October 04, 2017 05:55 PM
Minnesota Senator Al Franken was among lawmakers grilling the former CEO of Equifax Wednesday over a massive data breach announced last month.
Lawmakers called the company's response inadequate as consumers struggled to deal with the breach. Equifax said more than 145 million people may have had their personal information accessed or stolen.
"Because of the gross failures at Equifax, as well as a lack of safeguards of our privacy and security, 145 million Americans - including over two million Minnesotans - are facing the risk of identity theft for the rest of their lives," Franken said.
Members of Congress expressed bewilderment Wednesday that the company, under siege after a data breach affecting more than 145 million people, has received a $7.25 million contract with the IRS to provide taxpayer and personal identity verification services.
"Why in the world should you get a no-bid contract right now?" Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., asked Richard Smith as part of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Equifax forced the IRS to take the contract for another year after issuing a protest. She called on Smith to tell the IRS that it’s fine to take the contract somewhere else.
The IRS issued a statement that said Equifax advised the agency that no IRS data was involved in the breach. The statement confirmed that the renewal was awarded to Equifax to prevent a lapse in service.
Smith was Equifax's CEO for a dozen years. He resigned after the breach was announced. No current Equifax employees testified at the hearing. Lawmakers accused Equifax of being too lax about securing consumer data, noting that there had been previous breaches over the past four years.
For those worried about being impacted by such breaches, the Better Business Bureau said there are ways you can protect yourself.
"I think people want to check their credit card statements bank statements regularly," Dan Hendrickson of the BBB said.
"I think you want to look at your annual credit report by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Look for anything strange - any unusual charges or accounts you didn't open up. From there, you can consider putting a fraud alert on your credit or a credit freeze even."
The breach does have many Minnesotans worried about their personal information and looking for ways to protect their financial information.
"It is a very big concern," Rhonda Tveitbakk said. "We're at the age where we would like to retire in a couple of years. We've got our 401. We've got savings, and we want to be able to keep that money and not have it gone. I think sometimes we just think because we have passwords everything is protected. But it's not."
Experts say everyone should assume their information was compromised. Equifax is offering consumers free credit-monitoring for one year, but there are reports people haven't been able to sign up.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Equifax didn't have enough incentive to ensure consumer data was secure. She said the breach means consumers will spend the rest of their lives worrying about identity theft and businesses will lose money to thieves, but the company itself will come out of the crisis just fine.
Warren has called for changes in how credit reporting agencies operate. She said consumers should decide who gets their financial data, not companies such as Equifax. She is also calling for stiffer penalties when breaches do occur.
"When companies like Equifax mess up, senior executives like you should be held personally accountable and the company should pay mandatory and severe financial penalties for every consumer record that's stolen," Warren said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Updated: October 04, 2017 05:55 PM
Created: October 04, 2017 03:22 PM
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