EXPERIAN “DARK WEB” SCAN—IS IT WORTH IT?

On Super Bowl Sunday, Experian will afflict you with more commercials for its “dark web” scan.  I have received a number of emails from clients and colleagues asking whether it’s worth it.

My answer is: probably not.  Reason: if Experian finds your name or identifying information on some nefarious website in the “dark web,” Experian’s advice to you will be to change your passwords, use stronger passwords and put security alerts or a credit freeze on your credit bureau accounts.  However, you can do all of that without paying Experian for a “dark web” scan.

First things first: what is the “dark web”?  I do not hold myself out as an expert, but I have done some research on this.  The “dark web” is a subset of the “deep web”.  The “deep web” consists of websites that will not respond to searches from traditional search engines, like Google, Bing or Yahoo.  If you search, for instance, “Super Bowl” on any of the traditional search engines, you would get websites from what is traditionally thought of as “the clear web”.  You would not get any hits for websites in the “deep web”.

The “deep web” consists mostly of legitimate websites, such as legal members-only websites or proprietary company websites, such as in internal website used by a large corporation.  In general, these websites tend to be more private in nature.  By some estimates, the “deep web” consists of over 90% of the overall internet.

The “dark web” is that portion of the “deep web” in which illegal activity occurs, such as drug or illegal currency trafficking, child pornography or hiring hit men (no joke).  There are websites on the “dark web” which traffic in stolen identities.

To access a “dark web” website, you normally would need a dark web browser (TOR is probably the most well-known one) and you would only browse using a VPN—virtual private network, which essentially disguises your identity, your computer credentials and your location while you are browsing.  Really, anyone can do this—it’s not difficult to get onto the “dark web”.  However, be forewarned: law enforcement agencies around the world have lots of tricky ways of monitoring people browsing the “dark web,” even if you take steps to do it anonymously.  So fooling around on the “dark web” is not recommended—one false step and you can easily put yourself in the crosshairs of a law enforcement agency.

Now, back to the topic at hand: the Experian “dark web” scan. 

First, understand that the “dark web” is only one avenue of selling a stolen identity, and probably not a very significant one.  If someone steals your identity, chances are they already have a willing buyer somewhere and there would be no need to post it for sale on the “dark web”.

Second, while I have no doubt that Experian knows about several locations for stolen identities on the “dark web,” I strongly doubt it knows about all of them.  More than any other area of illegal activity, the internet is a place where the criminals are ALWAYS one or more steps ahead of the people trying to catch them.  So, while Experian can conduct a “dark web” scan, I strongly doubt that it would be a complete or comprehensive scan.  What percentage of the “dark web” can Experian access?  I don’t know, but it’s probably not a whole lot more than any private investigator with good computer knowledge can access.  And, I strongly doubt Experian’s “dark web” access is equal to the access which has been achieved by various law enforcement agencies.

Finally, as I mention above: if Experian finds your name or identifying information on the “dark web,” Experian will tell you to change your passwords, use stronger passwords and possibly put a credit freeze or security alerts on your credit profiles with the three major bureaus.  You can do that without paying Experian for the “dark web” scan.

But hey, if you want to hire Experian to do a “dark web” scan, I would be very interested in hearing the results.

I hope this short article has been useful to you.  Thanks for reading.

Bob Brennan

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Experian Boost Wants to Help Raise Your Credit Score, But…

EXPERIAN WANTS TO HELP YOU RAISE YOUR CREDIT SCORE…but there’s a catch: you have to permit Experian to view and monitor your personal bank accounts. Experian’s new product, Experian Boost, says it can raise credit scores for subprime consumers by taking into account regular payments on rent, phone and utility bills. But here’s the catch: Experian will contract with Finicity, which will then have electronic access to your bank accounts.

Hey, devil’s bargain, right? If your credit score is low and you need to raise it, yes, you might benefit from this program. Your personal banking information is the “holy grail” of the corporate you-really-have-no-privacy crowd. So, when you inherit, when someone repays a loan to you, when you sell your old beater car and deposit the money into one of your bank accounts…Experian now will have access to that information and, yes, will sell it to willing buyers, including debt collectors and telemarketers.

So, you choose what’s right for you. I thought you at least should have this warning.

Equifax is rolling out a similar product in 2019

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Robert F. Brennan Discusses His Relationship With His Uncle, US Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

 

Originally Published By Super Lawyers (Read Full Article Here)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. was dubbed “probably the most influential” justice of the last century by no less an authority than fellow justice, and political foe, Antonin Scalia.

But to Bob Brennan he was Uncle Bill.

“He was just the smartest guy in the room,” recalls Brennan, who practices consumer rights law in La Crescenta. “It was like he was the sun and the planets were revolving around him. … The man just had an incredible presence.”

Justice Brennan had seven siblings, including one who died in World War II, and all were highly accomplished, Brennan says. “But obviously, the all-star here was my uncle.”

Bob’s father, Frank Brennan, general counsel for E.&J. Gallo Winery for many years, tried to steer his son toward the law, but Bob resisted. Instead, after majoring in English, he worked in San Francisco as a paralegal and a comedy writer.

“This is circa 1982-1983, so I’m sure that a lot of my jokes had to do with Ronald Reagan.” Eventually, economic reality—and long talks with his father—redirected Brennan to law school, where he was in for a surprise.

“I found out that I really enjoyed practicing law,” he says. “I had a skill set that was well-suited.”

Litigation, in particular, interested him, but an incident inspired him to narrow his focus. While working as a summer associate, Brennan rented a room that already had an occupant. Brennan notified the landlord, canceled and moved out. Two years later, he discovered the landlord put negative information on his credit report.

“It made me upset, and piqued my interest in credit reporting cases,” he says. “I started doing lemon law. Then I started Fair Credit Reporting Act cases … consumer financial- and consumer goods-type cases. I have been doing that for over 20 years.”

Brennan has just finished trying a case for a client who had his identity stolen by a man who bought three cars using his victim’s credit. The client struggled to clear his name and managed to do so with all but one creditor—BMW Financial. Brennan landed a Fair Credit Reporting Act and identity theft verdict of $430,000. In addition to that, the judge awarded attorney’s fees of approximately $280,000.

“The one thing I think I see on a regular basis that other people don’t see is the effect that some of these consumer-abuse situations can have on individuals,” Brennan says. “It can be really, really devastating.”

His uncle, who passed away in 1997, would no doubt have approved. The year before Justice Brennan’s death, his nephew attended his 90th birthday party.

“I got to meet 20 to 30 of his clerks,” Brennan recalls. “Everyone referred to him as Yoda: this little guy who had more wisdom and power than anyone else on the planet. They all talked about how much fun it was to work with him, how decent a human being he was.”

Brennan was known for getting along with everyone—with one notable exception. “My uncle had his differences with Justice [Warren E.] Burger,” says Brennan. “Dick Nixon wanted to get rid of William J. Brennan, and so Justice Burger became the person assigned to giving Justice Brennan assignments that would interfere with his life.”

Brennan’s first wife, Marjorie, was in the hospital with cancer, for example, ”and my uncle wanted to visit her as often as possible. Chief Justice Burger got wind of that, and he would continuously give my uncle assignments that would interfere with my uncle’s free ability to [do so]. … This is probably coming from Nixon—that Burger was trying to pressure my Uncle Bill to resign—but my Uncle Bill refused. He took on whatever additional assignments he was getting.”

That was the anomaly, though. “In terms of the modern political and judicial landscape where judges are disagreeing with each other all the time,” Brennan says, “Justice Brennan literally stands alone.”

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BEWARE OF DEALERSHIPS USING CARFAX TO CHEAT CONSUMERS AND COMMIT FRAUD.

Carfax has been around for several years now, and, given the advertising, many consumers think that it presents an accurate vehicle history when buying a used car.

Well, sometimes.

Carfax will gather information from participating states’ Department of Motor Vehicles and participating dealerships and repair facilities.  Note the word “participating”.  If a body shop or a dealership does not report some vehicle history items to Carfax, then these items will never make it onto a Carfax report.

More important, Carfax does not have access to insurance claims records, which is where the goldmine really is.  When someone wrecks their car and files an insurance claim to fix it, this claim information will go to LexisNexis (used to be Choicepoint, before LexisNexis bought Choicepoint from Equifax), which maintains the information in a proprietary database.  You cannot just call up LexisNexis and get a copy of the report unless you are an owner of the car.  So, effectively, you do not have easy access to what probably is the most valuable source of information about vehicle history.

Also, Carfax suffers from “reporting lag,” where information which should belong on a Carfax report does not wind up on the Carfax report for up to six months.  This one is baffling, because Carfax has the ability to gather and report the information it does have pretty much immediately.

Dealerships know about these flaws in Carfax, and use them to trick consumers.  Dealers, when retailing a car with known collision damage, can pull a Carfax and find out if the Carfax is “clean”.  The car may have damage and the damage may be easily observed by any competent inspection of the vehicle, but if the car has a clean Carfax report, you can bet that many dealers are going to try to retail the car.  The alternative for a collision-damaged car is a wholesale auction, and the dealers do not make any money when they have to auction a car.  On the other hand, dealers make their best money retailing used cars to consumers.  There is definite incentive to cheat.

So, if you are buying a car and you get a “clean Carfax” from the dealer, insist that the dealer also provide you with its inspection report, to see if the dealer’s technician has noted any collision damage.  Or, before you buy (particularly if you’re spending a lot of money on the car), insist on having your own mechanic inspect it.

And, if you’ve been cheated with a collision-damaged car or a prior lemon with a “clean Carfax,” then call our firm.

Thank you for reading.

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Seungtae Kim v. BMW Financial Court Case

Seungtae Kim v. BMW Financial is a case which was tried in federal court in Los Angeles, in which the jury rendered a verdict in plaintiff’s favor.  Plaintiff Seungtae Kim, a Korean doctor of Eastern medicine, had his identity stolen by a former friend and colleague.  The identity thief used Seungtae’s identity to buy a BMW, which was later repossessed because the identity thief did not maintain his payments.  BMW Financial and two of the three major credit bureaus then reported the repossession on Seungtae Kim’s credit reports.  Seungtae Kim disputed in writing with the credit bureaus and also sent identity theft police reports to the bureaus and to BMW Financial, but BMW Financial insisted that Seungtae Kim had colluded with the identity thief to purchase the car.

The trial proceeded on theories of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and the California Identity Theft Law.  The jury returned a verdict in Seungtae Kim’s favor for $430,000.00.  The judge then added attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the California Identity Theft law.  The total verdict was close to $900,000.00, one of the largest verdicts of its kind in California under these laws.

BMW Financial appealed the verdict but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected BMW’s appeal and upheld the verdict in Seungtae Kim’s favor.

Read the Full Article Here on SuperLawyers.com.

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Identity Theft and Credit Damage – The Importance of Getting a Police Report

If you find yourself a victim of identity theft, there are three essential actions you need to take immediately:

  1. Notify your bank(s) and credit card companies of the identity theft. If you have already identified some fraudulent charges, report them immediately.  Close out any affected credit cards.  (Note: just because identity thieves steal one card does not mean they have access to other cards you may own.  You will have to use your best judgment as to which cards to close and which ones you should not close.  If you have any doubts about a credit or debit card, close it, and ask the bank to issue you a new account.
  2. Obtain a police report! Make several copies.  The banks and credit card companies frequently will not take action on a claim of identity theft unless you provide a police report.  The reason is simple: there are, unfortunately, people who falsify claims of identity theft to avoid paying their bills, but these deadbeats frequently do not file a police report because a false police report subjects a person to criminal prosecution.  The banks and the bureaus see the filing of a police report as a “bona fide” that the person making the claim of identity theft is being honest, and is not just making the claim to avoid paying bills.
  3. Obtain copies of your credit reports with the three major bureaus: you can get one free report from each of major credit bureau (without credit scores) once a year through annualcreditreport.com. You need to review your credit report and promptly dispute any entries that may be the result of an identity theft.  Dispute not only the tradelines—the sections showing your history with a given bank or lender—but also anything like a name you don’t recognize or an address you don’t recognize.  Identity thieves can add false name variations (“Joe M. Jones” vs. “Joe L. Jones”) and false addresses when they steal your identity.

You need to take these three steps at once.

Should you sign up for credit monitoring?  In my opinion, if you can get it for free or at a very, very reasonable price, and if it makes you feel better, then you can sign up for it.  I personally do not have credit monitoring because I check my online bank pages frequently and I also check my credit reports periodically.  I don’t necessarily recommend against credit monitoring; I just don’t like to see people pay good money for it when, in all but the most extreme situations, it’s probably not necessary.

I hope this short little blog entry helps you.

Copyright © 2018 by Robert F. Brennan.  All rights reserved.

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Thank You John Oliver… But That’s Only Half the Story!

I really appreciate John Oliver bringing to people’s attention the problems with debt collection and credit reporting of old debts, particularly medical debts.  However, consumers need to know quite a bit more.  I am lucky to have been invited onto KPCC Radio 89.3 on the morning of July 7, 2016 to discuss this problem which faces so many consumers in today’s world.  I hope my interview gives you a better insight into the problems, as well as some solutions which you may find useful.

LISTEN HERE

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The Perils of Purchasing a Used Car

Planning on buying a used car soon? Then first open your eyes – very wide. In our office, over the years we’ve seen it all. Frauds perpetrated on used car lots against California consumers are common, and may be getting worse.

There are various types of fraud:

What kinds of fraud are there? To name a few, the dealer forging your signature on documents, tampering with the odometer, falsifying figures or terms on a lease, and lying about the previous ownership history (for example, failing to disclose that the car was a prior rental). One of the most common types of fraud encountered by our clients is being sold a used car with undisclosed, extensive collision damage.

Often the consumer, before purchasing the vehicle, asks the salesperson if the car was ever in an accident, and that salesperson indignantly replies something like this: “Absolutely not! If it had been in an accident I couldn’t sell you this vehicle even if I wanted to.” At some point later, when you discover to your chagrin that the car indeed had sustained major collision damage, the salesperson’s false claim may play back in your mind, but be assured that the same salesperson is never going to admit to having made such a representation.

Actually, a lot of dealerships have become more brazen about committing fraud and will even claim they are not obligated to disclose any structural accident damage to a consumer before the sale, even though this is complete nonsense.

The Moral of the Story:

Don’t believe anything a used car salesperson tells you, especially if they aren’t willing to put it in writing. Just don’t buy it if you hear, “The previous owner is starting a family and just needed to get a bigger car,” or, “The vehicle was kept in mind condition and belonged to the owner’s wife,” or the salesman’s uncle, brother-in-law, etc. For all you know, the car could have sustained massive frame damage, been declared a total loss by the insurance company, then sold to an auto auction without a salvage title, from whence it finally ends up before you on the used car lot. Before you buy, get the vehicle checked out by a good mechanic at a reputable auto body repair facility. Also, demand a copy of the car’s repair history.

CarFax or TrueCar Do Not Necessarily Contain All of the Information about Vehicle History

Just because a car has a “clean Carfax” does not mean that it is a clean car. Carfax only reports vehicle history which is reported to it, and insurance companies—the ones who would pay for repairs after collisions—do not generally report to Carfax. Carfax also sometimes does not have vehicle information for many months after a consumer purchases the vehicle. Thus, when the consumer bought the car, it had a “clean Carfax,” but six months later there is a report of a collision or a prior rental history on the Carfax. Carfax is a tool, yes, but far from a perfect one.

Most consumers unfortunately do not follow this advice:

A few weeks after purchase the death trap is rattling down the road, falling to pieces. The consumer takes it into a body shop for an inspection, or at a dealership for repairs, and is informed that the car had sustained severe collision damage such that its structure now consists of twisted metal and Bondo. The consumer is told, unfortunately, that the vehicle can never be repaired adequately to make is safe to drive, or bring it back to the manufacturer’s specifications, and that to even attempt to do so would cost thousands of dollars.

Starting Your Case:

This is the point at which your legal case can begin. Armed with the inspection report (which should include color photos highlighting the accident damage), you are ready to do battle with the dealership that ripped you off. Try to make suitable arrangements so that you won’t have to use the vehicle if the inspector tells you it is not safe to drive. Write up a diary detailing everything which transpired to this point, complete with dates, first and last names, telephone numbers, and all misrepresentations made to you. Write a certified letter to the dealer giving the facts and demanding your money back.

Don’t be surprised

At this point, the unethical used car dealership will try to blame it all on you. This callous attitude may be difficult for you to comprehend, but it is nevertheless commonplace. To reiterate, make sure you get a good, thorough inspection of the vehicle detailing all of the damage noted. Keep in mind that in the legal sphere, complete and accurate documentation is vital to your case.

Please protect yourself:

To help avoid getting yourself into this depressing predicament, again, do not believe any “sales puffery” about the car from the dealership and do take the vehicle in for an inspection by a qualified mechanic and body shop before you buy. By a “doubting Thomas.” By doing so, you may save yourself more money and headaches than might believe.

*The above is an abbreviated and slightly edited article of the same title by Mr. Brennan

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Getting Started on Your Lemon Law Case: the Virtues of a Pre-Lawsuit Settlement

If your vehicle turned out to be a “lemon” that is really stressing you out, call the Law Officers of Robert F. Brennan. Our firm has been successfully helping consumers with their Lemon Law cases for over two decades, and as our practice has evolved, we have come to the conclusion that sometimes the best place to start is a process we call “pre-litigation,” which means trying to settle your case without even having to file a lawsuit! This streamlined approach has the benefit of saving you a lot of time, cost and energy.

How this works is you first contact us, provide us with some basic information about yourself, your vehicle and the main recurring complaint you have with it. We may recommend to you that we file a lawsuit right away, under certain circumstances. However, if we feel that pre-litigation assistance may get the results you want, we will recommend that as the first action.

In reviewing your case we will need to know the current age and mileage of the car, whether it is still under warranty, the main recurring complaint, and how many repair orders you have for that complaint.

If your case appears to have merit, we will then ask you to either email or fax over the relevant documents for our review. Such documents would include the purchase or lease contract, any documents you had to sign regarding the purchase or lease, and the pertinent repair orders from the dealerships where you made your complaints.

Then we would send a demand letter directly to the manufacturer of your car. There are three possible outcomes in a pre-litigation case, as follows:

  1. The best outcome would be an offer from the manufacturer to do a full repurchase of your vehicle. This would usually include reimbursement for all you monthly payments, down payment, registration fees, and a payoff of the loan. There would be a mileage offset based upon the miles on your car when you first took it in to the dealership for the main complaint. Once the case is settled, you would return the vehicle to the manufacturer and have it out of your hair.
  2. A second option the manufacturer may offer is called a “cash-and-keep.” In this scenario, with your agreement we would negotiate the best settlement (amount of money) we could obtain and you would keep the vehicle. After the settlement is over, most clients sell their vehicle and use their settlement money, for example, to make the down payment on a better car. But the client is free to do what he likes with the money.
  3. The third and last option is the manufacturer could reject the claim altogether and offer nothing. At that point we would review your case again. If we feel confident about the strength of your case, we may recommend filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer for violating the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, or California Lemon Law, which is there to protect your warranty rights.

In summary, if you are hoping for a way out of your lemon car, possibly without having to go through a lawsuit, call us now and we can advise you whether we recommend the pre-litigation route. We will try our very best to make you a happy client.

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When Is It Necessary to Bring a Lawsuit for False Information on Your Credit Report?

The consumer credit reporting system in this country is set up to “convict” consumers without any messy, expensive or inconvenient due process. A bank or a credit card company or a debt collector simply notifies one of the three major consumer credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion) that a consumer owes a debt, and, unless that record is corrected, that consumer is deemed to owe that debt in the eyes of any and all creditors who access the consumer’s credit report. The negative credit report (called a “derogatory” in the industry) will stay on the consumer’s credit report for seven years, in the case of a report of a late payment, a default or a charge-off. For a tax lien, judgment or a bankruptcy, the derogatory remains on the consumer’s credit report for 10 years.

How to Handle False or Inaccurate Credit Reporting

If you have a valid derogatory on your credit report, obviously you need to make arrangements to pay it and bring it current. The following steps are intended for those times when you have false or inaccurate information on your credit report. Under federal and state law, credit bureaus and creditors are obligated to remove false or inaccurate information on your credit report upon receiving notification. Remember that, under federal law, you need to dispute with the credit bureaus, not just with the creditor or creditors (banks, debt collectors, etc.) Always send dispute letters both to the credit bureaus and to any involved creditors.

Here are the steps to take to have false or inaccurate information removed:

  1. Prepare a dispute letter to any agency which publishes the false information you are challenging. Be very specific in your dispute letter and include copies of any documents which prove that the derogatory information is false. Keep the letter factual and professional in tone.
  2. Send the dispute letter via certified mail to the credit bureau or bureaus which are reporting the false information.
  3. Definitely do not do a dispute by phone. You will need to have a written record of your dispute.
  4. We are recommending against doing disputes online. For one thing, you do not get a complete record of what you send to the bureaus, and cannot send along any supporting documentation of your dispute. Also, some of the credit bureaus are sneaking in binding arbitration clauses for consumers who dispute online, so consumers who dispute online could lose their right to get justice in the courts with a jury. Arbitration almost always favors big corporations, which is why so many big corporations try to sneak binding arbitration clauses into any agreement or contract that any consumer signs. However, there is no binding arbitration clause where a consumer disputes via certified mail.
  5. Send a cc of your dispute letter to the creditor, debt collector or bank which sent the derogatory credit information to the credit bureau or bureaus. Also send this via certified mail.
  6. The bureau has 30 days to reinvestigate and correct. If you are in a hurry because of, say, a pending loan application, the bureaus have an expedited procedure which you can learn about by contacting them.
  7. The bureau or bureaus will notify you of the results of their reinvestigation. If the bureau or bureaus does not delete or correct the information, you may also wish to consult with an attorney.

My firm specializes in these cases and we have a track record of excellent results with very satisfied clients. We serve clients in Southern California, or who have had their credit damaged in Southern California. If you live elsewhere, go to www.naca.net for a referral to a credit damage specialist attorney in your state.

Copyright © 2015 by Robert F. Brennan, Esq. All rights reserved.

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