Amy Roberts: Where No Credit Is Due
Red Card Roberts
September 12, 2017
I suppose if you're going to jeopardize the personal information of nearly half of America, capitalize on your ineptness, and completely bungle one response after the next, last week wasn't a bad time to do so. Between Harvey and Irma, half of the western US going up in smoke, a massive earthquake in Mexico, Trump's decision to end DACA, continued threats from North Korea, and a number of other OMG headlines, if nothing else, Equifax has impeccable timing.
Normally, when 143 million Social Security numbers, names, birthdates and addresses are stolen from a company whose sole purpose is to safe guard them, the story earns itself more than a brief mention on the 24-hour networks. But given all the other pressing events last week, Equifax was in and out of the news cycle faster than a toupee in a hurricane. Many of the 143 million Americans who may soon be the victim of identity theft, aren't even aware of the massive breach.
Admittedly, I'm irrationally obsessive about my credit score. I don't apply for a lot of loans, but the times I have refinanced my house, or considered a home equity loan, I've taken great pride in a loan officer sitting across from me appearing confused by my credit score. A few years ago I took out a loan to remodel my house. At the beginning of the process, the loan officer helping me said, "I had to run your credit score twice, just to make sure there wasn't a mistake. I've never seen one this high." To this day, I believe it's the nicest thing a man has ever said to me.
So when I saw the news about the Equifax breach last week, my hackles went up. I went to the company's website to figure out if I was one of the victims. After entering my personal information (some of us never learn), I received a message confirming I "may have been impacted by this incident."
Admittedly, I’m irrationally obsessive about my credit score. I don’t apply for a lot of loans, but the times I have refinanced my house, or considered a home equity loan, I’ve taken great pride in a loan officer sitting across from me appearing confused by my credit score.
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I was then taken to a page promising free credit monitoring for one year. Which sounded like an OK remedy, until I considered the hackers might be more patient than I am and just wait 366 days to open a credit card in my name. What happens in October of 2018? Not to mention, the one year of monitoring is only good for Equifax, but there are two other major credit reporting agencies — Experian and TransUnion — that aren't included in this protection. So this free credit monitoring only covers 1/3 of what we really need and has a far-too-soon expiration date.
In addition, signing up for this service may or may not exclude an identity theft victim from taking part in any class action lawsuit. Equifax's terms of service for the credit monitoring program state your enrollment waives your right to join a class action lawsuit. The company later put out a statement saying the waiver won't apply to this security incident. But a legal document seems a bit more biding than words from the marketing team, so this sort of leaves victims in a credit catch 22.
The few reporters covering this story continue to update their "what to do now" advice. I've read I should freeze my credit, which entails a small fee. One that Equifax isn't waiving. Really? The other tips seem rather obvious. "Keep an eye on your bank accounts." Sure, but what about bank accounts opened in my name that I don't know about?
But the most appalling part of this mess is that Equifax executives sold nearly $2 million worth of company stock within days of the massive data breach. Both the breach, and stock selling, happened in July, but the public wasn't informed until last week. For all I know, someone bought a Lamborghini in my name between then and now. So for those of us who can't ruin our own credit, there's now a company to do it for us.
I guess when it comes to screwing up while screwing over consumers, Equifax deserves a lot of credit.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.