D.L. Stewart: First we’re hacked and then we’re hacked off

Millions of Americans are angry.

After credit reporting service Equifax got around last week to mentioning, “Oh, by the way, 143 million of you Americans currently are at risk of having your lives financially ruined because we screwed up,” a lot of people got upset. But not necessarily as upset as they were when they heard the company’s original solution.

“You may be able to avoid further risk by freezing your report. Of course there will be a charge for that. And, oh yeah, another charge to unfreeze it.” Admittedly, the charges were nominal. Five dollars per transaction in some states, $10 in others, free in a few. But, it was the chutzpah of the thing. As one critic put it, that’s “like handing a bank robber an extra bag for his loot.” (When Equifax alertly noticed that Americans were approaching the company with torches and pitchforks, it later announced it would waive the fees for 30 days.)

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Still, freezing was recommended. And when I accessed the Equifax web site and was informed “your personal information may have been impacted by this incident,” I immediately took steps to freeze my report. Which I’m still doing. According to a writer in The New York Times, “the process is annoying, but it takes only about 15 minutes to do this at all three of the big agencies.” So far, I’ve spent three annoying hours.

Experian’s web site was fairly easy to negotiate and I now have a nine-number PIN in my files to use if I ever want to unfreeze its report. Assuming I’ll be able to remember where I filed it. TransUnion’s was a bit more complicated. I think I’ve frozen it, but I may also have accidentally signed up for something called Credit Lock Plus for $19.95 a month, plus tax.

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To start the process with Equifax — the company which may or may not have lost personal information such as my birthdate, address and Social Security number — it asked for my birthdate, address and the last six numbers of my Social Security number. But then there was some sort of glitch and the next dozen times I tried to access the site I got no further than, “System Currently Unavailable — Error 500. We’re sorry we cannot process your security freeze at this time. Please try back later.”

The whole thing has been very frustrating. Except, of course, for those three Equifax executives who, by sheerest coincidence, unloaded $1.8 million of their shares before the hack became public and the company’s stock started to tank.

Some people have all the luck. The rest of us just get hacked off.

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