Taking Equifax to Task

What's at stake: Armed with a petition signed by more than 180,000 consumers, CR advocates pressed executives of credit reporting agency Equifax to do more for the 145 million people whose personal data may have been stolen in last year's massive data breach.

When Equifax announced in September that hackers had potentially gained access to millions of Social Security and credit card numbers as well as other sensitive data, many people wanted to know whether they were among those who were affected—and, if so, how to protect themselves from fraud and identity theft. But the company's initial response was chaotic: Its website crashed, its phone lines were jammed, and when people did get through, Equifax offered only weak solutions.

How CR has your back: That's when CR called on Equifax to step up, and invited consumers to sign on to our demand for seven specific actions to make consumers whole. These include offering longer-lasting free credit freezes and credit monitoring, hiring and training more staff to process complaints promptly, and setting aside funds to compensate affected consumers.

Equifax finally agreed to meet with CR advocates at its Atlanta headquarters in November, and we used the opportunity to deliver the petition signatures. After discussing our recommendations for more than an hour, company executives pledged to continue the conversation with CR as they develop new remedies.

What you can do: Our latest petition to Equifax is online at ConsumersUnion.org/equifaxpetition. We are also pushing Congress to raise standards and hold companies accountable. Contact your representatives at congress.gov and demand stronger data privacy and security laws.

Seeking Sunroof Safety

What's at stake: Spontaneously shattering vehicle sunroofs—a growing problem that we highlighted in our December 2017 issue—are getting some much-needed attention from policymakers.

In recent years, such incidents have spiked along with the increasing popularity of panoramic sunroofs. But our investigation found that many automakers and dealerships have refused to acknowledge the problem or pay for repairs.

In response, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., sent letters to automakers asking for detailed information on sunroof materials, defects, and design. "While, thankfully, severe injuries have not been officially linked to this hazard, the increasing trend of this risk requires immediate response and action," they wrote.

How CR has your back: The senators asked a lot of the same questions we did, and we'll follow the responses closely. In addition, we called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand its ongoing investigation into Kia Sorento sunroof problems to other makes and models, and to urge automakers with shattering incidents to order recalls.

What you can do: If your sunroof exploded or shattered, go to NHTSA's safercar.gov or call 888-327-4236 to report it. We're also collecting stories about the problem. Please go to CR.org/explodingsunroofs to tell us what happened.

Digging Out of Student Debt

What's at stake: A new rule was supposed to help defrauded students move on with their lives. Instead, many remain in educational limbo.

The "borrower defense" rule was approved by the Department of Education in 2016 after the shutdown of for-profit Corinthian Colleges, which a federal investigation determined had misled students about job placement rates and engaged in false advertising. It established a clear process for these and other defrauded students to discharge their educational debts.

More than 65,000 claims, mostly from Corinthian students, were filed in anticipation of the rule going into effect in July 2017. Less than a month before it did, however, newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos postponed the rule and convened a committee of higher education officials, financial industry representatives, consumer and student advocates, and other stakeholders to reconsider it.

How CR has your back: Suzanne Martindale, a CR staff attorney who helped shape the original borrower defense rule, is serving as a consumer negotiator on the committee, which will develop a new regulation and vote on the draft proposal in mid-February. "The abrupt halt to the borrower defense rule has left defrauded students stranded with debt for worthless programs," says Martindale. "Borrowers with legitimate claims deserve relief now, and we need sensible rules going forward to ensure better oversight of federal financial aid dollars."

What you can do: If you or a family member is struggling to repay a student loan, see these strategies and advice on your rights and options.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.