The Federal Court of Canada has ordered Canadian cable giant Bell TV to pay a Beechville, N.S., man $21,000 in damages after the company accessed his credit report without permission.
In a ruling this week, the court used harsh language to describe Bell’s conduct, saying the matter was “reprehensible” and chided the company for not even showing up to the court hearing.
Justice Michael Phelan found Bell did a credit check on Rabi Chitrakar without his consent when he ordered satellite television in December 2010.
A month after the credit check, a delivery man showed up at Chitrakar's home to install the service and asked him to sign what Chitrakar thought was an electronic proof of delivery device.
'I felt very angry'
Unknown to Chitrakar, the device embedded his signature into a rental agreement, one that stated the company could obtain his credit report.
"I felt very angry. I felt betrayed. I was never told. I was never advised," he said Thursday.
When Chitrakar learned Bell had done a credit check, he called the company for an explanation but got the “royal runaround,” according to the federal court.
Chitrakar asked for a written apology from Bell and for them to remove their inquiry from his record. He works for a bank and knows too many credit record checks can hurt your score. That could lead to higher costs for a loan or getting turned down for credit cards.
He said it amounted to snooping.
"All of your banking information, your credit information, your credit cards, your loans, your obligations, your assets, your social [insurance] number, your spousal obligations, your employment. All of it, just name it, you can find there. They don't need that information just for the TV," he said.
Unsatisfied with Bell's response, Chitrakar turned to the federal privacy commission, which ruled in his favour. He then took the case to federal court.
He's since cancelled his TV service and told Bell to take back their satellite dish, but nearly three years later, Bell hasn't picked it up.
Bell showed 'no interest' in fixing situation
In a decision made Tuesday, Phelan said Bell has “shown no interest” in addressing the actions of its employee who initiated the credit check, nor of implementing recommendations made by the privacy commissioner. The company did not offer Chitrakar any compensation.
The judge also pointed out Bell didn’t bother to send a lawyer to the court hearing, a move that “is consistent with its disregard of Chitrakar's privacy rights.”
“In this case, Chitrakar had his rights violated in a real sense with potentially adverse consequences,” Phelan wrote.
“Bell is a large company for whom a small damages award would have little material impact. Chitrakar spent a considerable period dealing with the Bell bureaucracy and in pursuing his claim.
“These factors suggest that a damages award should not be minimalistic.”
The judge noted the credit check done by Bell was a "hard check," which "begins a route to lowering a person's credit score."
Chitrakar was pleased with the ruling.
"I was right, Bell was wrong. What they did is illegal, unlawful and unauthorized," he said.