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Massachusetts Sues Equifax Amid Questions About CFPB's Investigation

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Originally published on February 7, 2018 7:28 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The sheer number of Americans impacted made it one of the biggest stories of 2017. I'm talking about the data breach at the credit reporting firm Equifax. The company admitted hackers stole the personal data of more than 140 million consumers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched an investigation into this. But that watchdog agency now has a different leader, interim director and Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney. This week, Reuters reported that the agency is scaling back its Equifax investigation. The agency would not comment on that assertion.

But a big question is if the feds back off Equifax, what does that mean for states that are going after the company? Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is on the line. She was the first attorney general to sue Equifax on behalf of consumers.

Good morning.

MAURA HEALEY: Good morning.

GREENE: So if this federal watchdog agency does back away, why does that matter?

HEALEY: You know, this is, I think, really significant and really problematic. The job of CFPB is to protect consumers. And if they're not willing to stand up for the public on Equifax, the question is, what are they willing to do because this is exactly the kind of investigation that they're supposed to be doing? A major breach - one of the largest breaches that we've seen in history - it put over 143 million Americans' identity at risk. And it was an instance where the company failed to put in place the most basic safeguards to protect their information and then tried to cover it up.

So for me, you know, I believe that people deserve better from the federal government. And it's a really sad commentary that CFPB is scaling back and not doing its job here, not treating this seriously like it should treat. And I think for somebody like me, it underscores the importance of the need for us to continue to do our work to hold Equifax accountable.

GREENE: Well, I know that the numbers were startling - 140 million people. But I wonder if - as you've been investigating and filing this lawsuit, has there been proof that people have been harmed? I mean, like, money stolen from their accounts - or could this just have been a breach that exposed people?

HEALEY: Well, here's the problem. That exposure now lasts for years. They may not have their Social Security numbers, birthdates, driver's license information that was stolen used by the hackers or criminals for months or years to come. The problem with this is that that information is now out there being disseminated. And so people are still at risk, which is why we sued and why our law is made clear. You've got to have the safeguards in place to protect this information.

So that's the problem with this. And in the meantime, what CFPB should be doing is making sure that they're working with AGs like me to make sure that Equifax fixes the problem, makes sure that the rights safeguards are in place and covers the cost of freezes and other steps necessary to protect consumers and, certainly down the line, will pay for the damage that people incur as a result of potential identity theft.

GREENE: We certainly have no idea what CFPB is thinking. And that seems to be deliberately so because they won't talk about this report and whether this assertion may or may not be true. But is it possible that the agency, you know, has a lot of decisions to make, and they're feeling like state AGs like you are doing a pretty good job suing Equifax and they can turn to sort of other priorities?

HEALEY: Well, I think that they show their cards here. And unfortunately, you know, again, this is a no-brainer in the sense that this is such a classic consumer protection violation. It's exactly the kind of investigation that CFPB should be doing, the kind of accountability that the bureau should be bringing to bear on matters like this for the sake of consumers. And so it's particularly troubling. I think that's - to me, it's a signal of why we need to continue to do our work.

GREENE: Sadly, we're out of time - obviously, lots more to talk about. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.