There are plenty of reasons to hate Equifax. But you shouldn’t.
Yes, it’s true that, because of the company’s poor safeguards and incompetent personnel (particularly its chief information officer and chief security officer, both of whom “retired” over the weekend), the private data of more than 140 million individuals was stolen by unknown hackers. And yes, that includes you. If you don’t believe me, then head on over to equifaxsecurity2017.com and check. When you likely find out that your social security number, credit data, home address and mother’s maiden name — information that can easily be used by hackers to gain access to your financial accounts or apply for credit and loans using your identity without your knowledge — has been stolen, you’ll likely hate Equifax. But don’t.
Don’t hate Equifax for its audacity in asking you to “sign up” for its credit protection and monitoring services so that your credit info can be “locked” and you can be “alerted” for any problems. Don’t get angry when the company — the very same company that lost your data and is causing this mess — has the nerve to offer this service “for free” as long as you sign up by November 21st. Don’t hate it when, assuming you accept this offer (and you should, as well as signing up for similar services offered by the company’s main competitors, Experian and TransUnion), you’re asked to provide more private information, including your social security number. Wait, aren’t these the people that allowed this data to be stolen in the first place? Yeah. But don’t hate them.
Don’t hate Equifax when you read the reports that their executives were allegedly aware of this breach more than five weeks ago and didn’t release this information to the public, even knowing that by doing so they would’ve given all of us a head start to protect our accounts from thieves. Don’t hate them when you hear the rumors that those same executives allegedly sold personal stock before releasing this information. Also, try not to become infuriated at stories reporting that if you sign up for the company’s “free” credit protection and monitoring services, you’ll be unable to join in any lawsuits. In the coming months, try not to hate Equifax if and when your financial info is compromised or your bank and credit card accounts are frozen due to fraudulent activity, causing you hours of headaches and inconveniences.
You shouldn’t hate Equifax because you need Equifax. Even after this colossal screw-up by the company, you need them.
Equifax, like its main competitors TransUnion and Experian, is a credit bureau. These companies exist to collect data about you and me from banks, financial service companies, credit card issuers, cable firms, utilities and mobile phone providers, among others. Big data truly drives the world. What do they do with your data? A few things that may irk you — like sell it to marketing firms. But they also do a few things that help you. Enormously. If you’re a consumer, they make this data available to anyone who wants to lend money to you. If you’re a business, then they make this data available to anyone you want to lend money to (as well as those who want to lend money to you, too). It’s an important service.
Maybe you think it’s unfair or you’ve had problems with how they calculate your credit score. Perhaps there has been wrong information reported that’s hurting your chances of getting that new mortgage or car loan. This happens and I sympathize — you’ll need to clear that up, and that’s time consuming and frustrating.
But for the most part, the data collected by these credit bureaus plays a critical role in our financial system. Banks, lenders, investors and traders rely on this data. Because of the information credit bureaus provide, loans are turned around quicker and, assuming your credit is good, better interest rates, payment terms … even more money … can be offered. The same goes if you’re running a business. The information these companies offer about your prospective or current customers can not only reinforce your decision to offer them credit but could also be a critical forewarning of potential financial and collection problems that could hurt your company. It also helps other companies get comfortable with your payment history, too.
Does this mean Equifax should get a free pass for not protecting our data? Not at all. In fact, as someone affected by this breach and likely facing hours of inconvenience and headaches as a result of their ineptitude, I personally hope they get sued into bankruptcy. By not adequately protecting our data — the core of the business — in a world where governments and Fortune 100 companies are being hacked daily, the company has demonstrated astonishing negligence at its highest levels and should be punished without mercy.
Hopefully its competitors are shoring up their security and better credit bureaus will emerge from the soon-to-be smoldering ashes of Equifax. Because we need them. I hate Equifax for what it did. But I don’t hate Equifax for what it does. And neither should you.
Gene Marks, CPA, runs a ten-person technology consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd. He writes daily for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, and the Huffington Post.