., where 694,000 consumers had information stolen. less An Equifax Inc. slide is displayed on a monitor during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. The hearing was titled Examining the Equifax Data ... more Photo: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg Image 3 of 3 People finding success taking Equifax to small-claims court — using a chatbot 1 / 3 Back to Gallery There doesn't Continue Reading

Three lawyers control Queens Democratic Party while one rakes millions from Surrogate’s Court wills

For 30 years, the same three men have effectively controlled one of the largest Democratic organizations in America. They are Gerard Sweeney, Michael Reich and Frank Bolz, the powerful attorneys who serve Rep. Joe Crowley, the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party. Reich is the executive secretary of the party, a spokesperson and wrangler of district leaders. Bolz is the law chairman, entrusted with keeping county-approved candidates on the ballot and knocking their rivals off. Sweeney wears no official hat within the party infrastructure. But Queens insiders say he is arguably its most important strategist, helping guide the party’s political machinations on the homefront as it jousts for influence in City Hall and Albany. He is also the one who gets to be very rich. As the appointed counsel to the Queens public administrator, a job he has held without interruption since 1992, the 63-year-old Sweeney raked in just over $2 million last year administering in Surrogate’s Court the estates of people who died without leaving wills. Over the past decade, his haul is even more stunning: $30 million since 2006, according to an analysis of court records. It’s impossible to know how many millions Sweeney received in his first 14 years on the job because the state’s Office of Court Administration, which oversees Surrogate’s Court, says it doesn't keep those figures. The three men, with Crowley’s blessing, still determine what type of justice is served in Queens County. No Queens judge rises through the ranks without the party’s blessing and regular donations to its housekeeping account. The biggest prize is Surrogate’s Court, where wills of the deceased are probated and holdings of those who die without them are evaluated. It is where Sweeney reigns — and where the real money is made without too many prying eyes. The court has long been a symbol of political influence and the Continue Reading

Want Equifax to pay? This bot helps victims file a $15,000 small claims suit

SAN FRANCISCO — A 20-year-old Stanford student has built a free online bot that helps anyone affected by the Equifax breach sue the company in small claims court.For customers angry at the massive breach of financial data, the free service holds hope — and likely disappointment. If used enough, it could cause severe financial pain for Equifax. But winning in small claims court can be an arduous process. The website created by Joshua Browder is called Do Not Pay. He originally started it in his hometown of London after he got his driver's license because he was “terrible at parallel parking, so I got a large number of parking tickets.”He automated the system for filling in the forms to contest a parking ticket so that his bot would print them out after the user answered a series of questions.At Stanford, he ported the site to work in the United States. When he realized his information was part of the Equifax breach that affected as many as 143 million people in the U.S., he looked around to see what his legal options were here. More: At Equifax, a Category 5 data breach More: Equifax data breach: I tried to freeze my credit. There were problems. More: Readers sound off: Equifax is all show, no action for customers More: Equifax hit with at least 23 class-action lawsuits over massive cyberbreach He talked to some lawyers, and then this week added a new option to the site — suing Equifax in small claims court. While  at least 23 class-action suits have been filed against Equifax already, Browder says "class-action suits take too much time, and too little goes to the victim. That's why I like small claims court."Now when users visit, they see a clickable box that says “Automatically sue Equifax for $15,000.”That leads to a series of boxes that adds the user's name and address. Browder's feeling about Continue Reading

Dog-owner charged for co-op’s legal fees, without ever going to court

A Queens co-op that threatened to evict a shareholder unless he dumped his beloved pitbull slapped him with a $1,000 bill for legal fees - even though the case never went to court. David Teitelbaum, 47, said he was stunned at the charge tacked onto his monthly bill at Dayton Towers in Rockaway Beach. A building manager told him the fee covered the co-op's legal fees - for two letters he received from the board's attorney. The co-op later dropped the fee. But tenant advocates say the case highlights a flaw that makes co-op rules ripe for abuse. They say shareholders have little recourse if a spiteful board charges legal fees for cases without merit - even if the matter never goes to court, or if the board loses in court. "There are no checks and balances," said Larry Simms, the president of the Alliance of Condo and Co-op Owners. "There are too many times when board members or managing agents are inclined to be abusive." The co-op first threatened to evict Teitelbaum unless he gave up his pitbull Aphrodite, who he says helps him cope with depression and other ailments. He refused, and he soon received the letters that led to the legal fees. "Lawyer's fee for what?" said Teitelbaum, who added he's short on cash while being treated for bipolar disorder and back and knee problems. "I basically can't afford this right now. I'm in and out of hospitals," he said. A building manager vowed to drop the fee when the Daily News called to inquire. Legal eagles differed on whether Teitelbaum should have paid the fee if the co-op had refused to drop it. Tenant attorneys Sam Himmelstein and Kevin McConnell said that if Teitelbaum did not pay $1,000, the board would keep it on his account and demand payment if he ever decided to sell the co-op. They suggested Teitelbaum could have sent the co-op a $1,000 check but write "without prejudice to my right to contest charges" on the memo line and in a cover letter. They said he could have then tried to recoup Continue Reading

New Jersey court fees to increase

TRENTON – Going to court is going to cost more in New Jersey, starting in November.The state judiciary last week proposed to raise 65 fees and create 17 new ones, under terms of a state law enacted this summer that authorized the increases to pay for a new system for assessing defendants for bail, a digital upgrade for the judiciary and funding for Legal Services of New Jersey.Filing a lawsuit or appeal would cost $250, rather than $200. Filing for divorce would cost $300, rather than $250. Applying to expunge a criminal record would cost $100, rather than $52.50. Permits to carry a handgun would cost $50, up from $20, and appealing a denial of a permit to buy a handgun, which currently does not have a fee, would cost $50. Filing a small claim would run $35, up from $15, and filing tenancy complaints would double to $50.Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for the state judiciary, said that not all the court’s fees are being raised. None increase by more than $50. She said the changes are forecast to generate $42 million to $49.4 million a year. Currently the courts collect about $82 million a year, not all of which is retained by the state. It amounts to only a fraction of the judiciary’s $692 million budget.“Not all of them, by a long shot, went up $50. We were particularly sensitive to those fees that might be the most difficult for people to manage — small claims courts, a divorce filing when there’s any number of filings that need to be made. Those kinds of things. We tried hard to keep them within reason,” Comfort said.Court fees were last revised in 2002.The law allowing the fee increases specifies that $22 million of the resulting annual revenue is to be spent on new staff, electronic monitoring, drug testing and treatment services needed under bail reform voters will decide on the November ballot. Another $10.1 million would be paid to Legal Services, which provides legal aid to the poor in civil matters. And $10 million Continue Reading


DID THE CLEANERS RUIN your suit? Did your landlord pocket your security deposit? Did your neighbor run over your gnome statue with his tractor mower? Don't get mad, get your money back - in small claims court. Filing a claim is "not a huge investment," said Emily Doskow, legal editor at Nolo, which publishes "Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court. " "It is designed for ordinary people, so it really tends to be user-friendly," she said. The fees are minimal, but that doesn't mean there aren't costs. "The major downside is the time and energy and effort involved," Doskow said. "Everybody's Guide" suggests that a case will take between 10 and 20 hours to prepare and present. Courts frequently allow each side at least one postponement, or "adjournment," which will mean multiple courthouse visits. Nevertheless, 50,000 cases are filed in Small Claims Court in the city every year. Among them recently was a case brought by Alex Sobolevsky, who sued his former attorney, Andrew Kaufman. Sobolevsky claimed that Kaufman, who had represented him when he was sued in Civil Court following a traffic accident, had settled that case in a way that left him open to further legal action. Defending himself in a subsequent case, Sobolevsky argued in his suit, cost him a whopping $12,000. Kaufman did not return calls for comment. Sobolevsky had originally asked for $5,000, but after four small claims appearances, he finally negotiated a deal to have Kaufman pay him $1,500. Like others who have come to Small Claims Court, he said it was worth it because he "proved a point. " "For everybody, it's going to be a balancing act between what they lost and hope to gain and their chances of winning," said Doskow. New York's Small Claims Court caps claims at $5,000, and you can only ask for money. The court can't, for example, compel your neighbor to replant all those flowers in your yard that his dog dug up, it can only get him to pay for it. Small claims Continue Reading