Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee’s previously held hearing on October 5th entitled “Examining the Equifax Data Breach.”

Because the only witness at the Committee’s hearing on October 5th was Richard Smith, the former CEO of Equifax, Ranking Member Waters called for a continuation of the hearing with more witnesses in order to “give Members of the Committee and the American public the opportunity to consider and discuss ideas for ensuring the integrity of our country’s consumer reporting system and safeguarding of consumer data.”

Mike testified alongside other experts on privacy and data security (full witness list here). The current CEOs of all three big credit bureaus were also invited but disappointingly did not show up.

Mike’s introductory remarks from the hearing are below. Download his full written testimony here.

U.S. PIRG Consumer Advocate Mike Litt’s introductory remarks from the House Financial Services Committee hearing entitled “Examining the Equifax Data Breach”:

“As a consumer advocate for U.S. PIRG, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss next steps after the Equifax breach. Equifax still has not provided or even clearly explained what is needed to fully protect consumers. 

Once your information has been stolen, there is only one kind of ID theft that can be stopped before it happens. That’s where somebody opens a credit account in your name. The way to prevent that is by blocking access to your credit reports with all three credit bureaus.

It’s beyond time for all consumers to have the right by law to control access to their credit reports with free credit freezes. In my written testimony, I explained how Equifax is true — trusted ID Premier product fails to fully protect consumers. I also highlight concerns with its forthcoming Lifetime Lock. Locks and freezes appear to function similarly and that they block access to your credit report.

The bottom line is freezes are better because they are right by law and not conditional on terms set by the credit bureaus. Also, creditors run credit checks with any one or a  combination of credit bureaus so it’s important that you block access to your credit reports at all three bureaus.

Getting a lock or a freeze at just one but not the others, is basically like locking your front door, but leaving your garage and back doors wide open. All 50 states and D.C. have their own laws governing fees for freezes, temporary lifts and permanent removals. There are approximately 158 million consumers in 42 states that must pay a fee between $3 to $10 per bureau. We did not give the credit bureaus permission to collect our information or sell it or, in the case of Equifax, to lose it. So why do we have to pay to control access to our reports?

PIRG helped passed the first state freeze laws. Now we support federal legislation that would set free freezes for all Americans as the floor. We also support legislation that would require freezes to be placed within 15 minutes of online and phone requests, as is the law in 10 states and D.C. States should be allowed to find even more ways of giving consumers control over access to their own reports. Federal legislation should not preempt or replace existing stronger state laws for privacy , breach notification, or data security either.

We also strongly support H.R.3755, introduced by Ranking Member Waters. While the transfer of Fair Credit Reporting Act responsibilities to the consumer Bureau has jumpstarted the compliance efforts of the big three credit bureaus, this bill will give required improvements. Thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to present my testimony.”