You ever fall behind on your credit card? Miss a car payment? Juggle some bills and end up paying your cable late, since their late fee was more affordable? Ever send in a rent check that ended up getting there a day or two after the 5th? If not, that’s legitimately great. You’ve done well. But for most people in America, the answer is “yes”.
And if that answer is yes, chances are that Equifax knows about it. They have that information. And now, thanks to a breach, hackers have the private information of 143 million Americans.
Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, said on Thursday that hackers had gained access to company data that potentially compromised sensitive information for 143 million American consumers, including Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.
The attack on the company represents one of the largest risks to personally sensitive information in recent years, and is the third major cybersecurity threat for the agency since 2015.
One question you might ask yourself is: why does Equifax even have Social Security numbers, man? After all, eligibility for Social Security is about the only thing in American life that isn’t based upon your credit score. That’s a good question, and the answer is because they want it, and we’ve become conditioned to giving away our Social Security number to any corporation that asks.
We put it on job applications for background checks, and one of the places that they check is with these credit reporting companies. I spent a few years working at a large background check company, checking criminal records, but we also did credit checks. It was a horrible, soul-crushing job, where you could check a box and deny someone employment because they boosted a candy bar once, or because they fell behind on their bills.
Think about the power that these companies have over you. Your whole life is wrapped up in credit scores, a history of your solvency, which impacts every opportunity moving forward. Companies like Equifax exist to make sure that you can never outrace your past.
Yes, it is good that people who didn’t make mistakes, who saved and were thrifty, are rewarded. It is also true that everything you do has consequences, and we shouldn’t set up society to reward grasshoppers who fail to prepare for the winter. Life has consequences, right? Equifax just tallies them up.
Except we all know that isn’t true. If you have money, then dumb decisions don’t have any consequences. If you don’t, making the same mistakes reverberates throughout your entire life. If you have money, you don’t have to make a decision on which bill to pay. If you work full-time and are still below the poverty level (as is the case with ten million workers) then you are going to end up with a bad score from Equifax.
That’s the life we have set up. Even if you work full time, have multiple jobs, you can be poor and struggling to get by. You’ll juggle bills, and your score will be bad. That can hurt future employment. It can make getting a house impossible. If you made mistakes when you were younger, and didn’t have the grace of wealth to bury those errors, you could be screwed for decades. The bosses have the power, and their spies are the credit reporting agencies, to whom we give over our lives. It’s no wonder so many people are on anti-depressants.
Want more proof that this is the perfect American scandal? The company knew about the breach for months before reporting it, obviously, because who cares about the affected consumers when stock prices might be affected. And that’s right: stock in Equifax has dropped. But don’t worry!
Three Equifax Inc. senior executives sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in the days after the company discovered a security breach that may have compromised information on about 143 million U.S. consumers.
Now, the company says the executives weren’t aware of the breach when they sold, but come on. These aren’t exactly credible sources.
This is it in a nutshell. Consequences for thee, but not for me. Our screwups end in golden parachutes and stock selloffs, yours end in zeroed-out opportunities. The grasshoppers are the winners here. We’ve sold our soul to the boss class, and to them its pocket change.
Great article, Brian. Sums it up so well. Should be more widely read.
Thank you Sean- I really appreciate it.
Yes, no doubt to your first question. Job lose can be pretty effective in that regard. Funny how the this all works. Martha Stewart went to jail for trusting a long time adviser because she was a high profile name (not to defend her actions, they were dismissive at best and she should have and did pay for her actions) but the actions taken by heads of corporations and they walk away more well off then if they would have gone “down with the ship” is fascinating. Didn’t go that way for Skilling and Enron. He paid the price. To high profile to be swept under the rug. What’s 1.8 million any way. Don’t we all have that in our retirement. Great article.
Thanks Tom! And you are right at the weird way justice works here. You have to be a Maddoff or a Skilling (or some kid on the street) to go to jail for theft.
Maddoff needed the protection of prison. Skilling was just ignorant. Have seen more popping up about this particular happening. The DOJ may not be done with this after all.