It Could Put America Underwater Forever
by Lowell Ponte
We have seen the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and this week we marked the anniversary of history-changing terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that destroyed America’s World Trade Center towers and murdered 3,000 people.
But a potentially even more destructive attack has just happened, almost unnoticed because it produced no dramatic television images. This attack struck 143 million Americans (most of whom have not yet felt it) and could put our nation underwater for years to come – perhaps even drown our personal and national economy and prosperity.
Call it Financial Storm Equifax. This Atlanta-based company – one of America’s three giant credit reporting agencies – announced this September that hackers had penetrated its computers and stole data for at least 10 weeks before being detected on July 29.
What these hackers stole, Equifax reported, were the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and other data of 143 million “customers” – nearly half the U.S. population.
(“Customers” is in quote marks because you likely never asked or agreed to be an Equifax customer, and you have no ability under current law to make them stop gathering personal financial data about you.)
Equifax made $3.1 Billion last year, mostly from providing its actual paying customers – banks and financial service companies – data on individuals. Worldwide it has data on more than 820 million people and more than 91 million businesses.
The creditworthiness of 200 million Americans is in the hands of Equifax, Transunion, and Experian, each of which assigns each of us a numeric credit rating that determines whether, and at what interest rate, we can get a credit card, car loan, mortgage or other lending. This may also determine whether you get a job…or even a mate.
The hackers also snatched credit card numbers from at least 209,000 “customers” and confidential information from disputes involving 182,000. Such information is a virtual “Open Sesame” to create and drain credit accounts….and to damage or destroy the credit of Americans. This hack is a cyberwar attack on our national as well as personal security.
What did Equifax do when it discovered the hack of its computers? It delayed notifying its 143 million “customer” victims for more than a month. Half of us live paycheck to paycheck, depending on our credit to cover emergencies. Equifax executives did act quickly, however, to sell at least $1.8 Million of their company stock shares before the bad news became public – the third Equifax hacking disclosure this year.
Equifax, on a new web site in September, said that it would provide a year of credit monitoring free via its ironically-named subsidiary TrustedIDPremier to those it exposed to criminal terrorism. But to get this, people have to give Equifax the last six digits of their nine digit Social Security number and sign an agreement whose fine print prohibits them from suing Equifax.
Criticized for this, Equifax promised that such customer controls do “not apply to this cybersecurity incident.” Trouble is, the information stolen could be used to raid or ruin your credit a year – or a dozen years – from today. Who can prove whether the damning data came from the 2017 Equifax hack?
Certainly if a bank negligently lost everybody’s money, it might be in big legal trouble. But for losing the data of 143 million of us, Equifax will likely suffer no criminal penalty. (Trial lawyers have already filed the first $70 Billion civil class action suit against Equifax.) Equifax, writes computer expert Farhad Manjoo, is “considered too central to the American financial system.” It is too big to fail.
People claiming to be the hackers, meanwhile, sent a dark web statement that they “are two people trying to solve our lives and those of our families. We did not expect to get as much information as we did, nor do we want to affect any citizen.”
These hackers promise to destroy the data if Equifax helps them “monetize the information” by September 15th by paying them a mere 600 Bitcoins, a cryptocurrency – 600 of which are presently worth approximately $2.6 Million.
Bitcoin is more speculative and changeable than casino chips. But America is becoming a “cashless” society where all money will be mere government-controlled computer blips, financial privacy is non-existent, the economy runs on financial manipulation instead of work and products, credit and ever-expanding debt are everything, and debased dollars are designed to self-destruct from deliberate inflation. The Equifax hack shows, as Craig R. Smith and I warn in Don’t Bank On It!, how easily America could be underwater.
No wonder the hackers say that, paid off or not, they are keeping the credit card numbers they stole for later exploitation. Your future depends on your hackable credit.
To schedule a fascinating interview with Lowell Ponte, a veteran think tank futurist, contact: Sandy Frazier at 516-735-5468 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
For a free copy of Craig R. Smith and Lowell Ponte’s latest book, Money, Morality & The Machine, contact: David Bradshaw at 602-918-3296 or email him at email@example.com .