When members of Congress and leaders within the Trump administration talk about loosening burdensome government regulations, it's hard not to sympathize.
Few people haven't encountered red tape, paperwork or gotten the runaround when dealing with government. And, it's really easy to despise "bureaucrats"— those nameless, faceless employees on the government payroll who seem to slow progress.
There may indeed be areas where Congress can cut red tape and policies, but when it comes to oversight of financial institutions, we believe more regulation is needed. We've called for more oversight on predatory lending practices. We've praised Montana Sen. Jon Tester who has continued to make banking giant Wells Fargo answer for its shady practices.
To that list, we'd add credit agency Equifax. Our Montana delegation needs to hold it accountable for the data breach that may have compromised the security of nearly one-in-every-two Americans.
We live in a credit-based society, where nearly every transaction from buying a house to buying a cup of coffee is tied to credit scores. Equifax's data breach compromised Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and credit card numbers.
Those aren't luxury items and they're not optional in today's world. So far, Equifax has done little to ensure citizens whose data is compromised will be made whole. In fact, it seems like Equifax may not only be held virtually harmless from the breach, it may actually profit from it.
We call upon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte to make sure Equifax doesn't profit from its own lousy practices, and that it takes care of consumers in the long-term.
So far, Equifax has offered a one-year credit monitoring plan for every person affected.
That's a nice first start. But anyone who has been the victim of identity theft knows that the long-term effects can last years, sometimes decades. Cleaning up the mess of identity theft, which can include credit cards taken out in someone else's name and Social Security numbers being fraudulently used, can take a lot of time and may even involve attorneys.
Equifax has only pledged a one-year service, after that it's $17 per month. We believe Equifax should be forced to continue that service for those affected for a much longer period.
Moreover, if those people who sign up for the service actually opt to pay $17 per month, Equifax would begin to profit from its own breach. The companies that monitor credit data actually pay Equifax for information on consumer transactions. In other words, in the next year, Equifax stands to make plenty of money on its own breach as customers will pay it to monitor credit Equifax made vulnerable in the first place.
This isn't only wrong, it offers an incentive for other companies to adopt lax standards so that they can profit in the future.
The problem is that Congress has not adopted laws with sharp enough teeth to provide financial institutions an incentive to secure data.
Moreover, citizens cannot choose where their credit data is stored. And when their data is breached, companies like Equifax fall back on a mandatory arbitration clause that most people don't know about it until it's too late.
Mandatory arbitration means that when citizens do have a complaint against a financial institution, for example Equifax, that it must go through an arbitration process. This means two things. First, most complaints — no matter how legitimate — are settled for less through arbitration. That arbitration is usually done beyond the scrutiny of the public. Finally, mandatory arbitration means that citizens cannot simply sue or join other lawsuits.
Those who support the mandatory arbitration argue it's a way for corporations to protect themselves from needing an army of lawyers to battle small or frivolous lawsuits. More lawyers mean more pass-through costs to consumers, they reason.
However, we believe it's time to look at reforming the arbitration clause. Citizens should have every legal remedy to hold a company responsible for its actions and oversights. Moreover, we believe if more people could use the power of the courts, financial institutions may have a powerful incentive to protect consumer data better.
There's that phrase about giving credit where credit's due. What about protecting credit where protection is due?