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September 11, 2017

Worried about Equifax data breach? Here’s what state advises

Maine's Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection is urging Mainers to consider temporarily freezing their credit report information to protect sensitive information such as their Social Security numbers that might have been comprised in a huge security breach at the credit reporting agency Equifax Inc.

Last Thursday, Equifax (NYSE: EFX) disclosed that as many as 143 million American could be impacted by the security breach. Unlike most other data breaches, many of those affected may not even know their information is held by Equifax. That's because, as one of three nationwide credit-reporting agencies, Equifax gets its data from credit card companies, banks, retailers and lenders — often without consumers knowing it.

The information accessed in the data breach primarily included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers, Equifax stated in its news release. In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers, were accessed.

Equifax said it discovered the unauthorized access on July 29 and "acted immediately to stop the intrusion." The company has engaged a leading, independent cybersecurity firm that has been conducting a comprehensive forensic review to determine the scope of the intrusion, including the specific data impacted. It's also working with law enforcement authorities in an ongoing criminal investigation.

State advises: ‘Freeze’ your credit report information

The Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, which administers the Fair Credit Reporting Act in Maine, issued a news release Friday afternoon encouraging people to take the breach seriously and consider basic steps to protect their identify, financial accounts and credit reports.

"Maine is one of the few states in which consumers can 'freeze' their credit report information to prevent unauthorized persons from opening credit accounts in their name," said David Leach, the bureau's principal examiner.

The bureau noted that Equifax provides an automated, secure line (1-800-349-9960) for consumers to freeze their credit report with the agency. The file freeze is immediate. Within 10 to 14 days, consumers receive a letter from Equifax which provides a toll-free number and unique (to each consumer) personal identification or PIN number for use in freely unlocking/relocking their credit file.

The bureau recommended freezing credit files with the other two major credit reporting agencies: Experian (1-888-397-3742) and Trans Union (1-888-909-8872).

Leach noted that if an unauthorized person opens a credit account in the name of a consumer and incurs debts, the consumer is not legally obligated to pay those debts.

He also said consumers can view their own credit reports free of charge once a year at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Consumers affected by this breach will be provided with additional ways to view and monitor their credit files without charge, and the state recommends that consumers do so.

Individuals seeking more information or further guidance can contact the bureau by calling 1-800-332-8529 (toll free in Maine) or 207-624-8527. Online information about consumer financial protection issues is available at www.credit.maine.gov.

Leach noted that state and federal laws are in place to protect consumer from the effects of a data breach.

Equifax disputes ‘rip-off’ claim

In an update posted on its website, Equifax explicitly refuted an allegation made in a Friday news release by the National Consumer Law Center that consumers accepting the company's free credit monitoring offer "may unknowingly sign away their right to their day in court and their right to join with hundreds of millions of other impacted consumers.

"Equifax claims to be helping Mainers, but it has slipped a 'rip-off clause' into the fine print of its website that might shield the company from responsibility for allowing thieves to get sensitive information from 143 million consumers," Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, said in the news release.

On its website, Equifax resolved any doubt on that point, stating under a bold headline "No waiver of rights for this cyber security incident": "In response to consumer inquiries, we have made it clear that the arbitration clause and class action waiver included in the Equifax and TrustedID Premier terms of use does not apply to this cybersecurity incident."

Equifax also reported that it had tripled its call center team to more than 2,000 agents and was taking other steps to assist consumers who might be affected by the data breach.

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