In the wake of the Equifax incident last year, more than 143 million people had their personal and financial information leaked by hackers. For one 49-year-old librarian in Vermont, simply watching the company’s image get tarnished would not suffice.
Jessamyn West lives in a tiny town in Vermont, USA. She was one of the many American citizens affected by the monstrous Equifax data breach in September 2017. Days after the credit reporting agency reported the embarrassing incident, West decided to file a claim with the local Orange County courthouse seeking $5,000 in damages.
West admits she was driven by frustration. Her mother had died recently, and she was struggling to sort out a lot of family paperwork, including many financial documents for herself and her sister, with whom she runs a business.
“There is no way for me to tell if these or many other similar financial services hassles are due to the breach, but they have become more prevalent since last summer. I was on hold with Equifax’s understaffed support lines for hours. I tried to load their constantly-crashing websites for days. I am eternally vigilant about any change to my bank accounts, credit scores or even incoming postal junk mail. It’s exhausting,” she wrote in a post on Medium describing her ordeal.
The judge eventually sided with her, but would only award West $690, of which 90$ represented court hassle money.
“The small claims case was a lot more about raising awareness,” West told security heavyweight Brian Krebs in an interview. “I just wanted to change the conversation I was having with all my neighbors who were like, ‘Ugh, computers are hard, what can you do?’ to ‘Hey, here are some things you can do’,” she said. “A lot of people don’t feel they have agency around privacy and technology in general. This case was about having your own agency when companies don’t behave how they’re supposed to with our private information.”
She said she was surprised more people weren’t joining the fight, knowing the scale of the incident as well as Equifax’s annual turnover ($3.4 billion as of last year). However, she hopes to inspire others to do the same by sharing her story. West reportedly plans to donate the $600 to the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Around the time Equifax reported the breach, Law firm Geragos & Geragos said it was seeking up to $70 billion in damages in a class action suit. If successful, the law firm said, the class action settlement would be the biggest in the history of the United States.