Another week and yet more secrets about the Equifax hacking scandal are being revealed. Chief among those this week is just exactly how much Equifax knows about your own secrets.
The know the first loan you applied for, which cars you prefer, and which stores you shop at. They know the sort of places you want to live and where you work and who lives with you.
But it’s not just what Equifax knows that has people concerned. It’s what they do with that information. One of Equifax’s biggest streams of income is selling information back to creditors. It’s an interesting cycle, really. Lenders gather bits of data from an applicant, then send it to the credit bureaus to determine if a customer is worth the credit risk. Then, the bureaus, like Equifax, collate and aggregate that information before selling back to other lenders.
Since the files they keep stretch back decades, the information these credit reporting agencies have is extremely valuable. Just how valuable is that information? Well, Equifax brought in more than $3.1 billion last year. That puts Equifax in the middle of the Big Three credit bureaus. Experian brought in $4.34 billion, and TransUnion took in $1.7 billion.
Unfortunately for Equifax, though, that treasure chest of data has not become its biggest anchor. Millions of customers are angry that the company put their most personal financial data and identities at risk thanks to the massive data breach.
What’s worse, at this point, these consumers don’t know if they’re affected, and, if so, just how much. It could be nothing, it could be a life-changing headache that takes years to correct. They just don’t know. And “not knowing” is consumer kryptonite. We hate having to wonder and worry if something is going to fall out of the clear blue sky and land right on us.
As it deals with this growing consumer rage, Equifax is also dealing with investigations at both the state and federal level, as well as a number of lawsuits that will tie up resources that the company needs to right the ship and get back in the good graces of consumers.
It’s unknown yet how much of an impact this will have on Equifax overall. Will consumers demand creditors use other firms to make lending decisions? If this happens, it could be a tipping point that creates a massive consumer PR problem for Equifax. Right now, the anger and worry are mostly unfocused. But if those emotions do find purchase in some kind of specific action, these lawsuits may be the least of the company’s worries.
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.