Equifax to offer free credit freezes for life, new CEO says


Equifax’s new interim chief executive said the company is planning to offer a new life-long credit freeze service for free by the end of January.

Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., who was named the company’s new CEO on Tuesday, announced that move Thursday, along with other efforts to improve its problem-plagued response to a massive data theft affecting 143 million Americans.

“On behalf of Equifax, I want to express my sincere and total apology to every consumer affected by our recent data breach,” Barros said in an op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. “People across the country and around the world, including our friends and family members, put their trust in our company. We didn’t live up to expectations.”

According to a news report, Barros’ op-ed was not initially available on Equifax’s website on the security breach, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, but the site now has a link to it.

In a move that could put pressure on the other two major credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, to offer similar life-long freezes, Barros said Equifax plans to offer a free service by Jan. 31 that will “let consumers easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files. You will be able to do this at will.”

With the service, he said, “the cybercrime business will become a lot more difficult.”

Equifax’s efforts come as the Atlanta credit-tracking firm faces a storm surge of investigations, lawsuits and consumer complaints about its handling of the hacking scandal, one of the worst any company in the U.S. has faced.

Next week, former Equifax CEO Rick Smith is expected to be grilled before Senate and House committees looking into the breach.

Some lawmakers are calling for “clawbacks” of Equifax executives’ pay. Smith, who retired Tuesday, leaves the company with at least $48.9 million in stock awards and benefits accumulated during his 12-year tenure at the company.

Barros said the company is also extending the deadlines to the end of January for the free credit freezes and credit monitoring services it offered in the wake of the hacking incident. The company initially set up a one-month sign-up window after the data theft was disclosed on Sept. 7.

Afterwards, panicked consumers swamped Equifax's call center and website. Many said they weren't able to sign up, or Equifax's employees couldn't answer some questions. Thursday, Equifax's website indicated the problems continue.

“We are currently experiencing difficulties with our TrustedID website. As a result, the site may be unavailable periodically, and we are working hard to help reduce interruptions,” the company said on its website.

Barros said the company is working on fixing its website and adding more call center employees and additional training.

“We have to see this breach as a turning point — not just for Equifax, but for everyone interested in protecting personal data,” he said.

Protecting your credit

Equifax said Thursday that, by Jan. 31, it plans to offer free credit freezes for life to help protect consumers from the massive data theft it recently disclosed. Here are some answers to common questions about the situation.

What is a credit freeze?

You can sign up with credit bureaus like Equifax to block lenders and other businesses from accessing your credit file without your permission, which makes it difficult for fraudsters impersonating you to obtain loans or commit other chicanery in your name. You will need to keep track of a PIN number to unlock or lock your credit profile so you can apply for new loans or accounts.

Equifax isn’t offering the new credit freeze until Jan. 31. What do I do now?

Experts say you should get a credit freeze at all three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Equifax is now offering free credit freezes and credit monitoring through its website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. This week, it extended the sign-up deadline to Jan. 31. You’ll have to pay at the other two bureaus.

How do I do I freeze my credit?

Some experts say it’s better to call rather than use the bureaus’ online sites to set up freezes. Their numbers for setting up freezes are: Equifax — 800-349-9960; Experian — 888-397-3742; TransUnion — 888-909-8872.

What will that cost?

In Georgia, it costs $3 each time to freeze or unfreeze your credit profile at each credit bureau, except Equifax, where it’s free.

How can I freeze my credit for life?

You can’t, yet. Equifax says its committed to rolling out the free-for-life service by the end of January. Perhaps that will pressure the other credit bureaus to do the same.

What else should I do to protect my financial and personal information?

Lori Silverman, director of local consumer expert Clark Howard’s Team Clark Consumer Action Center, says do this step before you freeze your credit: sign up on Credit Karma (creditkarma.com) for free credit monitoring, so you can watch for suspicious activity.

Some experts also suggest getting credit reports first on yourself from each of the three credit bureaus. You can get a free report each year from each agency.

Does a credit freeze offer complete protection?

No. Thieves can still use your Social Security number, name, address, date of birth and driver’s license number — some of the stuff the hackers got from Equifax — to file fraudulent tax returns to steal tax refunds. They could also play havoc with bank accounts, employers, Social Security benefits, and other government organizations.

What can I do about that?

Not enough, unfortunately. Experts say you can file an affidavit with the IRS if you see evidence of identity theft. You can monitor your bank and other accounts. You can upgrade your passwords to make them harder to guess. You can sign up for two-tier authentication, if which a financial institution calls you or texts you a code each time you sign in.

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AJC Business reporter Russell Grantham keeps you updated on the latest news about major companies, CEOs and public utilities in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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