TransUnion offers free credit monitoring to 150 million

Deal would close class-action suits stemming from sale of consumer data to marketing lists

In a class-action settlement that may be unprecedented in its size, Chicago-based credit-reporting bureau TransUnion LLC is offering up to nine months' worth of free credit-monitoring service to anyone in the U.S. who has ever held a credit card or a line of credit over the last 20 years.

The massive offer represents a retail value of several billions of dollars and is aimed at settling more than a dozen privacy-related federal lawsuits filed against TransUnion since 1999 over its alleged sale of protected consumer information to marketing lists in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

A spokesman for TransUnion today estimated that about 150 million individuals would be eligible for the free credit-monitoring service. The service has a retail value of around $60.

Under the proposed settlement, TransUnion will also set aside $75 million to cover administrative costs, lawyers' fees and the cost for settling any future lawsuits that individuals might choose to pursue against the company on the same grounds.

In addition, each of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuits will receive $3,750 from the settlement fund in recognition of their efforts in representing the class. The $75 million represents the amount of money the company reportedly gained from selling the consumer data.

TransUnion offered the settlement without admitting to any wrongdoing and denied that any of the plaintiffs in the case suffered any injury as a result of its alleged misdeeds. Fourteen different federal lawsuits were consolidated into one lawsuit that is being handled by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

A judge in that court last week granted preliminary approval of the settlement. Final approval of the settlement is expected in September.

According to a TransUnion spokesman, the lawsuits stemmed from a targeted marketing business that the company previously owned but retired in 2001.

"The bottom line is that our company is based on integrity, and there is no finding of any law that was ever violated," by TransUnion with regard to the lawsuits, the spokesman said.

Jon Borderud, an attorney for the plaintiffs, pegged the class size to be as high as 160 million to 190 million individuals. Borderud said: "I believe it is the largest certified class in the history of class actions anywhere. I think it is a very good settlement given the circumstances of the case," and the fact that it has been going on for so long.

"I guess they wanted some kind of a resolution to this. It works for both sides," he said.

Chris Micheletti, a partner at Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette and a spokesman for the plaintiffs, also expressed satisfaction at TransUnion's offer. "We are very pleased by the proposed settlement and believe it is an excellent result for the class," Micheletti said.

A statement posted on TransUnion's Web site said the class includes all individuals who had an open credit account or an open line of credit, including those with automobile loans, bank credit cards, department store cards, mortgage and student loans from Jan. 1, 1987 to May 28, 2008.

Individuals seeking to take advantage of the settlement offer may choose from two options: a six-month free credit-monitoring service that includes around-the-clock access to the class member's credit report and a credit-alerting service; or an enhanced nine-month credit-monitoring service with the same features. Those who opt for the enhanced option will have to agree not to make any other claims against TransUnion related to the dispute under the settlement offer.

Consumers will not be required to submit any payment card details while signing up for the credit-monitoring service. The service will be automatically terminated at the end of the six- or nine-month period without the consumer having to request it. In addition, TransUnion will provide the free service on top of whatever other service a consumer might have already signed up for with the credit-reporting agency.

More information is available on the Web site of the TransUnion privacy litigation class action. According to TransUnion, settlement administrators will have more details for class members no later than June 16.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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