Most U.S. citizens have heard by now of the massive Equifax data breach that exposed the personal information of about 145 million Americans. For those fortunate enough to have gone unharmed so far, the breach may be little more than an occasional concern for some bad things that could happen.
But for Katie Van Fleet, the Equifax data breach has been and continues to be a nightmare.
Ms. Van Fleet, who told her story to CBS News, said her troubles began with a single notification for a credit card she never applied for. Within weeks, identity thieves with her personal information opened 15 fraudulent accounts, including a Home Depot credit card, a Kohl’s credit card, two Macy’s credit cards, and an account at a Las Vegas hotel.
She is now suing Equifax, joining potentially thousands or even millions of identity theft victims who claim Equifax’s mishandling of sensitive data, sloppy security measures, and delay in notifying the public amounted to thieves obtaining mortgage loans, car loans, bank accounts, and fake driver’s licenses using other people’s identities.
Protecting the privacy of the Americans – safeguarding their names, social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, credit card account numbers, and disputed credit information may seem like a giant responsibility for Equifax and other credit reporting companies, but it is really the least of their concerns.
A lawyer representing Ms. Van Fleet told CBS News that Equifax and other data brokers “don’t care about guarding that because they’re in the business of selling that. The more organizations [and] individuals they sell our data to, the more money they can make.”
Sadly, even the majority of U.S. lawmakers currently don’t support stronger consumer measures. Lots of politicians were quick to condemn Equifax and promise tougher measures, but months later they have taken no definitive action.
“Congress has failed to act, to do anything,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who introduced a bill proposing better consumer protections, told CBS News. “I would say mainly the reason is, is that corporations, credit reporting agencies are uninterested,” Schakowsky said. “They oppose the idea of having more regulation that would protect the data.”
Before hackers broke into Equifax’s database and stole the personal information of millions of Americans, the company lobbied Congress to weaken consumer protections with laws that would cap the amount credit reporting agencies would have to pay in the event of a serious breach or similar disaster.
In 2016 and 2017, Equifax spent more than $1.5 million courting legislators in a push to limit its liability and ensure that anti-consumer laws loosening “data security and breach notification” and other issues made it through the House and Senate.