The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced today that it would be suing Equifax Pty Ltd, owned by the American consumer credit reporting agency Equifax.
The ACCC is an independent authority of the Australian government, which “promotes competition and fair trade in markets to benefit consumers, businesses, and the community.” Equifax Pty Ltd, formerly Veda Advantage Pty Ltd, was acquired by Equifax Inc. in February 2016.
Australia’s competition regulator alleges that from June 2013 to March 2017, Equifax used unfair tactics when dealing with people in financial hardship, pressured vulnerable consumers, and generally acted unconscionably towards its Australian customers.
The full statement can be found on the regulator’s official website.
Equifax Pty Ltd, the ACCC alleges, breached the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). According to the ACCC, Equifax made false and misleading representations to customers. This includes the following.
- Falsely claiming paid credit reports were more comprehensive than free reports.
- Falsely claiming consumers had to buy credit reporting packages for Equifax to correct information held about them, instead of providing them for free.
- Representing that there was a one-off fee for credit reporting services.
- Using unfair tactics and undue pressure on financially vulnerable customers.
- Telling customers they needed to buy credit reporting services from the company, in situations when that was not needed.
“We acknowledge that the experience was unsatisfactory for some consumers when dealing with Equifax and we are carefully reviewing our processes and making changes to improve that,” Mike Cutter, Asia Pacific managing director, told Reuters in an emailed statement.
For Equifax, the timing could not be worse. Just a couple of days ago, on March 14, the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, where the consumer credit reporting agency is headquartered, announced that former executive Jun Ying was indicted on insider trading charges. As CNBC noted, Jun Ying dumped $1 million of company stock a few days before the company announced the data breach. The massive breach affected nearly 150 million Americans.
According to Bloomberg, Ying worked at Equifax from 2013 until October 2017. On Friday, August 25, Ying received an email which stated that Equifax was working on a “large breach opportunity.” He was asked to handle breach remediation. A few hours after receiving the email, Ying was asked to join a conference call. Initially, he was hesitant to assist on the project and asked to talk privately to his supervisor.
“Sounds bad. We may be the one breached. Starting to put 2 and 2 together,” Ying wrote after the conversation.
Indeed, it did not take long for Ying to put two and two together. The following week, he researched the impact a similar 2015 breach had on stock price and then dumped nearly $1 million of company stock.
In spite of this, things seem to be looking up for Equifax, at least in the United States. As the Inquisitr reported last week, a bipartisan banking deregulation bill is nearing Senate approval. Originally meant to punish Equifax and similar companies, the bill has been amended by its author. So, instead of disciplining credit reporting companies, the bill might reward them. This was confirmed by the Los Angeles Times on March 12.