Singletary: Equifax needs to do better in handling data breach

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Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or singletarym@washpost.com.

I’m still waiting on Equifax to give me what it promised.

Like millions of others, I was informed by the credit bureau that my personal financial information may have been compromised by the company’s recent epic data breach.

The Equifax debacle posed a quadruple threat, exposing people’s addresses, birth dates, social security and driver’s license numbers. Data for 143 million consumers is now out there, quite probably being used to commit identity theft.

To reassure consumers that it was handling this mess, Equifax set up a dedicated website to answer questions and offer free credit monitoring through TrustedID Premier: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

I went to the site. Here’s what Equifax promises from this premier service:

• A copy of your Equifax credit report.

• Automated alerts of key changes to your account files with Equifax and the other two major bureaus, Experian and TransUnion.

• Ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit report.

• Scanning of suspicious websites to see if your Social Security number is found.

• $1 million worth of identity theft insurance, which is supposed to help pay for certain out-of-pocket expenses if your identity is ever stolen.

I’ve used credit monitoring in the past but I did not find it useful, so I’ve been on my own keeping watch over my information. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to get the free protection for a year, right? I mostly just wanted the locking feature.

I was told what to expect: “You will receive an email with a link to finalize your enrollment and activate your product. Please be patient. Due to the high volume of requests, emails may be delayed. If you have not received your email within a few days, please check your spam and junk folders. Thank you again; we appreciate your patience!”

I was told it could take up to 72 hours.

Six days and counting and I’ve still not received a link. I checked and double-checked my spam folder. Nothing.

And I’m not alone.

Nikolaos from Virginia, like so many other readers nationwide who reached out to me, also complained of not being able to successfully enroll. He also is frustrated that he hasn’t been able to put a freeze on his Equifax file, which many security experts are advising. A credit freeze will lock out new lenders from seeing your credit report. (Lenders and companies you already have a business relationship with can still see your file).

“The credit freeze requested me to first enter all my information, only to deny the freeze and requiring me to send that same information via regular mail,” Nikolaos wrote.

Another reader, Lornie, had a similar experience. “I’ve been trying for three days and five times.”

Tim from Massachusetts hasn’t been successful either. He got this message: “To ensure delivery of our emails to your inbox, please add no-reply@trustedid.com to your address book.”

He did and made some headway. He got a link to complete the enrollment. But when he clicked it, he was asked for a username and password. He hadn’t been prompted to set up either.

He called what is supposed to be the dedicated call center for the breach — 866-447-7559.

“I got a human who told me they were overwhelmed with calls and I should try again in a few days. I did so and got the same result. I am really unsure what to do at this point and dread having my identity stolen. In a bit of a panic.”

Equifax keeps apologizing for the delays. At one point the company said it faced difficulties because of Hurricane Irma.

“We are experiencing a high volume of requests for security freezes, and have experienced some technical issues,” a spokesperson emailed me. “We are working diligently to ensure an improved consumer experience.”

I get it. The company is overwhelmed. Still, do better.

It is not too much to demand (because we are way past the polite phase of asking) that the company hire as many people as it needs and/or amp up its online system so that it can handle the volume of requests from folks potentially harmed by the company’s failure to protect their personal information.

Further, given the delays, Equifax needs to extend the arbitrary Nov. 21 cut off to sign up for the identity theft protection service. Keep enrollment open as long as it takes to sign up people who were harmed.

And perhaps a name change is in order for its TrustedID Premier service. We did trust the company and look where we are.