(CN) - Countrywide Financial employees stole and sold "tens of thousands, or millions" of customers' personal financial information, invading their privacy and exposing them to identity theft, a class action claims in Ventura County Court, Calif. The class seeks to know, among other things, whether Countryside merely aided and abetted the theft and illegal dissemination, or whether it was "an architect of the plan".
Sixteen named plaintiffs sued Countrywide Financial, Countrywide Home Loans, and Bank of America, which bought Countrywide, the poster boy for the subprime mortgage crisis.
The class claims the defendants do not dispute that customers' private financial information was "disseminated." It wants to know "whether the dissemination was intended as a plan or scheme, or was intentional; [and] whether any of the defendants was simply aiding and abetting, rather than an architect of the plan to disseminate the personal information."
The class claims that the defendants were slow to admit the massive breaches of confidentiality, and offered little help when they finally did admit it.
It adds that the defendants delayed informing customers about the breaches to "gain time and money to extricate defendants from the financial stress [they] had created."
According to the complaint, "Beginning in 2008 - coincidentally after they sold their mortgage portfolios under wrongful and fraudulent 'securitization pools,' and coincidentally after their mortgage portfolio went into massive default as a result thereof - Countrywide learned that the financial information of potentially millions of customers had been stolen by certain Countrywide agents, employees or other individuals."
The plaintiffs say their identities have been stolen or compromised, their credit histories have been "shattered," and they've been unable to obtain loans, lines of credit or real estate financing.
"Countrywide delayed several months before informing their customers," the complaint states. "Finally, Countrywide informed only certain of their customers by letter and offered in settlement to refer the customers/borrowers to counseling, when it was Countrywide that needed to review and repair its internal procedures and it was Countrywide that needed to repair damages done to the credit of its customers."
The class seeks more than $20 million for invasion of privacy and aiding and abetting, and punitive damages. It is represented by Mitchell Stein of Walnut Creek.