Using consumers at risk of identity theft We live in the age of the computer pirate, the hacker, and the security breach. It’s almost becoming pedestrian. Week after week, someone is getting hacked. From big box stores to restaurants to grocery stores to government agencies and political groups. Hacking feels just part of life these days. But not all hacks are created equal. Some hacks create more fear than others. When it was announced last week that credit monitoring bureau, Equifax, had been hacked, American consumers grabbed their hearts and their wallets. Then they read further, and that only made it worse. According to the Associated Press, the Equifax breach “exposed the social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s licenses” of up to 143 million Americans to hackers.
For those playing at home, that’s more than half of all American adults. But that’s not all. Apparently, the credit card information for about 209,000 American adults was also assessed.
According to the report, Equifax admitted the file breach happened between May and July of this year. While the hack attack mainly targeted Americans, some Canadian and British customers were also compromised.
Equifax CEO Richard Smith made the following initial statement: “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes…”
That missive fell mostly flat. First, it put the embarrassment and injury on Equifax, making it about them, when consumers are only concerned about their protection, not the company’s embarrassment.
The consumer response to the Equifax announcement was strong, immediate and negative. Consumers were aghast at the idea that a company that monitored their most private personal financial information would be compromised. Sure, it was “possible” in the back of their minds, but the fact that it happened was horrendous.
Now, the terrible waiting begins, both for consumers and for Equifax. No one but the perpetrators know exactly what they hacked the company nor what they will do with that information. It’s possible nothing will happen, though that’s unlikely. It’s also possible this could create havoc in the credit reporting industry, not to mention any and all social and financial scenarios that depend on personal identification for access.
Meanwhile, Equifax needs to do more than express remorse for the “concern” this has caused consumers. They need to step up and connect with what their customers are really thinking and feeling. And they need to reassure angry and worried consumers that there are solutions, no matter what happens next.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.