Equifax Faces Fresh D.C. Fury With Democrats in Control of House

(Bloomberg) -- Equifax Inc. was back in lawmakers’ crosshairs Tuesday, with both Democrats and Republicans pledging tougher oversight of credit-reporting companies in response to a data breach that put millions of Americans’ personal information at risk.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters blasted Equifax and its competitors at a Washington hearing, claiming the companies have actually tried to take advantage of the 2017 hack to sell new data-security services to customers. Representative Patrick McHenry, the panel’s top Republican, argued that because Equifax, TransUnion and Experian Plc dominate the industry, they have little incentive to put consumers’ interests first first.

“We both know that we need to find a way that works better,’’ said McHenry of North Carolina.

The Equifax hack compromised the information of more than 140 million people, making it one of the most sweeping data breaches ever. While the incident triggered days of congressional hearings, industry critics have said it resulted in few reforms. Waters, who took over the financial services committee in January, has promised to change that by tightening regulation of credit-reporting companies.

Tuesday’s hearing, which featured testimony from top executives at Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, was one of the first Waters has convened. She also introduced legislation this week that would strengthen consumer protections and shorten the amount of time negative financial information can remain on reports.

“We need to ask whether the system is so beyond repair that we need to completely rebuild the entire consumer-credit reporting sector to truly put consumers first,” California’s Waters said at the hearing.

McHenry seemed focused mostly on pushing for greater competition in the industry, which he deemed an “oligopoly.”

Credit reporting reform is likely to pass the Democrat-led House, according to a note from Capital Alpha Partners’ Charles Gabriel, but faces longer odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Equifax, along with TransUnion and Experian, control data such as credit histories that banks rely on to assess whether consumers should get loans.

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