A Consumer Advocate Battles Equifax and a Storm

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Robert Neubecker

Nobody appointed me vice president of customer service for Equifax, but somebody had to do the job.

When Equifax told the world on Sept. 7 that thieves had helped themselves to as many as 143 million Social Security numbers, it sent people to a website for more information. The website barely functioned. Those who turned to the phones overwhelmed Equifax’s call centers, and people who did get through found that most representatives were not helpful. To make matters worse, some of those centers were right in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Meanwhile, I was in the midst of my own storm minidrama, as I needed to travel to Florida to help my siblings get our father out of the hurricane’s way. My initial flight was canceled just as the Equifax story broke, and by the time we closed the first news story the night of Sept. 7, my only way to Orlando to catch up with my family was on a 6 a.m. flight the next day.

Delirious from lack of sleep and frantically reading competitors’ coverage and consumer complaints on Twitter as the plane doors closed before dawn that day, I realized I needed to write a column giving people instructions on how to set up freezes on their credit files so that thieves could not open new accounts in their names.

While I was up in the air, reader emails started landing, first in a trickle and then — as the days went by and I wrote another column and another and another — in a torrent, at one point averaging nearly one a minute. Some asked questions I had not thought of and pointed out precisely how the promises that Equifax was making to fix things were not necessarily holding up: Equifax was basing PIN numbers for lifting credit freezes on the date and time that people called, for instance, which was hardly the kind of security most people were looking for postbreach. Others were astounded that Equifax had the gall to charge for permanent credit freezes. I highlighted these complaints and frustrations in my ensuing columns, all the while responding to individual emails.

I managed to reply to the first several hundred notes, but a backlog built up as the hurricane came and went and I transported my father back home. (Dad is fine, as is his house, so we were lucky.)

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