Graham: Credit reporting is powerful, and a bit intrusive
it asked for the last six digits of my Social Security number and my last name.
Huh? Aren't we supposed to avoid sharing stuff like that online?
Well, I did it anyway and found that the company believes my “information may have been impacted by this incident.” Then, it asked me to sign up for some credit fraud program. However, it only took some information and asked me to return later for the rest.
None of this inspires confidence, and it started to freak me out.
On Friday, Hunter said he was joining 34 state attorneys general in signing a letter to Equifax to address concerns over the company continuing to promote its fee-based monitoring program, consumers paying fees for a security freeze, and long wait times or the inability to speak with someone at the call center.
Name and number:
Equifax is one of three companies collecting all financial transactions — banking, credit cards, mortgage payments, utilities, merchants and any other group who gets or wants my money.
Credit reports can go to potential employers, government officials, landlords, creditors and others who may be deemed to have a legitimate reason. Even the Tulsa Public Schools volunteer form asks for permission to do a credit check if the district feels it necessary.
Over time, entities have found lots of ways to get a hold of a person's credit report. It's no longer just about being approved or denied a line of credit to buy a major item.
National news stories going back nearly a decade
What to do after Equifax hack?
Get your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by going to annualcreditreport.com. If there is activity you don't recognize, then it might be identity theft.
If you think your identity has been stolen, go to IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
Consider placing a credit freeze, which will make it harder for someone to open an account in your name. It won't stop a thief from making charges to an existing account.
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts
show how some employers screen out job candidates based on credit score. Also, those with credit issues may have higher insurance rates or be denied coverage.
This three-digit number has become a judgment on character and in some cases wielded like a scarlet letter.
All of this makes it harder for people to dig out of the debt, which causes the lower credit score in the first place. Or there may be errors on the reports that consumers aren't aware of.
That's a pretty powerful, and intrusive, thing when you really think about it.
But it wasn't always this way.
The nation's obsession with consumer credit scores is a relatively modern phenomenon.
The collection of intelligence for credit reports started in the business world on investors in the mid-1800s. Its history is full of espionage, statistical analysis and subjectivity often steeped in race, class and gender discrimination, according to Time magazine.
By the end of the Civil War, the main tenets of for charges.
If you decide not to place a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on files. It will warn creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
File taxes early. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
Visit IdentityTheft.gov/ databreach to learn more about protection after a data breach. contemporary credit reporting were established: private-sector mass surveillance, bureaucratic information sharing and a ratings system.
Those practices started shifting to individual consumer credit in the early 20th century.
Equifax was established in 1899 as the Retail Credit Co. (RCC) and expanded to individuals. Because those early days did not have rules governing what could be gathered and shared in an official capacity, the company added a lot of personal details.
When the company announced in the late 1960s that it planned to digitize information, privacy advocate Alan Westin led a charge against the move. He argued that people would have a harder time escaping their past mistakes.
In a New York Times article from 1970, Westin wrote: “Retail Credit files may include facts, statistics, inaccuracies and rumors ... about virtually every phase of a person's life: his marital troubles, jobs, school history, childhood, sex life, and political activities . ... Almost inevitably, transferring information from a manual file to a computer triggers a threat to civil liberties, to privacy, to a man's very humanity because access is so simple.”
That was an interesting bit of prophecy.
Congress launched hearings into the credit report practices, leading to passage of the Fair Credit Reporting Act in 1970. Among its requirements were to open the files to consumers, delete negative information after a period and ban data on race, sexuality and disability.
Because of the bad publicity, RCC renamed itself Equifax. Now, it might need a rebranding campaign again.
In the spotlight:
Some of the company's activities are raising red flags.
After the information breach was announced late on Sept. 7, Bloomberg reported that three top executives sold about $2 million in company stock within days of the hack. The company discovered “unauthorized access” to its systems on July 29, and three executives completed stock sales on Aug. 1-2.
Company officials say the executives didn't know about the data breach at the time.
The Wall Street Journal discovered that Equifax had spent $500,000 on lobbying Congress in the first half of this year to weaken regulations and limit legal liabilities in situations such as being hacked.
Consumer information taken from Equifax include names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver's license numbers. Most of those are facts, not changing over time, which could make this a headache years down the road.
In addition, about 209,000 people had credit card numbers stolen and another 182,000 people with documents disputing credit reports had those papers swiped.
When staring at the Equifax screen that alluded to my being in this drama, all this news came back to me.
Many people I know have had errors on credit reports, putting the burden of proof on them to sort it out. It can take years. Often, people don't know about problems until they get denied credit or lose out on a job.
That's unfair, considering the power these companies wield. But we as a country handed these for-profit entities that influence.
A person is more than a number, and these companies aren't perfect. Maybe it's time to rethink it all and stop relying so much on these scores.