Equifax issues statement correcting misconceptions about legal action

FILE - This July 21, 2012, file photo shows Equifax Inc., offices in Atlanta. On Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, Equifax said it has made changes to address customer complaints since it disclosed a week earlier that it exposed vital data on about 143 million Americans. Equifax has come under fire from members of Congress, state attorneys general, and people who are getting conflicting answers about whether their information was stolen. Equifax is trying again to clarify language about people’s right to sue, and said Monday it has made changes to address customer complaints. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

EDWARDS — Equifax released a statement Monday saying you can still sue them over the data breach that released vital information about 143 million Americans.

The credit-tracking company has been struggling with a public relations nightmare since disclosing this past week that it exposed the names, birth dates, addresses and social security numbers of much of the U.S. adult population.

A heavily criticized aspect of the incident involved the company’s mandatory arbitration policy, where customers inquiring about how they have been affected by the breach were told, in lieu of litigation, they must use a private third-party arbitration service in order to resolve their disputes.

An audible gasp could be heard from a crowd at the Singletree Community Center on Friday when Colorado Attorney General candidate Phil Weiser informed consumers that by asking Equifax if they were affected, they waived their right to sue.

“We’ve added an FAQ to our website to confirm that enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not waive any rights to take legal action.”Equifax

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“That sort of unconscionable behavior has to be come down upon,” Weiser said.

Headlines from national news outlets have been scathing, from The New York Times: “Equifax’s instructions are confusing,” to CNN’s: “Don’t waste your breath complaining to Equifax” and Forbes: “Equifax: A Category 5 cybersecurity crisis storm. Chances are it will hit you.”

The company’s statement Monday, titled “A Progress Update for Consumers,” sought to correct the conclusion being drawn by Weiser and others — that consumers were waiving their rights to lawsuits by inquiring about their credit.

“We’ve added an FAQ to our website to confirm that enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not waive any rights to take legal action,” Equifax wrote in the statement. “We removed that language from the Terms of Use on the website, The Terms of Use on do not apply to the TrustedID Premier product being offered to consumers as a result of the cybersecurity incident.”


However, Equifax’s statement comes amid a campaign being undertaken by the company’s lobbying arm, the Consumer Data Industry Association, to repeal a federal regulation upholding consumers’ rights to sue, writes Michael Hiltzik with the Los Angeles Times.

“The regulation was issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on July 10 and scheduled to go into effect in mid-January,” Hiltzik writes. “Under its provisions, financial firms would be prohibited from saddling consumers with arbitration clauses that prevent the consumers from filing or joining class-action lawsuits against the firms.”

Hiltzik points out that Equifax has spent nearly $6 million on Washington lobbying and made more than $650,000 in political campaign contributions since 2010, with nearly 80 percent of those contributions going to Republicans. The regulation upholding consumers’ rights to sue has since come under attack by Republicans in Congress, with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voting to repeal the rule in July. Every Democrat and only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones, of North Carolina, voted to keep the regulation intact. The Senate is now facing a November deadline to take up the issue.

Currently, at least 23 class-action lawsuits are being proposed in relation to the recent data breach, USA Today reported on Monday.

“Federal court records show the lawsuits were filed through the weekend after the credit-reporting giant’s Thursday disclosure that a cyberattack by criminal hackers provided unauthorized access to information for nearly 44 percent of the U.S. population,” writes Kevin McCoy with USA Today. “And additional cases are likely to come.”

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