Bot gives Equifax vic­tims path to le­gal ac­tion

But suc­cess in small claims court in­volves sev­eral more steps

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - El­iz­a­beth Weise

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.

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 donot­, 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 Equifax are clear from the last ques­tion, “What is your zip code? I am look­ing for­ward to help­ing you fight cor­po­rate in­com­pe­tence,” the bot asks.

Fill­ing that in re­sults in a print­able PDF of the pa­pers nec­es­sary to file suit in small claims court against Equifax in the user’s state — all filled out with in­for­ma­tion about the Equifax breach.

How­ever, that doesn’t mean the process is fin­ished.

“The filer would still need to serve the pa­per­work and ap­pear at the trial. That’s when things get a bit more dif­fi­cult,” said Cara O’Neill, a small claims ex­pert and edi­tor with Nolo Press.

First, as the pa­pers make clear, the in­di­vid­ual must review, sign and then file the doc­u­ments at the court ad­dress listed. In some states they might have to pay a fee to file. Once that’s done, a court-stamped copy of the form must be sent to Equifax’s reg­is­tered agent in the in­di­vid­ual’s home state.

“To find that, you have to go to your state’s Depart­ment of Cor­po­ra­tion and look up the com­pany name, which can take some search­ing,” said Steve Reger, vice pres­i­dent of data breach and fraud pre­ven­tion for Con­sumerDirect, a con­sumer credit man­age­ment com­pany based in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Joshua Brow­der, a Stan­ford Univer­sity stu­dent, built a bot that al­lows peo­ple to file a small claims court case.

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