There was news — corporate and consumer —Tuesday on the Equifax personal-security-breach front.
Early in the day, the credit-reporting bureau's chief executive, Richard Smith, became the latest senior company official to fall on his sword. Equifax announced that Smith was retiring, but that he would not receive his annual bonus and other potential retirement-related benefits until the company's board concluded an independent review of the data breach.
If the review does not find Smith at fault, he could walk away with a retirement package of at least $18.48 million, along with the value of the stock and options paid out over his 12-year tenure. The board also could "claw back" any cash or stock bonuses he may have received, if necessary. Smith made almost $15 million in salary, bonuses, and stock last year.
Even with the departure now of three top executives, Equifax still faces inquiries and class-action lawsuits, including congressional investigations and queries by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as
well as several state attorneys general.
Good news for consumers? Equifax's online support system for the 143 million Americans potentially affected by the data breach has been tuned up, speeding the process of registering for a free year of "Trusted ID Premier" credit monitoring and insurance at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
Bad news? The consumer website ValuePenguin.com has surveyed what it costs to place a freeze on your credit report — the maximum-strength "nuclear option of credit protection" — and found that Pennsylvanians are paying more than almost every other state mandates for the privilege of both freezing and temporarily unfreezing their accounts.
Because it's necessary to do them separately at each major reporting bureau – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and so is summed in cost by ValuePenguin, a freeze on all three sites currently costs Pennsylvanians $20.70, but will rise to $30.70 when Equifax's current fee-waiver offer runs out Nov. 21. (Maximum fees are governed by the laws of the individual states.)
Temporarily unfreezing an account – so you can sign up for a credit card or apply for a loan – will likewise cost Pennsylvania residents $30.70 (each time) and is reportedly a "royal pain" to undertake, according to those who have done it. If you're 65 or over, the state requires the fees to be waived.
By contrast, if you're a New Jersey (or New York) resident, the credit freezes are free for all, and a defrost costs $15. In Delaware, you'll pay $20 now and $30 after Nov. 21 for a freeze, and nothing (now or later) for a temporary unfreeze. (Indiana, Maine, South Carolina have zero charges.)
A small consolation: Fees will be waived for consumers who have filed police reports for identity theft. Making that report also extends the terms for free fraud-alert reports from 90 days to seven years. By law, you have to contact only one of the three credit bureaus to request/activate fraud alerts from all three – sending up a red flag whenever a new credit application comes in with your name and Social Security number on it. You can sign up for that coverage by visiting: https://www.alerts.equifax.com/AutoFraud_Online/jsp/fraudAlert.jsp; https://www.experian.com/fraud/center.html; or https://www.transunion.com/fraud-victim-resource/place-fraud-alert
At the very least, you ought to visit Equifax's online tool at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com (carefully enter the address to avoid going to scammer sites) to see whether your data were involved in the breach. The site asks for your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number, then will tell you either: "Based on the information provided, we believe your personal information was not impacted by this incident;" or "Based on the information provided, we believe your personal information may have been impacted by this incident."
As of last week, unlucky souls lumped in the latter category got priority to sign up for the free year of Trusted ID Premier. Now, the process starts up instantly for all. Ironically, the information you're required to enter includes all the personal stuff Equifax previously let slip and more: your complete name, date of birth, full Social Security number, address, and contact email and mobile-phone number.
If going through this "trust me twice" ritual makes you nervous, ValuePenguin recommends just returning to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com periodically to re-verify your "non-impacted" status.
Also, consider staggering your requests for that one free credit report available each year from the three major credit-reporting bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.
A reminder about credit freezes and fraud alerts: The first prevents someone from opening credit cards in your name and requires you to register a PIN number that then must be used to unfreeze the account. The latter requires a credit-card company to verify your identity before opening an account.
To do accomplish this (though getting someone to answer can be a challenge), call Equifax at 1-800-349-9960 (to freeze credit) or 1-888-766-0008 (to report fraud); Experian at 1-888-397-3742 (freeze and fraud); and TransUnion at 1-888-909-8872 (freeze) or 1-800-680-7289 (fraud).