- Russell Grantham The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Equifax’s new interim chief executive said the company is planning to offer a new life-long credit freeze service for free by the end of January.
Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., who was named the company’s new CEO on Tuesday, announced that move Thursday, along with other efforts to improve its problem-plagued response to a massive data theft affecting 143 million Americans.
“On behalf of Equifax, I want to express my sincere and total apology to every consumer affected by our recent data breach,” Barros said in an op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. “People across the country and around the world, including our friends and family members, put their trust in our company. We didn’t live up to expectations.”
In a move that could put pressure on the other two major credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, to offer similar life-long freezes, Barros said Equifax plans to offer a free service by Jan. 31 that will “let consumers easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files. You will be able to do this at will.”
With the service, he said, “the cybercrime business will become a lot more difficult.”
Equifax’s efforts come as the Atlanta credit-tracking firm faces a storm surge of investigations, lawsuits and consumer complaints about its handling of the hacking scandal, one of the worst any company in the U.S. has faced.
Next week, former Equifax CEO Rick Smith is expected to be grilled before Senate and House committees looking into the breach.
Some lawmakers are calling for “clawbacks” of Equifax executives’ pay. Smith, who retired Tuesday, leaves the company with at least $48.9 million in stock awards and benefits accumulated during his 12-year tenure at the company.
Barros said the company is also extending the deadlines to the end of January for the free credit freezes and credit monitoring services it offered in the wake of the hacking incident. The company initially set up a one-month sign-up window after the data theft was disclosed on Sept. 7.
Afterwards, panicked consumers swamped Equifax's call center and website. Many said they weren't able to sign up, or Equifax's employees couldn't answer some questions. Thursday, Equifax's website indicated the problems continue.
“We are currently experiencing difficulties with our TrustedID website. As a result, the site may be unavailable periodically, and we are working hard to help reduce interruptions,” the company said on its website.
Barros said the company is working on fixing its website and adding more call center employees and additional training.
“We have to see this breach as a turning point — not just for Equifax, but for everyone interested in protecting personal data,” he said.