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Korean-American wins settlement in 5-year lawsuit for mistaken identity as North Korean secret police

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A Korean-American in Los Angeles, who was denied credit after being mistaken for a North Korean sanctions target due to a similar name, has filed a class action lawsuit against the credit bureau for providing misleading information. The case, involving over 1,000 potentially similar victims, was recently settled with a significant reparation after five years of courtroom battles.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has granted preliminary approval today to a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit filed by Sung Gon Kang on behalf of 1,071 plaintiffs against the credit report provider Credit Bureau Connection (CBC).

The lawsuit was filed in October 2018. According to the complaint, plaintiff Kang went to Norm Reeves Honda, a local car dealership in Huntington Beach, with his family in November 2017 to purchase a car.

Problems arose when the dealership ran Kang’s credit report prior to the purchase. The credit report provided by CBC to the Honda dealership stated that Kang was on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs).

The SDN list includes certain countries, individuals, and entities designated by the Treasury Department, such as North Korea and Syria, to be prohibited from conducting credit transactions in the United States. Being designated as an SDN results in the freezing of assets and the inability to conduct any credit transactions in the United States.

Kang later obtained a copy of his credit report, cross-checked the names, and realized that CBC had provided inaccurate information by mistaking his name for the name of a North Korean individual on the SDN list.

“The investigation revealed that CBC incorrectly provided information about a person named ‘Kang, Song Nam,’ who was a member of the North Korean National Security Service and a native of North Pyongan Province,” the plaintiffs claimed in their complaint.

The State Security Department is North Korea’s intelligence, counterintelligence, and secret police agency. It acts as a thought police for the North Korean leadership, monitoring and inspecting suspected internal political and ideological abnormalities. The plaintiff was mistakenly identified as North Korean sanctions target because his last name and the first letter of his first name were the same.

“I subsequently requested that CBC remove the record, but was told that a search of the Office of Foreign Assets Control was not possible, leaving me concerned that CBC may have passed on the incorrect credit information to another organization,” the plaintiff stated.

The plaintiff had requested a jury trial against CBC for violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), loss of opportunity to use his credit history, defamation of character, and mental anguish. Kang’s case was later expanded to a class action lawsuit involving a total of 1,071 potential victims.

Judge Sheila Oberto has given preliminary approval to a proposed settlement that would require CBC to pay the 1,071 plaintiffs a total of $2.7 million in compensation. The plaintiffs have until September 20 to finalize the details of the settlement and submit them to the court. Final court approval is expected on October 25.

“The FCRA is a consumer protection law that aims to raise the bar on the accuracy and confidentiality of information provided to credit reporting agencies,” said Jamie Kim, an attorney at LK Professional Law Group. “Under the law, consumers can demand all information about themselves from credit reporting agencies and can dispute or correct inaccuracies in their credit reports.”

BY YEOL JANG   [support@koreadaily.com]

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