Warren, Menendez, Schatz Reveal that CFPB Received More than 20,000 Consumer Complaints following Equifax Breach
Senators Press Mulvaney for Robust Investigation into Equifax; Question Why He Wants to Hide Public Complaint Information; First Comprehensive Review of CFPB Data Shows Near-Doubling of Complaints after Breach
Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren
(D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) today unveiled
comprehensive review of consumer complaints in the wake of the 2017 Equifax
breach. Their report found that in the six months following the breach, the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received more than 20,000
complaints from consumers about the impact of the breach, problems with
Equifax's response, or other issues with the company. The number of complaints
about Equifax nearly doubled after the breach.
The senators sent their report to Acting CFPB Director Leandra English and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney and pressed them to hold Equifax accountable and protect consumers from future data security breaches. The senators also asked that Mr. Mulvaney abandon his plans - revealed last week to a room full of bankers - to hide certain CFPB consumer complaint data from the public.
Months after the Equifax breach, consumers are still facing a myriad of problems and continue to seek assistance from the CFPB. The CFPB received almost twice as many complaints in the six months after the breach was announced than in the six months prior. The 21,921 complaints about Equifax included more than 7,000 complaints about the improper use of a credit report after the breach, more than 7,000 complaints about incorrect information on a credit report, more than 3,000 complaints about Equifax's inadequate assistance in resolving the problems after the breach, and more than 1,500 complaints about Equifax's credit monitoring services, fraud alerts, security freezes, and other identity theft protections.
Despite the severe threat to consumers and the CFPB's responsibility to protect them, the investigation into Equifax has reportedly "sputtered" since Mr. Mulvaney took over the CFPB. While the CFPB has confirmed that an inquiry is still open, reports indicate that the agency, under Mr. Mulvaney's watch, has not sought subpoenas or testimony from Equifax executives. Reports also suggest that the CFPB "rebuffed" other bank regulators' offers to help with the investigation despite former Director Cordray making it clear that this cooperation was necessary and welcome.
In the letter accompanying the report, the senators raised concerns about reports that at an American Bankers Association summit, Mr. Mulvaney indicated that he would soon order that key parts of the CFPB complaints database be kept secret and unavailable to the public. The senators wrote that, without this information, researchers and advocates would lose the ability to track in real time the difficulties consumers are facing. Companies would have a harder time conducting due diligence on potential partners to make sure they don't cheat their customers. Other federal and state regulators may lose access to this important information, making it more difficult for them to identify systemic fraud. Most importantly, removing this information would take away crucial information consumers need in order to make informed decisions about who to trust - information that is even more important in an era when the consumer watchdog is controlled by Mr. Mulvaney, who has acted quickly to limit CFPB actions to protect consumers.
"Consumers are asking the CFPB for help about Equifax nearly twice as often as they did before the recent data breach-but Mick Mulvaney wants to make it easier for big financial institutions to get away with cheating people," said Senator Warren. "Instead of using the CFPB to coddle credit reporting agencies and hide financial misconduct from the public, Mr. Mulvaney needs to let the Bureau do its job and protect the 145 million Americans harmed by this massive breach. "
"Today's report confirms our worst fears, that the breadth and depth of the Equifax breach has had and continues to have a devastating impact on the financial well-being of millions of Americans," said Senator Menendez. "That's why we need strong legislation that holds consumer reporting agencies accountable for data breaches, and requires them to offer free credit freezes and free assistance to affected consumers. In addition, we must continue to fight efforts by this Administration to defang our consumer financial watchdog. American consumers need a CFPB that will look out for them and hold big corporations like Equifax to account."
"This sheer number of complaints we found makes the case for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to act aggressively to hold Equifax accountable," said Senator Schatz. "Because of Equifax's mistakes, people have lost jobs. They've lost access to their finances. They've been given the runaround when they tried to ask for help. These are the kinds of problems the Bureau was created to fix, but we are not seeing the kind of action you would expect from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That needs to change, immediately."
This report highlights why the CFPB must continue a full investigation into the Equifax breach - but the United States Congress has a responsibility to rein in abuses in the credit reporting industry. The SECURE Act introduced by Senators Warren and Schatz in September 2017 would make it easier for consumers to dispute and correct errors in their credit reports. The senators' report found more than 7,000 consumers filed complaints over incorrect information on their Equifax reports. Senators Warren, Schatz, and Menendez also introduced the FREE Act which would allow consumers to freeze their credit reports for free and prohibits credit bureaus from selling data to third parties when a credit freeze is in effect. Senator Menendez's Consumer Data Protection Act would hold credit reporting agencies accountable for data breaches and incentivizes better data security practices while at the same time providing impacted consumers with tools to protect themselves. The Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act of 2018, introduced by Senators Warren and Warner in January, would require the FTC to promulgate cybersecurity standards for credit reporting agencies and would impose strict penalties on companies that fail to adequately protect consumer data.
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