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Dakotas-based credit union association joins Equifax lawsuit

BISMARCK — The Credit Union Association of the Dakotas, headquartered in Bismarck, is joining with other Credit Union National Association affiliated leagues in a lawsuit against Equifax.

CUAD joined the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta because many of its 77-member credit unions are concerned about the effects and costs associated with a security breach, including canceling and reissuing compromised cards, reimbursing members for fraudulent charges, increasing fraud monitoring, acting to mitigate identity theft, sustaining reputational harm and notifying consumers of potential fraudulent activity.

Credit unions will bear substantial costs dealing with the fallout from this breach, and this lawsuit is one step toward recouping those costs, according to a statement released Thursday, Nov. 9, by the association.

"Nearly one third of North Dakotans and one quarter of South Dakotans were impacted by the Equifax breach," said Jeff Olson, president and CEO of CUAD. "That means more than half a million Dakotans are at risk for fraud."

CUAD is one of nearly 20 state-based credit union associations to join the suit, Olson said.

The high-level type of breach, such as the Equifax breach, highlights the need for tougher state-level and federal data protection cybersecurity standards, according to Olson.

"Simply put, what we're doing on the legislative and regulatory cybersecurity front is not working, especially when it comes to protecting members' and consumers' personal information," Olson said. "What is even more concerning with this type of breach is that the personal information of credit union members who have ever taken out a loan, mortgage, rented an apartment or even purchased a cell phone, will be at risk for years, and consistently the response from organizations like Equifax are slow, inadequate and absolutely unacceptable."

Though CUAD has joined the lawsuit, individual credit unions can still be plaintiffs and seek monetary compensation for damages they have suffered.

"We are joining CUNA's fight to hold Equifax accountable, and to send a message to all merchants that we will hold them responsible for fraudulent activity related to stolen identities and misuse of personal and payment information," Olson said. "At the very least, we can help drive the conversation to develop change for stronger and better methods to protect members and consumers from these types of breaches."

Olson said CUAD joined a similar suit against Home Depot a number of years ago, in which several South Dakota-based credit unions were awarded settlement dollars.

On Sept. 15, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem joined with other attorneys general in a letter to Equifax expressing concerns about the way it was responding to consumers after the data breach, which reportedly has affected 143 million people.

"It is Equifax's sole responsibility to protect the personal information it compiled and to prevent the unauthorized use of such information," Stenehjem said in September.

Equifax stocks dropped from a high of $147.02 to a low of $89.59 following announcement of the security breach in September. Stock price closed Thursday at $108.75. Equifax officials have been meeting with investors in Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Minneapolis and Atlanta this week.

"We recognize that we have an important journey in front of us to regain the trust and confidence of consumers and our business customers," said Paulino Barros, interim Chief Executive Officer at Equifax, in a statement issued Thursday. "Our teams have taken immediate actions to improve our data security and provide improved support for consumers who were impacted by our cybersecurity incident.

"As we look to the future, I have committed Equifax to four things: protecting consumers, enhancing our security, empowering consumers to control access to personal credit data and leading our industry to confront the massive economic and national security threats represented by cyber criminals," he said. "We will emerge from this an even stronger company."