WASHINGTON – The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday it is investigating the massive data breach at credit reporting agency Equifax, adding America’s top consumer watchdog to the chorus of federal lawmakers and regulators expressing alarm over the unauthorized access of data belonging to 143 million people.
The FTC’s disclosure of an ongoing probe is highly unusual, underscoring the enormous stakes involved in the incident affecting what amounts to half the country.
“The FTC typically does not comment on ongoing investigations,” said Peter Kaplan, the agency’s acting director of public affairs. “However, in light of the intense public interest and the potential impact of this matter, I can confirm that FTC staff is investigating the Equifax data breach.”
It is unclear what aspects of the breach the agency is looking into. The FTC is broadly empowered to go after companies accused of misleading consumers with their public statements, or engaging in unfair business practices. It frequently investigates companies, but rarely does it acknowledge the existence of those investigations, leaving the public to find out about lawsuits and settlements only after they have been filed.
The FTC isn’t the only federal agency looking closely at the Equifax incident. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has also said it is looking into the company’s response to the breach. And on Capitol Hill, the leading members of the House’s energy and commerce, financial services and judiciary committees have all called for hearings on the matter. Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have written strongly worded letters to Equifax, and the FTC will now add its own power to the mix.
FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency’s top Democrat, Terrell McSweeny, said she is “very concerned” about the size of the breach, as well as Equifax’s response.
“I think the FTC should investigate,” she said.
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