With about 3 million Marylanders among the 143 million Americans whose personal financial data was breached in a hack of the credit rating company Equifax, the Maryland attorney general has called on the company to fix its communication with consumers and to stop trying to profit from the breach.
"I am extremely concerned that a company that is in the business of collecting and maintaining private information, and providing credit monitoring and identity theft protection for consumers, exposed the Social Security numbers and other personal information of 143 million Americans," Attorney General Brian E. Frosh wrote in a public letter this week to Equifax CEO Richard F. Smith. "I want to know exactly how that happened, but more immediately, I am concerned about the confusion that you have caused for consumers."
Equifax announced last week that it experienced a data breach from May to July that exposed the full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver's license numbers of 143 million Americans. Since that's the information needed to open new accounts, such as loans and credit cards, the breach puts consumers at risk for new-account fraud for the foreseeable future.
For another 209,000 consumers, the breach also included actual credit card information.
In his letter, Frosh questioned the confusing nature of Equifax's communication with consumers about the breach and steps they can take to protect their personal information. He called on the company to be clear about its offer of free credit monitoring and the steps needed to enroll.
"I believe that certain aspects of your messaging to consumers in the wake of this breach have the capacity to mislead consumers and may violate the Maryland Consumer Protection Act," he wrote.
Frosh urged Equifax to remove any potential for the company to profit from the breach by suspending sales of credit monitoring services and charging Marylanders for credit freezes. He also called on the company to not automatically re-enroll consumers in any of Equifax's products and to not advertise other products to consumers who sign up for free credit monitoring.
Equifax did not respond Wednesday afternoon to a request for comment on Frosh's letter.