ATLANTA- In light of the astonishing announcement of credit reporting agency Equifax’s security breach which impacts the personal information of more than 140 million consumers, National Association of Consumer Advocates and Georgia Watch call on Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) to withdraw his legislation, H.R. 2359, that would drastically reduce remedies for consumers who are victims of credit reporting abuses.
On the same day that Equifax announced the massive data breach, a subcommittee of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee held a hearing to consider legislation, including Loudermilk’s bill that would amend the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act to essentially shield credit reporting agencies from full accountability for willful and reckless conduct that upends individuals’ employment and financial lives.
Specifically, the “FCRA Liability Harmonization Act” would eliminate punitive damages, a tool used to punish the worst actors, and would impose an arbitrary $500,000 limit on statutory and actual damages in class actions. These illogical blocks on consumer remedies would obstruct individuals’ legal rights.
“Instead of running to Congress to seek a “get out of jail free” card to avoid accountability for its reckless handling of consumers’ personal and financial information, Equifax and its counterparts in the credit reporting industry should focus on protecting information from identity thieves,” said Christine Hines, legislative director at National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA).
At Thursday’s hearing, witnesses for the credit reporting industry claimed that their violations of federal protections were merely technical and do not harm anyone despite evidence that consumers have been blocked from accessing credit, housing, and jobs due to industry’s irresponsible handling of consumer information. Industry representatives also used the hearing to bash a rule issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would restore consumers’ ability to band together in class actions when harmed by unlawful financial industry practices.
Currently Equifax is rightly being criticized for its handling of the massive data breach. One of many of its missteps – it has inserted forced arbitration clauses in the terms and conditions of various credit monitoring services that it is encouraging affected consumers to enroll in.
“Equifax’s use of forced arbitration clauses and class action bans means that consumers cannot band together in court to seek remedies against it,” said Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch. “This is unacceptable and will have disastrous effects on the marketplace.”
NACA and Georgia Watch insist that Rep. Loudermilk withdraw his bill and support consumers’ right to hold bad actors like Equifax fully accountable through the justice system.