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Richard Smith offered apologies in testimony before House and Senate panels reviewing data hack that affected an estimated 145 million Americans

Data Hack

Data Hack

Richard Smith testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday.

The former chairman and CEO of Equifax apologized for the credit company’s failures in responding to the concerns of tens of millions of consumers in the wake of a massive Data Hack .

In his testimony, Smith offered apologies, an explanation of how the company allowed the hacking to occur and what it’s doing to limit the damage for consumers whose personal information, including Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses, was stolen.

Smith said the company’s call centers were overwhelmed after the breach was announced on 7 September.

“Many needlessly waited on hold or were otherwise unable to have their questions answered through the call centers, which I deeply regret,” Smith said in his prepared remarks.

Equifax had 500 customer service representatives dedicated to customers before the breach. Adding to the company’s woes, two of the larger call centers in Florida were forced to temporarily close during Hurricane Irma. Now, the company has more than 2,500 customer service employees on duty and that number is growing, Smith said.

The company has also put in place a support package that includes free credit file monitoring, identity theft insurance and a credit lock that restricts access to a consumer’s credit report without their permission. A service that will be available by 31 January will allow consumers to lock and unlock their credit files repeatedly, for free, over the course of their lifetime.

Looking ahead, Smith said “this humbling experience has crystalized” the need for an industry standard that places access to credit data in the hands of the consumer. He said the company’s lifetime lock program should become the industry standard. Second, he said the country should begin discussing the replacement of Social Security numbers as the primary means to verify a consumer’s identity.