Massachusetts AG calling for stronger consumer protection after Equifax data breach

BOSTON, MASS. (WPRI) – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is calling for stronger consumer protection laws in the wake of the Equifax data breach, which compromised the personal information of 143 million Americans.

“This is as bad as we’ve ever seen,” Healey said Monday at a state house news conference. “For far too long, these credit reporting agencies have played fast and loose with our data,”

One of the key components of the bill being considered by Massachusetts lawmakers would require companies to obtain consent before accessing or using consumer credit reports and credit scores.

“Fundamentally, it’s our data. We should own it,” Healey said.

Massachusetts consumers would also be able to freeze and unfreeze their credit for free, an action that typically costs between $5 and $10.

“Allowing people to freeze and unfreeze their credit without a cost puts the consumer back in charge,” said Jessica Constantino, of AARP Massachusetts.

If consumers choose to freeze their credit, they’d only have to request the freeze once, through a central clearinghouse.

“It’s absurd, as some of us have learned over the last week, that you have to try three different locations [Equifax, Experian, TransUnion] in order to impose a credit freeze,” Healey said. “This bill will change that by requiring those credit reporting agencies to put in place a simple, one-stop-shop for freezing or unfreezing credit reports.”

Under the proposed legislation, Massachusetts consumers would have access to additional free credit reports and free credit monitoring if their data was involved in a breach. The law would also require that all agencies encrypt personal information.

“This should be a lesson to every financial institution out there with access to sensitive personal data. If you can’t keep it safe, you can’t have it,” Healey said.

Last week, Healey sued Equifax, accusing the credit monitoring agency failing to protect the personal information of nearly three million Massachusetts residents.

In a statement, Equifax said it is conducting an internal investigation and is working with the FBI.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.