For the second time in three years, Equifax is in trouble for failing to promptly answer consumer inquiries about their credit reports.

Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. will pay $250,000 to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its blocked-call rate and hold times violated provisions of an earlier consent decree that settled a 2000 lawsuit for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That lawsuit settled charges that Equifax did not have sufficient personnel available to answer the toll-free phone number provided on consumers credit reports.

"Their being fined apparently didn't make an impression on them or change their behavior," said Phyllis of Manteca, CA, in a recent complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. She was turned down for a loan when Experian said her address of 23 years was not correct.

"I have been unable to get a person to answer the phone, just recorded messages. I can't reach them on their web site because I wasn't turned down so I don't have a copy of the report which they require," she said, one of many similar complaints from consumers around the nation.

The FCRA is designed to promote accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of every consumer reporting agency. To provide consumers with the ability to resolve more easily inaccuracies in their credit reports, in 1996 Congress amended the FCRA to require Equifax and the two other major credit bureaus, Trans Union LLC and Experian Information Solutions, to provide consumers who receive a copy of their credit report with a toll-free telephone number and access to credit bureau personnel during normal business hours.

In January 2000, the three credit bureaus paid a total of $2.5 million to settle charges that each violated this provision of the FCRA. According to the FTCs complaints, the bureaus blocked calls from over a million consumers who wanted to discuss the contents of, and possible errors in, their credit reports, and kept others on hold for unreasonably long periods of time.

To ensure that credit bureau personnel were accessible to consumers, the settlements required that the bureaus meet specific performance standards, including limiting the number of calls that the agencies could block and the amount of time consumers could be placed on hold.

Equifax failed to meet the specific performance standards in the consent decree for blocked calls and hold times for certain periods in 2001. The settlement announced today will require Equifax to pay an additional $250,000 for violating the original consent decree.