Equifax CEO Retires Following Massive Data Breach

Sep 26, 2017
Originally published on September 27, 2017 9:52 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to another story affecting millions of people, the data breach at Equifax. Earlier this month, the credit reporting agency revealed a huge hack. As many as 143 million Americans may have had their personal information stolen. Well, today comes news that the CEO of Equifax is out. NPR's Chris Arnold has been following all of this. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So the CEO is Richard Smith. The official statement from Equifax that they've just put out says he is retiring. Is this by choice?

ARNOLD: Well, we don't have all the answers yet. This is just breaking kind of this hour as we speak. But, look, it's not surprising that the CEO is stepping down. This was just such a colossal disaster for this company and not only for this company, but it's going to echo through the whole industry. I mean, Equifax, they come up with your credit score, they're a credit reporting firm. And to do that, they have to get access to lots of sensitive information, obviously.

So they have social security numbers, your name, birth dates, addresses, driver's license numbers, all kinds of stuff. And the bad guys got all that stuff. As you said, this involved as many as 143 million Americans. So it's one of the worst hacks in history. And on top of that, the company made some missteps in the wake of it where if you tried to put a freeze on your credit report so people couldn't open a bank account or something in your name without you knowing, the company was charging you for that.

So it looked like, oh, wait, they're making money off the debacle. So...

KELLY: Yeah.

ARNOLD: ...Look, Equifax has to look like it's taking this seriously and making big changes all the way to the top.

KELLY: OK, so big changes today with the CEO out. And meanwhile, I mean, we've been tracking how Congress has just been getting an earful from people wondering what Equifax, what the other credit reporting agencies are doing to keep people's personal data safe. Can you give us a quick update where the investigation stands?

ARNOLD: The quick version, cause it's a long list. There are more than 30 state AGs, including New York and Massachusetts, that are investigating. There's a Senate inquiry. Federal authorities are investigating too. And there's stuff I'm sure we don't know about because these investigations aren't made public right away a lot of the time. So there will probably be even more to come on that front.

KELLY: OK. And meanwhile, I mean, it's just in terms of big picture, you said this is going to echo throughout the industry. Where might this go? I mean, might the big three credit reporting agencies end up looking different in the future?

ARNOLD: This, to me, is the most interesting question, right? I mean, consumer advocates have complained about the credit reporting agencies for years. They collect all this information, they don't ask your permission. And then, you know, if the information gets messed up, it can be very, very hard to get it corrected. You know, they hold the keys to you getting a job even sometimes, let alone a mortgage. So now the question is does this hack change the landscape?

Will Congress actually push for some reforms? There's one bill that's been introduced called the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation Act. That tells you at least some in the Senate are worked up about this.

KELLY: Chris Arnold, thanks very much.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.