When was the last time you agreed to allow a credit reporting agency to obtain your private information? Never, would be the right answer. Equifax, Transunion and Experian have built their businesses by collecting our most sensitive personal and financial information, including Social Security numbers, without our consent. They retain this information without having us check the box that says "I am not a robot" or pledging that 'in credit agencies do we trust'.
These entities have been allowed to create a unique big brother mode of vast control over some of the most important aspects of our lives. Whether it's buying or renting real estate, obtaining insurance, loans, utility service and so much more, that ominous credit score in the sky rules over more than we would like to think. Most of my friends don't know my mother's maiden name or my driver's license number, but credit agencies do.
Equifax, Transunion and Experian not only collect our private information, they market it and sell it. And they really know how to sell. The big 3 credit reporting agencies have become huge businesses creating multi- billion dollar empires that use our information as their product. Pretty amazing when you think about it. Equifax reported 2016 sales/revenue of 3.14 billion dollars. Transunion reported 2016 sales/revenue of 1.7 billion. Experian 2016 sales/revenue of 2.81 billion. Unless you'd like to buy stock in their companies, we don't get any part of it. We just get to deal with the results of their work.
The extent of information obtained by credit reporting agencies is, for the most part, not public knowledge. It should be. Experian is reported to have a marketing division which sells the "names of expectant parents and families with newborns" that are "updated weekly." Equifax "collects detailed salary and pay stub information". The more we know, the more outrageous it gets.
Our social security numbers have long been considered a sacrosanct part of personal information. Once we get that number, we have it for the rest of our lives. According to the Social Security Agency, "the number was created in 1936 for the sole purpose of tracking the earnings histories of U.S. workers, for use in determining Social Security benefit entitlement and computing benefit levels." Can it be called progress to know how far we have come from its original intent?
While our SSN numbers remain the determining factor for Social Security benefits, credit reporting agencies have taken those numbers to an entirely different level. Equifax, Transunion and Experian have created their own form of social security commodity exchange, selling those numbers, and any accompanying information, to anyone they deem a likely prospect. They mine data collected from us to enhance their bottom line.
A 2012 Equifax news release provides additional insight:
Equifax Inc. (NYSE: EFX) today announced the launch of Equifax B2B Marketing Compass™, a powerful end-to-end marketing analytics solution that enables organizations to optimize the performance of their business marketing and sales strategy by defining the ideal customer profile and identifying hidden market and wallet share.
Utilizing market-leading, multi-sourced business databases to identify insights in customer portfolios, Equifax's B2B Marketing Compass employs customer profiling and market penetration analytics to enable users to identify winning customer segments and market penetration. Users of the solution can also:
The Equifax hack of 143 million American's personal and credit information is a total breach of whatever privacy we have left in this digital age. Those affected will be dealing with its ramifications for a very long time. Equifax can be viewed as either having abused its power or being negligent in its lack of protection of collected data.
With little to no government regulation or enforcement, Transunion and Experian are as guilty as Equifax in abusing our information. They just haven't been hacked. Yet. The Fair Credit Reporting Act passed in 1970 was supposed to regulate credit reporting agencies and "compel them to insure the information they gather and distribute is fair and accurate". Despite several updates, the law is outdated. It doesn't deal with the marketing and selling segments of the credit reporting business, data breaches or the theft of personal information.
Congressional hearings are being scheduled and lawsuits will pile up. Consumers - you, me and eveyone else need to demand greater protection of our personal information. No one can get back what has been stolen from nealy half the people in this country.
Including me. As I was nearing the end of writing this post, my telephone rang and a text alert came in. The first of my credit cards has been hacked by someone claiming to be "an IRS charitable donation".