Legislation Introduced To Correct Equifax Breach Credit Errors
Following the data breach of the credit reporting agency Equifax which left up to 143 million Americans exposed, US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai‘i reintroduced the Stop Errors in Credit Use and Reporting, or SECURE Act, legislation that would make it easier for consumers to catch and resolve identity theft, fraud, and errors in their credit reports.
“This is one of several important steps Congress can take in the wake of the Equifax cybersecurity breach,” said Senator Schatz. “Because these credit agencies operate in the dark, they are allowed to be terribly unfair and unaccountable. Millions of Americans have bad credit because of mistakes from credit agencies, and it can ruin lives, stopping people from getting a job or owning a home or car. While I look forward to hearing Equifax management testify under oath before Congress very soon, this bill is another way we can protect consumers.”
The Equifax breach exposed data which included customers’ names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and for some consumers, credit card numbers. Lawmakers called the exposure “potentially devastating,” saying these data could easily be used by criminals to steal people’s identity or commit fraud.
“As a result of identity theft and fraud, customers face the risk of having debt accrued in their name. They could suffer long-lasting damage to their credit, and as a result, they could be denied loans, mortgages, employment, or even rental housing. To resolve the damage done by this data breach, they will likely spend months if not years trying to resolve resulting errors and problems with their financial records,” lawmakers said.
In addition to Senator Schatz, the legislation is supported by US Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“Credit reports regularly contain errors that can make it harder for families to access credit, find jobs, and get housing,” said Senator Warren. “And as many consumers know all too well, it’s very difficult to get those errors corrected. The SECURE Act will cut down on the inaccuracies in credit reports and make it easier for consumers to correct any errors they discover.”
“Missouri consumers should be able to have quick, secure access to reports about their own credit,” said Senator McCaskill. “We’re seeing companies take advantage of consumers by making that process difficult – and too often, subject to court proceedings when disputes come up. In light of last week’s Equifax hack, it’s more important than ever we ensure better, safer access to these reports, so that folks can get an accurate picture of their financial health, and hold these companies accountable when there are mistakes.”
“The SECURE Act is necessary to restore integrity to the credit reporting system and clean up the tremendously consequential information contained in millions of Americans’ credit reports,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The robust requirements and enforcement powers created by this legislation will require credit reporting agencies, like Equifax, to prioritize accuracy and root out errors. Consumers deserve the ability to hold credit reporting agencies accountable when they fail to assemble accurate reports. And the millions of Americans likely to have been impacted by the Equifax breach deserve the peace of mind going forward that they have strong recourse available to them.”
“With millions of consumers worried about errors or fraudulent information appearing on their credit reports in the wake of the Equifax hack, this legislation is more urgently needed today than ever before,” said Senator Merkley. “Imagine the frustration of going to buy a car or a home, and not being able to because of mistaken information that is out of your control. It’s time to put consumers back in the driver’s seat and restore fairness to the credit reporting business with the SECURE Act.”
The SECURE Act would make changes to the credit reporting industry that would:
- Make credit reports more accurate. Currently, there are no minimum standards for credit reporting agencies (CRA) and data furnishers to accurately match consumers’ names, addresses, or Social Security numbers, often resulting in incorrect information included in a consumer’s credit report. The SECURE Act would direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to establish minimum procedures that a CRA must follow to ensure maximum possible accuracy of consumer reports. When errors are caught, the bill would require CRAs to gather and report information on consumer disputes and resolutions. It would also require CRAs to pass along documentation sent by consumers to data furnishers, making it easier for consumers to correct their credit report.
- Give consumers the information they need. While consumers today are entitled to free credit reports, they can be difficult to interpret. The SECURE Act would ensure that consumers get the information they need to understand their credit reports by enabling consumers to understand how their credit report is being used and by whom. It would also allow them to see the same information that is used by lenders to deny a consumer credit or increase interest rates and would provide consumers with access to meaningful credit scores free of charge annually.
- Protect children from identity theft. Stealing a child’s identity can go undetected for years and inflict significant damage on the child’s credit report. This legislation would enable parents to impose a security freeze on their child’s credit report to protect their child from identity theft and keep their credit reports clean.
- Give regulators better tools for enforcement. CRAs and data furnishers operate in a system with little transparency and accountability. This legislation would create a national registry of CRAs so that consumers know which companies are collecting and disseminating information about them. It would also direct the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of existing public credit reporting systems and evaluate the feasibility, as well as the costs and benefits, of creating a national credit reporting system in the United States.
- Give consumers legal remedies. The legislation would provide injunctive relief as a remedy for consumers who sue CRAs under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and hold CRAs accountable to the FTC for negligent violations of the FCRA.
The reintroduction follows Senator Schatz’s calls for Equifax to do more to assist impacted consumers. In a letter to Equifax CEO Richard Smith today, Schatz urged the company to pay for or provide reimbursements for security freezes and extend unlimited free credit monitoring services for consumers exposed by the breach. Credit monitoring services can help detect identity theft and fraud, while a credit security freeze restricts access to credit reports which proactively protects customers’ personal information and helps prevent identity theft.