Pennsylvania's attorney general is leading an investigation into the Equifax credit breach that has affected 143 million people, including 5.4 million people in Pennsylvania.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro over the weekend joined with 32 other attorneys general and sent a letter to Equifax, demanding the company hand over information about how and why the widespread security breach happened.
In addition, Shapiro grilled Equifax on why it waited six weeks to disclose the breach, as well as the company's plans to protect consumers moving forward.
But most importantly, Shapiro demanded the company stop charging fees to consumers who are attempting to freeze their credit after the breach.
"Equifax waited six weeks to disclose this breach to Americans and they've done everything wrong since," Shapiro said. "Pennsylvanians need to able to get accurate information and freeze their credit, if they choose, without cost or bureaucratic delay; instead, Equifax has been trying to make a buck off of vulnerable consumers."
Finally, Shapiro's letter called on Equifax to reimburse consumers for all costs they incur to freeze their credit and to staff hotlines 24 hours a day.
Heather Murray, the manager of education for Pittsburgh-based Advantage Credit Counseling Service, said Monday that she's never seen a credit breach quite as bad as this one. She said the breach appears to be "all-encompassing" and will likely have far-reaching ramifications.
"This will probably lead to some mistrust of the system," she said.
There are several steps consumers can take to protect themselves moving forward, she said.
The first is that consumers can freeze their credit. It is the surest way to stop potential cyber thieves from opening accounts.
The only drawback, Murray said, is that anyone looking to make a major purchase like a house or a car will need to be able to access their credit.
"For most people, a credit freeze is a good option at this point in time," she said. "But if you're going to buy a house or if you're even thinking about, you need to think carefully about a credit freeze."
Another layer of protection, Murray said, is to set up fraud alerts. Doing so will force the three credit bureaus to notify you if anyone tries to open account in your name.
Finally, Murray urged consumers to routinely check their credit report to stay on top of any changes.
"The best way for consumers to stay on top of their credit is to regularly check your credit report," she said. "It's important to know what's out there and to get a heads-up on activity on your own report."
Consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers can get their free credit report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.
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