If they said good things it cost us less to borrow money, our premiums were lower, we got cleared for employment. But if they said bad things, or had nothing to say, it cost us more. Lots more.
So that’s not exactly a balanced relationship. But it gets worse. When I wanted to know what they were saying about me twice in one year, I actually had to pay them or they wouldn’t tell me. Just like you did, and everyone you know did, and everyone you know knows did. Then, Equifax said that if I wanted to make sure that an imposter could not illegally open a line of credit in my name, I had to pay them again to not give out my information. ( aka to “freeze” my credit) They told that to you too, and to everyone you know, and to everyone who you know knows. That’s a lot of people paying to keep Equifax from handing out information that’s none of their business in the first place.
This relationship reminds me of that giant mean kid in middle school, you know that bully that stands inside the door of the bathroom and makes you give them a dollar to use the facilities. Not wanting to get pummeled or to pee our pants, we play along.
It’s a pretty slimy way to make a living. But boy does it pay! Look what Equifax took in, over the last two years alone, by hiding behind the bathroom door and selling access to our financial behavior:
“Paid as agreed.”
Not too flowery, is it? Not really something to embroider and frame on your wall. But there it is, this is the main job of credit bureaus like Equifax, to identify those of us who have “Paid as Agreed.” The more you pay as agreed, the higher your FICO score and the lower your interest rate.
And let’s take a minute to review what FICO actually means. FICO is an acronym for Fair, Isaac and Company. Back in 1956 Bill Fair and Earl Isaac started this data analytics company that slapped a number – a risk measurement ranging from 300 to 850– on each consumer. Lenders in the United States now rely on this number like we rely on oxygen.
So, to recap, we don’t want any of these companies in our business, but we have no say in the matter if we need to borrow money, and we all need to borrow money.
But, again, it gets worse. So let’s just make sure we all have the story straight here. Then, Equifax, who clearly has zero incentive to respect our privacy since they make such a nice living by disrespecting it, used open source software to program that digital container that holds our personal identifying information. Open source software is free code available online. Software developers can cut and paste this code to build all or parts of their programs. Since its free, companies save lots of money by using it instead of purchasing software from another company or paying their own people to develop what they need from scratch in-house.
In today’s world, our personal identifying information (PII) are the keys to our financial assets. Reasonable people would assume that these keys would be stored safely in the digital equivalent of a steel vault guarded by fierce militia. But as it turns out, Equifax actually built that container using Struts 2, a free open source program with a protective shield as strong as overcooked vermacilli.
Any programmer can tell you that open source software, while useful, is also full of vulnerabilities, and that Struts 2 in particular needs lots of patches in order to be secure. These patches obviously didn’t happen at Equifax. Their software was so vulnerable, so unsafe, that someone who wanted to steal it could just go right in and take it.
And that’s just what someone did.
So now, 143,000,000 of us have had the keys to our financial world stolen, and there is no way to cancel those keys and make new ones. We can’t change the locks, since our social security numbers stay with us until we die. The assets of half of America’s families are now vulnerable to an identity theft so severe that it has catastrophic potential. It’s not just our credit cards here kids, its our 401k’s, IRA’s, savings accounts, 529s, tax returns, social security payments…. for the rest of our lives.
Well this is pretty bad isn’t it?
So what does Equifax do? The President of Information Solutions, the President of Workforce Solutions, and the CFO carried on in a way that can only be described as consistent with their corporate mission:
Nothing Fair about that Isaac.