Equifax breach shows need for public CFPB complaints: Dem senators

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WASHINGTON — Three Senate Democrats are citing data on consumer complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the Equifax breach as evidence that the agency should continue posting complaints online.

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney told a group of bankers last week that he intends to end public access to complaints that consumers lodge about financial institutions and submit to the CFPB as part of its online database.

But Senate Banking Committee members Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told Mulvaney in a letter Monday that the sheer volume of complaints targeting Equifax illustrates why the public database is necessary. The lawmakers released a staff report showing the agency had received over 20,000 complaints related to the breach. The number of complaints about Equifax “nearly doubled” after the breach was announced in September, the report said.

"Hiding this information from the public would directly harm consumers and allow financial institutions to shield even widespread scams from public view," the senators said in the letter, which was also addressed to CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English. "We urge to you immediately reconsider any plans you have to hide important information in the consumer complaint database from the public."

Complaints to the CFPB about Equifax totaled 21,921 six months after the breach, compared with 11,973 in the six months before the company’s announcement, according to the report released by the three lawmakers.

"Consumers are asking the CFPB for help about Equifax nearly twice as often as they did before the recent data breach — but Mick Mulvaney wants to make it easier for big financial institutions to get away with cheating people,” Warren said in a press release. "Instead of using the CFPB to coddle credit reporting agencies and hide financial misconduct from the public, Mr. Mulvaney needs to let the Bureau do its job and protect the 145 million Americans harmed by this massive breach."

According to the staff report, the CFPB received more than 7,000 complaints about Equifax’s improper use of credit reports after the breach, 7,000 complaints regarding incorrect information on credit reports, 3,000 complaints about Equifax’s inadequate assistance in resolving issues after the breach, and 1,500 complaints regarding Equifax’s credit monitoring services, fraud alerts, security freezes and other identity theft protection products.

"This sheer number of complaints we found makes the case for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to act aggressively to hold Equifax accountable,” Schatz said in the press release.

Schatz and Warren have previously sponsored legislation that would require credit reporting agencies like Equifax to provide free credit freezing and unfreezing services.

The senators’ letter comes after Mulvaney told a group of more than 1,300 bankers last week that he planned to maintain the consumer complaint database but that he did not see anything in the current law that requires complaints to be public.

Warren has sparred with Mulvaney over his leadership at the CFPB since he was designated by President Trump to serve as acting director after Richard Cordray resigned as director in November 2017.

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Cyber security Data breaches Elizabeth Warren Mick Mulvaney CFPB Equifax Senate Banking Committee