* Rob * ==================================== Some lawyers are proving that you can fight inaccurate reporting by the credit industry. Few businesses arouse as much resentment as credit bureaus and the creditors who furnish information to them -- especially when they get something wrong. If they make errors, chances are that a creditor -- such as a bank, mortgage company, credit-card company or department store -- furnished inaccurate information to a credit bureau. Credit bureaus won't help you much under those circumstances. They'll continue to report what creditors tell them. It's up to you to work things out with the bank, mortgage company, credit-card company or department store that messed up your credit record in the first place. You can have statements attached to your file disputing the information, but it still will turn up on your credit report. But that was pretty much assumed to be as far as a wronged consumer could go. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs credit reporting, says that only a state's attorney general can sue a creditor for furnishing inaccurate information. But if the creditor doesn't fix the inaccuracy permanently and in a reasonable time, you can sue, even though the Fair Credit Reporting Act doesn't explicitly give you that option. Goin' to the courthouse The preferred way to go about it, says Clarksdale, Miss., trial lawyer Michael Lewis, is to sue for defamation. He should know. In 1998 Lewis won a $4.5 million verdict against the credit bureau Trans Union for a client who had been a victim of identity fraud and had been unable to clear his name. The case is under review by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. For residents of most states, suing a creditor under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for reporting false information is difficult or impossible (the congressional delegations for California and Massachusetts were able to push through exceptions for those states). Lewis and other critics of the Fair Credit Reporting Act say the law was amended in 1996 to appease the credit industry. "The credit bureaus, in fact, have got their version of the Fair Credit Reporting Act passed that takes a bite out of the buttocks of the consumer," Lewis says. Adds Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the Public Interest Research Group: "Congress ignored strong evidence that banks and department stores are responsible for some credit bureau errors when it limited a consumer's right to sue creditors for errors in their credit reports." But the Fair Credit Reporting Act doesn't prevent consumers from circumventing that law and suing for defamation or even something called "negligent enablement of identity fraud." A crusade born out of frustration Recently joining the ranks of legal combatants are Denise and Robert Richardson of Greenfield, Mass. In a lawsuit, they say Fleet Bank repeatedly told credit bureaus that the Richardsons had not paid their mortgage. In fact, the Richardsons contend, a bank had discharged the balance of the mortgage, roughly $20,000, to settle an earlier lawsuit and agreed to mark the account "paid as agreed." Denise Richardson says that she and her husband were irritated when reports of the phantom default made it difficult to get credit cards and cosign their children's car loans. Then a collection agency demanded payment of $21,832.12 to satisfy the nonexistent debt. For 3 1/2 years, the Richardsons and their attorneys wrote at least 10 letters and made at least 13 phone calls to clear up mistakes. It was like getting on Santa Claus' "naughty" list and never getting off of it. After being told that their only recourse was persuading the Massachusetts attorney general to file a lawsuit, the Richardsons found a pair of attorneys who argued that they could sue not only for defamation but for violations of the FCRA.