So, let’s talk about this Equifax “situation.” If you weren’t affected by the security breach, chances are you’ve heard about it, and if you are affected, you’ve probably experienced the same emotions that I have – disbelief, confusion and extreme frustration.
When I first heard about the security breach on the local news September 7, I was flabbergasted. “143 million people? “No way,” I thought.
Like millions of others, I – naively – typed my last name and six digits of my social security number into the Equifax website to see I’d been affected, and sure enough, I had been.
Thankfully, the company offered free credit monitoring to ease the burden, which I promptly signed up for. Even though they did not tell me when or how they would contact me about the monitoring process, I took comfort knowing that the company was trying to rectify the situation.
The guise of corporate responsibility remained intact… but not for long. Several minutes later, I discovered that three Equifax executives sold their stock shortly before the breach announcement, and the little remaining faith I had in the company rapidly deteriorated.
Couldn’t get any worse, right?
Two days later, I discovered that the “free credit monitoring” I signed up for also waived my rights to sue the company.
(Insert expletive here.)
That was weeks ago, and what started as a bad situation for Equifax, has snowballed into a downright catastrophe.
Recently, several major developments occurred: Insiders reported that Equifax had a major security breach in March that the company was fully aware of but did not publicly disclose. The Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation for insider trading, and reports surfaced that tax-related identity theft could be a major problem next year.
As a PR professional, I have been dumbfounded, not just about the breach but about the response itself.
In a crisis situation where leadership transparency has essentially been nonexistent (mistake number one) and company responses have been painstakingly slow (mistake number two), it is imperative for remediation efforts to be well-organized and clearly communicated.
But Equifax’s efforts have been confusing and downright misleading, and the situation has gone from terrible to almost irreparable.
USA Today reported this week that Equifax’s brand reputation has fallen faster than any other company that’s experienced a security breach, with its YouGov “Buzz score” dropping 33 points in just 10 days. (Buzz score measure positive and negative perceptions of 1500 different brands on a daily basis.)
If – key word “if” – Equifax survives this disaster, it’ll be a crisis communication case study for years to come.