Twenty-seven consumers have accused Bank of America Corp. of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by allegedly obtaining and selling their credit reports.
The accusations were made Tuesday in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore. The plaintiffs, who are scattered throughout the United States, seek $81 million in damages.
Rodney R. Sweetland 3d, an Arlington, Va., attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the group is only a fraction of the thousands of people whose credit reports were allegedly obtained and then sold to a third party by at least one Bank of America employee in 1999.
The lawsuit contends that a Bank of America employee obtained the credit reports under false pretenses and sold them. Mr. Sweetland described the alleged buyers of the reports as being involved in a "black market" industry. He did not elaborate.
Bank of America did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Allegations of privacy violations have dogged several financial institutions recently. Last year an investor sued Merrill Lynch & Co. after his identity was disclosed by the brokerage despite his registration of the account as "confidential." In 1999 the state of Minnesota filed a lawsuit charging Fleet Mortgage, a unit of FleetBoston Financial Corp., with deceptive telemarketing.
Bank of America is also accused of "negligently failing to implement and maintain" procedures that would safeguard against violations like the ones alleged in the suit. Mr. Sweetland said that 3,000 to 5,000 credit reports were illegally obtained and sold.
Bank of America, one of the largest banking companies in the United States, makes thousands of requests to credit bureaus every day. Because of this volume, credit bureaus do not require it to give a reason for each request. Contracts with the bureaus state that every request for a credit report is a certification that it is being obtained for a permissible purpose.
"Internally, they have to have some record as to why they obtained that, and if they don't have a record, it's a violation," Mr. Sweetland said.
The plaintiffs notified Bank of America's general counsel in December of the possible suit but got no response, Mr. Sweetland said. The plaintiffs might seek class-action status, he said.