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Equifax data breach leaves at least 143 million consumers credit at risk

(September 14, 2017) – Record-breaking back-to-back hurricanes in Houston and Florida brought unprecedented winds and rains affecting millions of Americans. Yet another storm just as brutal but financial in nature is also raging and affects at least 143 million Americans, as well as consumers in Canada and the United Kingdom: the Equifax data breach that took place from mid-May to July of this year.

On July 29, Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting corporations, discovered that unauthorized data access had occurred. Yet it was not until September 7 when the multi-national data breach was announced publicly. This massive cybersecurity breach includes federal income tax records, as well as employee records for government employees and those of Fortune 500 firms. Even recipients of major government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are affected.

For consumers, the personal information exposed to fraud and identity theft could mean a lifetime of closely monitoring and defending personal data to fight theft, fines and more. For businesses, questions will emerge as to whether millions of credit accounts were fraudulently opened and additionally whether they will be held partially responsible for its perpetuation.

In reaction to this cybercrime, a surge of federal class action lawsuits are going after Equifax. As many as 50 have been filed in at least 14 states and the District of Columbia as of September 12. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly examining what went wrong from a criminal perspective. On the civil side of the law, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is beginning its own independent investigation.

Now a growing number of bipartisan inquiries from Capitol Hill are demanding to know why these breaches of personally identifiable information (PII) came about, what actions Equifax took, and what the global firm intends to do on behalf of consumers whose names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers and drivers’ licenses are all in jeopardy. Equifax also knew that an estimated 209,000 credit card holders and some 182,000 consumers in the U.S. who have a dispute on file with a creditor also had comprised PII.

This hack into sensitive information compiled and maintained by Equifax is one of the largest data breaches in our nation’s history and someone has to be held accountable,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee in an article for Business Insider.

Given the important role credit scores play in the lives and financial futures of hardworking Americans, Congress must diligently examine the way our credit reporting agencies are operating and impose additional statutory and regulatory reforms to protect the integrity of the country’s credit reporting system,” Waters continued.

In a September 11 letter to Richard F. Smith, Equifax’s Chairman and Chief Executive Office, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee went further to pose a series of questions to be answered by September 26. Issues raised in the letter include binding arbitration clauses that deny affected consumers the right of class action lawsuits, the firm’s security systems and controls, how consumers can expect to be officially notified, and what, if any, protections Equifax will offer to affected consumers.

The scope and scale of this breach appears to make it one of the largest on record, and the sensitivity of the information compromised may make it the most costly to taxpayers and consumers,” wrote Senators Orrin Hatch, Senate Finance Chair and Ron Wyden, the committee’s Ranking Member.

The following day, September 12, another letter to Equifax included questions on what data changes to Equifax’s security plans and procedures were made as this breach now becomes its third one in only two years. Signed by 24 Members of Congress who serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, they represent 15 states. Three are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Representatives G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Brooklyn’s Yvette Clarke and Bobby L. Rush of Chicago.

Your company profits from collecting highly sensitive personal information from American consumers – it should take seriously its responsibility to keep data safe and to inform consumers when its protections fail”, wrote the Representatives.

The massive Equifax data breach is one of the largest in our country’s history, affecting half of the United States population and nearly three-quarters of consumers with credit reports,” said Chi Chi Wu with the National Consumer Law Center. “A security freeze is the most effective measure against “new account” identity theft, because it stops thieves from using the consumer’s stolen information.”

To follow Wu’s advice, consumers will need to contact all three of the major credit reporting bureaus and request that no new accounts be opened in their names. Once requested, consumers will not be able to easily apply for new credit accounts or apply for a loan. An additional layer of precaution would be to restore consumers’ day in court,” noted Melissa Stegman, a senior policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). “When a company has injured consumers, it should not also decide whether those affected have a right to pursue justice. Although Equifax claimed it will not assert arbitration in the aftermath of its data breach, consumers must be able to challenge corporate wrongdoing in the courts and Congress should cease its efforts to quash the rule.”

Congresswoman Waters prefers a legislative approach – one that will ensure this type of financial disaster from happening again.

I have long advocated for an overhaul of our nation’s credit reporting system,” said Waters, “and I will reintroduce legislation that will enhance consumer protection tools available to minimize harm caused by identity theft.”

Equifax proves why we must protect your right to join class actions,” – said Senator Elizabeth Warren.

At this juncture, CFPB and at least 143 million American consumers would agree.

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Environmental Racism Persists Far Beyond Lead-polluted Water in Flint

(TriceEdneyWire.com) - Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. The lead poisoning of children in Flint was only the latest example of environmental racism in the U.S. Unfortunately, Flint's water scandal is a symptom of a much larger disease.

The activist organization, Greenaction, has stated that Environmental Racism refers to the institutional rules, regulations, policies or government and/or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities being disproportionately exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race.

Environmental racism is caused by several factors, including intentional neglect, the alleged need for a receptacle for pollutants in urban areas, and a lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color.

Research has shown a higher incidence of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other pulmonary diseases in these communities. Some link the asthma epidemic among African Americans to industrial toxins wafting over poor neighborhoods. Asthma affects twice as many Black children as White, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, and its rate among African-American kids doubled from 2001 to 2009.

Research by the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has shown that lead from plumbing, house paints and contaminated soils reaches many poor children of all races. But in an unexplained disparity, as far back as 1988, studies have concluded that Black children, regardless of their families' income, are much more likely than White children to have unacceptably high levels of lead in their blood.

Many health experts say lead is the most widespread environmental hazard in minority communities. The effects of lead poisoning can extend from headaches and nausea to permanent brain damage, especially in children.

In 1987, Toxic Waste and Race, (the seminal report that coined the term "environmental racism") found race to be more important than socioeconomic status in predicting the location of the nation's commercial hazardous waste facilities.

Even food, and where, and how, it is made available is subject to environmental racism!

Right now, in America millions of low-income people live more than a mile from a supermarket, and most don't have access to a vehicle. In these neighborhoods, food typically comes from fast food chains, convenience stores and drug stores, which often means decreased access to fresh fruits or vegetables and higher prices. Poor diets and obesity have been associated with these so-called "food deserts," where obesity rates can be five times higher than in communities with access to fresh, healthy foods.

Underscoring the significance of these issues, access to proper nutrition and healthy environments were among the conditions recently dealt with in a three-year partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and five community-based organizations. The initiative, Partnering4health, led to the reduction of some chronic diseases, in part, by fortifying the environment with educational and wholesome messages and education in communities.

Most food literature on underserved communities focuses on poor nutritional quality of canned and pre-packaged food. Chemicals found in food packaging, however, are also harmful to our health. One of those chemicals is bisphenol A, or BPA. This chemical, banned from baby bottles and sippy cups nationwide, remains in use to line food cans. Intended as a protective barrier between the metal and the can's contents, BPA can actually leach into the food we eat. The effects of leaching BPA are likely most detrimental for pregnant women, babies and children.

People of color living in underserved communities have been found to have higher levels of BPA in their blood relative to the rest of the population. One possible explanation is greater reliance on canned foods that are often less expensive and more readily available.

The most significant problem facing people of color is the institutional and cultural racism which results in discrimination in access to services, goods and opportunities. Institutional racism involves polices, practices, and procedures of institutions that have a disproportionately negative effect on racial minorities' access to and quality of goods, services, and opportunities.

As economist William J. Kruvant described in a 1975 article: "Disadvantaged people are largely victims of middle- and upper-class pollution because they usually live closest to the sources of pollution-power plants, industrial installations, and in central cities where vehicle traffic is heaviest. Usually they have no choice. Discrimination created the situation, and those with wealth and influence have political power to keep polluting facilities away from their homes. Living in poverty areas is bad enough. Environmental racism makes it worse."

I'll close with a quote from writer, Vann R. Newkirk II. He feels that discrimination in public planning is to blame: "The environment is a system controlled and designed by people-and people can be racist."

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. Listen to Glenn, every Saturday at 9:00am (EST) on www. wurdradio.com, and Sundays at 8:30am (EST) on www.wdasfm.com. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com

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New Financial Center Aims to Close Racial Wealth Gap - Starting with HBCUs

(TriceEdneyWire.com) - During the 2008 housing crisis, an estimated 7 million Americans lost their homes due to foreclosure. African-Americans were hit the hardest with a loss of nearly $200 billion, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

As the economy has struggled to recover and the housing market is now at a boon, a groundbreaking new program aims to permanently restore the wealth of Black homeownership - through new career opportunities and financial education at Historically Black Colleges and

The Center for Financial Advancement, to launch this semester at Fisk University in Nashville, "will elevate money management skills, teach students about credit and homeownership plus position many for a financially rewarding career in the mortgage industry," according to a press release.

Fisk will be the first HBCU to participate in the program, a collaboration between Wells Fargo, Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), Bank of America, and HomeFree-USA, a HUD-approved non-profit organization that specializes in homeownership development, foreclosure intervention and financial coaching.

"There is desire in the African-American community to move up and to uplift ourselves. We just need a little bit of guidance, some direction and just a bit of advice," said HomeFree-USA President/CEO Marcia Griffin, a Fisk alumni and founder of the new program. "The reality is this: Money is made off the backs of those who don't know. The less we know, the more somebody's going to make off of us. The less we know, the more opportunity there is for rip off. I'm here to show the mortgage, real estate, and finance industries what we can do - not just HomeFree-USA, but what HBCUs can produce."

Griffin believes the training of the next generation of mortgage financiers by HBCUs could be pivotal. The need to expand diversity and inclusion in the mortgage industry will be crucial as the face of the typical homebuyer is changing and as the population of America becomes increasingly brown, says a statement announcing the program. Unemployment among Black youth is twice that of White youth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, a 2015 study by the Stratmor Group found:

The average age of a mortgage loan officer is 47.

About 10 percent of loan officers are over the age of 60 while only 3.3 percent are younger than 30.

Only 10 percent of loan officers who reported their ethnicity were Hispanic or Latino, and only 3 percent identified as Black or African-American, while 81 percent self-identified as White.

Organizers of the new center say it aims to address all of these racial disparities and more.

"The benefits in this partnership are two-fold," said David H. Stevens, President/CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. "African-American students will develop important money management and financial literacy skills, while also having the opportunity to explore a career in the real estate finance field. At the same time, the industry will benefit from an influx of better educated potential homeowners, not to mention an influx of diverse new talent into the industry who can bring homeownership opportunities in traditionally underserved communities."

Gross racial disparities in America's economic outlook are well-known to economists, who say the wealth gaps will not close without targeted efforts. "African-Americans still earn just 60 percent of what Whites earn. We have just 7 percent of the wealth that Whites have. We have double the unemployment rates. Even with equal incomes, we find it more challenging to get mortgages or other access to capital. And our economic rights are being challenged every day," economist Julianne Malveaux recently wrote in a column, published in Black-owned newspapers across the country.

Disparities in homeownership is "the biggest driver of the racial wealth gap", concludes a Brandeis University study on the roots of the widening wealth gap. The study also points to "toxic inequality" rooted in policies and tax preferences that "favor the affluent". This kind of information - typically unknown to many in the Black community - will be taught in the Center for Financial Advancement.

"We are proud to be part of this effort to prepare more African Americans for successful careers in the mortgage industry while also promoting financial literacy that can lead to an increase in African American homeownership," said Brad Blackwell, executive vice president; Housing Policy and Homeownership Growth Strategies, Wells Fargo, the founding supporter of the Center for Financial Advancement. "Wells Fargo recognizes the important role a diverse workforce plays in making homeownership possible for people in all communities."

Frank L. Sims, Fisk's immediate past president, worked closely as part of the collaboration to assure the establishment of the center. "The mortgage industry has a tremendous opportunity to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and nonprofit leaders to ensure that students are well prepared to be the homebuyers of tomorrow," said Sims. "By providing college students a sound foundation, the Center for Financial Advancement will play a crucial role in ensuring the financial readiness of future generations."

Ranked within the top 10 of HBCUs by U. S. News and World Report, Fisk now has a new President Dr. Kevin Rome, who, in an interview with The Tennessean, pointed to "entrepreneurial opportunities" as a possible strategy for growth on campus.

Rome adds, "Fisk has highly skilled and highly intelligent students who can excel in any endeavors that they pursue. It's important that we seek opportunities in non-traditional highly lucrative fields where African-Americans continue to be underrepresented. As consumers who engage in the banking and mortgage industry, African-Americans should equally benefit from the wealth that is created by the industries. This partnership will hopefully lead to a model that funnels more African-Americans into careers that benefit our community and the American economic engine."

The more than 700 students from all majors on the 40-acre campus will have the opportunity to use the center.

"The point here is that people from all majors and all skill levels can get into the industry, and this is the industry where money is made," said Griffin. As an example, she pointed to a HomeFree-USA intern, whose first job at a mortgage agency, paid $80,000 annually - well above the average $50,000 starting salary of college graduates in 2017.

Griffin envisions the Center as a growing program, which will gradually expand to other HBCU campuses.

She also notes that the Center is not just for students, but also for parents, faculty and the community on HBCU campuses. "Because we are in the real estate and financial services business, anything that we can do for and with the families in terms of buying a home, keeping a home, credit enhancement or anything financial. That's a part of the package."

At a glance, the Center for Financial Advancement will provide:

An annual series of five seminars conducted jointly by HomeFree-USA, and mortgage banking leaders.

The curriculum will include banking and savings basics, mortgage lending, student loan debt, homeownership, credit reports, overall financial capability, and most importantly, enriching information about mortgage industry opportunities.

Students who complete the entire series of seminars will receive a Certificate of Financial Readiness, signed by the leading sponsors.

Center partners will have access to a pool of interns and potential permanent hires, get CRA credit and tremendous branding opportunities.

The program is receiving wide applause from the financial industry.

Jeffery Schummer, vice president of Education Business Development for the MBA concludes, "Having more professionals of color in the mortgage business will grow the pipeline of homeowners of color. That's good for every single aspect of the community."

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