AG Gansler's Consumer Protection Division Settles Charges of Unauthorized Access to Credit Records by Home Improvement Contractor
Washington Home Remodelers agrees to injunction and penalties
Baltimore, MD ( April 22, 2013) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that his Consumer Protection Division has reached a settlement with Washington Home Remodelers, a College Park-based home improvement contractor, and the company's owner, Daniel Bronstein. The Division alleged that Washington Home Remodelers accessed consumers' credit records without their permission and before it established a business relationship with the consumer, in order to determine whether it would keep scheduled sales appointments. The company was also accused of failing to use licensed salespersons; under Maryland law, a person who sells home improvement services must be licensed by the Division of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. The company and its owner denied they committed the alleged violations.
"Going behind consumers' backs to look at their credit records is illegal and carries far-reaching risks for consumers," said Attorney General Gansler. "A large number of credit inquiries could lower consumers' overall credit scores and, through no fault of their own, harm their ability to make large purchases in the future."
Under the settlement, Washington Home Remodelers and its owner can access a consumer's credit records only after they first notify the consumer of the inquiry and only if they receive the consumer's permission or if they have an existing business relationship with the consumer. The company and its owner are also required to use only licensed salespersons to sell home improvement services. The company and its owner also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $25,000, which would double to $50,000 if either breaches the terms of the settlement.
A large volume of credit inquiries can cause consumers' credit scores to lower because the inquiries may be viewed as a sign the consumer is overextending his or her credit. In an earlier action taken by the Division to enforce a subpoena served on Washington Home Remodelers, the Maryland Court of Appeals stated that it would be an unfair and deceptive trade practice to access a consumers' credit without the consumer's permission.
Attorney General Gansler urges consumers to regularly check their credit reports to ensure the reports contain accurate information and to know who is reviewing them. In Maryland, consumers are allowed to view their credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union) for free twice per year, for a total of six times annually. If consumers believe that information contained on their reports is inaccurate, they should contact the credit reporting agency to have the report corrected. For more information on credit reports and how to contact the credit bureaus, please see http://www.oag.state.md.us/consumer/edge121.htm.
For more information regarding the settlement, consumers may call the Division's consumer hotline at 410-528-8662 or toll free at 888-743-0023.