In response to the recent massive breach allowing hackers to illegally access the personal information of more than 140 million Americans, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee for Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Sen. Elizabeth Warren launched a broad investigation on Friday into the causes of the breach, Equifax’s dubious response, and the security measures required to prevent further cyberattacks. In addition to the federal investigation, Sen. Warren introduced legislation to protect the rights of consumers.
“I am writing regarding last week’s announcement of the massive breach that allowed criminal hackers access to sensitive personal information – including Social Security numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, and driver’s license numbers – potentially impacting over 140 million Americans,” Sen. Warren wrote in a recent letter to Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard Smith. “According to a statement released by your company, Equifax first ‘discovered the unauthorized access on July 29,’ but the company did not make any public announcement until 40 days later, on September 7, 2017.”
By failing to immediately inform the public of the unauthorized access, Equifax left many consumers exposed to numerous threats of credit card fraud, identity theft, tax fraud, and other crimes. When the company finally informed the public 40 days after the breach, Equifax reportedly attempted to deceive customers into waiving their legal rights.
“Perhaps worst of all, in order to sign up for the free credit monitoring service Equifax initially appeared to force customers to give up their rights to go to court and sue Equifax if they have disputes about the credit monitoring service in the future,” Warren continued. “Equifax modified this requirement after public outcry; but it is unconscionable that after putting consumers’ data at risk, Equifax seemed to be trying to strip consumers of their rights by requiring them to agree to binding arbitration of future disputes in order to obtain partial protection from the consequences of the hack that Equifax was responsible for preventing.”
Requesting a response within the next two weeks, Warren asked Smith several questions, including how Equifax discovered the breach, what the extent of the hack was, why the company waited 40 days to inform the public, and has any company executive been fired due to the breach? In addition to asking what steps Equifax has taken in light of the past three breaches in order to improve security, Warren also requested to know if the hackers accessed any sensitive information from Equifax’s federal contracts.
On Friday, Warren introduced the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation (FREE) Act to give control over credit and personal information back to consumers. Besides eliminating abusive fees, the FREE Act would enhance fraud alert protections while preventing credit reporting agencies from victimizing consumers during a credit freeze.
“Credit reporting agencies like Equifax make billions of dollars collecting and selling personal data about consumers without their consent, and then make consumers pay if they want to stop the sharing of their own data,” said Senator Warren. “Our bill gives consumers more control over their own personal data and prohibits companies like Equifax from charging consumers for freezing and unfreezing access to their credit files. Passing this bill is a first step toward reforming the broken credit reporting industry.”