September 28, 2017

Luján Introduces Legislation to Help Consumers Protect Their Credit Following a Data Breach

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Earlier this month it was revealed that a massive data breach at Equifax Inc. had compromised the financial and personal information of more than 143 million Americans’ and exposed them to identity theft and credit card fraud.  Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) today introduced legislation in the House to allow consumers to protect themselves from financial fraud at no cost. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the senior Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, recently introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

Lujan’s and Wyden’s bill, known as the Free Credit Freeze Act would guarantee all consumers can use PIN numbers to freeze and thaw their credit – free-of-charge – to stop hackers and others from creating new financial accounts with stolen information. The Equifax data breach, which exposed credit information of nearly a quarter million Americans, as well as Social Security numbers, birthdates and driver’s license numbers of an estimated 143 million more people, has highlighted the vulnerabilities of large data systems and underscored the importance of credit freezes.

Currently, credit reporting agencies like Equifax, charge consumers recurring fees as high as $15 each time they use their PIN numbers to freeze or thaw their credit reports. Luján, who sits on the House Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, noted that as data breaches have become more frequent, consumers need to have a reliable cost-free way to protect themselves when their sensitive personal information is compromised. 

“In the 21st Century, data is currency – companies like Equifax make money through the accumulation of Americans’ most sensitive personal data, and hackers steal millions each year by pilfering this data,” said Luján. “Americans who want to protect their personal and credit information from criminals should not be charged as they take steps to guard against financial fraud – especially when those fees are being charged by the very companies who failed to protect their data in the first place. The Free Credit Freeze Act stops companies from charging consumers to protect their credit by requiring credit agencies to allow consumers to freeze their credit at no charge.”

Luján noted that as massive data breaches become more frequent, companies must do more to protect their databases from intrusion. He also said consumers need a reliable way to get information about whether their personal information was compromised and the ability to take steps to protect themselves once there is a data breach. Cybersecurity experts and the Federal Trade Commission recommend credit freezes as a dependable method of protecting against identity theft and financial fraud.

“Companies like Equifax that have stockpiled massive, insecure databases of Americans’ most sensitive personal data must make security the top priority at every single stage,” Wyden said. “Given the frequency of these mega breaches, it is simply unacceptable for the credit agencies to continue to charge hardworking Americans who want to protect their credit and their identity from fraudsters. The Free Credit Freeze Act gives power back to consumers by requiring credit reporting agencies to provide credit freezes to consumers at no cost. Thanks to Congressman Luján, the Free Credit Freeze Act now has support in both Houses of Congress.”

Days after the Equifax breach was reported, Luján and his Democratic colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard Smith seeking detailed information about how the data breach occurred, what steps Equifax is taking to make affected consumers whole, and what the company is doing to safeguard against security breaches in the future.

Among the consumer protection and advocacy organizations have endorsed the Free Credit Freeze Act are the Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)

“As consumers, we can’t control how securely our sensitive personal information is held by the credit reporting agencies, but we should at least have the right to freeze that data whenever we want, at no charge, to limit the damage that can occur if it’s exposed to identity thieves,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America.