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Sunday September 24th, 2017 3:30PM

New lawsuits, gestures to customers in Equifax data breach

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Equifax faces new lawsuits and is trying to make new gestures to customers in the wake of its disclosure last week that it exposed vital data like Social Security numbers of about 143 million Americans.

It's already come under fire from members of Congress, state attorneys general, and customers.

The company and its competitors, TransUnion and Experian, gauge how much of a risk people are for borrowing money. So they have some of the most sensitive information about Americans' financial lives — all of it a trove for identity theft.

Here's the latest on what you need to know about the breach:

LAWSUITS

Several law firms have already announced lawsuits against Equifax, and are all seeking to become class-action cases. If a class-action lawsuit is approved, it would be one of the largest class-action suits, by number of affected customers, in history.

Some state authorities have announced their own lawsuits against Equifax, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Healey said Tuesday the Equifax breach "may be the most brazen failure to protect consumer data" her office has seen. Healey will claim in the lawsuit that Equifax violated state laws by not maintaining safeguards needed to protect people's data.

WHAT IS EQUIFAX DOING?

Equifax, under pressure over how it's handled the breach, now says it is allowing customers to freeze their credit reports for free for the next 30 days.

That comes after consumers calling the number Equifax set up complained of jammed phone lines and uninformed representatives, and initial responses from the website gave inconsistent responses. Many got no response, just a notice that they could return later to register for identity protection. Equifax says it's fixed many of the issues people ran into.

The site is equifaxsecurity2017.com and the number is 866-447-7559. Equifax also says it'll send a notice to all who had personally identifiable information stolen. Equifax already had said it would offering free credit monitoring for a year, which people can sign up for at the website. And it says it won't automatically re-enroll people afterward to charge them.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Considering the size and scope of the breach, it's probably better to assume you were part of it. And ultimately, consumers will probably have to look out for themselves. They should:

— Closely monitor their own credit reports, which are available free once a year, and stagger them to see one every four months.

— Stay vigilant, possibly for a long time. Scammers who get ahold of the data could use it at any time — and with 143 million to choose from, they may be patient.

— Consider freezing your credit reports. That stops thieves from opening new credit cards or loans in your name, but it also prevents you from opening new accounts. So if you want to apply for something, you need to lift the freeze a few days beforehand.

WHO'S INVESTIGATING THIS?

State and federal authorities, as well as politicians. The chairmen of at least two U.S. House committees say they want to hold hearings.

Like the Wells Fargo sales scandal, the Equifax breach is causing bipartisan outrage and concern, but there has been no talk of any new laws to further regulate the industry. Credit bureaus like Equifax are lightly regulated compared to other parts of the financial system.

Several state attorneys general have also said they would investigate, which could result in fines at the state level.

And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the nation's watchdog for financial issues, says it has the authority to investigate the data breach, and fine and sanction Equifax if warranted.

Company executives are also under scrutiny, after it was found that three Equifax executives sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered the breach. Equifax said the three executives "had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time."

Equifax's stock has fallen more than 25 percent since Thursday. The company was scheduled to meet with investors publicly this week at a financial conference in New York, but pulled out and instead executives are giving one-on-one meetings with investors, a spokeswoman said.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Business, AP Business - Consumer News, AP Business - Personal Finance
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