Since the public first learned of the Equifax incident, consumers have reported difficulties getting help on the company's phone lines.
After the embattled firm added more capacity over the weekend, we decided to try our hand at calling Equifax ourselves. The idea was twofold. First, we wanted to ask a reasonable question the average consumer might call with — that is, whether my personal data was compromised in the hack.
Second, we wanted to shed some light on the customer service process for those consumers who haven't yet called or who feel uncomfortable using equifaxsecurity2017.com, the company's website dedicated to the breach.
Here's what we found when we called on Monday: Although wait times aren't too bad now, finding out whether your personal information is secure is virtually impossible over the phone. You can, however, get a 90-day fraud alert placed on your account within minutes — if you call the right number.
We began by dialing up 866-447-7559, the dedicated call center listed on equifaxsecurity2017.com. While we didn't have to wait long to talk to an agent, the person we spoke to wasn't that helpful. It turns out that the hotline handles general questions only, and isn't equipped with staff who can actually do anything on your behalf. That the dedicated call center can't answer what is probably the biggest question most callers will have is kind of weird.
We asked the agent whether anyone could help me determine whether my personal information was affected. He responded by giving us a second phone number to call: 866-640-2273. This is the number for Equifax's customer care center.
We spent the next few minutes on hold. While we relaxed and listened to sexy saxophone music, we were advertised Equifax products every so often.
But the agent who took our call there said he couldn't tell us if my information had been compromised, either. Best to call — you guessed it — the dedicated hotline we'd just come from.
Eager to jump off this telephone merry-go-round, we asked for anything the agent could do for me — right now. We got put on hold.
The answer came in the form of a third phone number, this one for Equifax's identity-theft line: 1-800-525-6285. By dialing that number, we were told, I could set up a 90-day fraud alert that would force creditors to call me — at a number of my choosing — before agreeing to open any new accounts in my name.
I asked whether the agent could simply apply the fraud alert now, while we were on the phone together. Sorry, he said — call the number.
We dialed that number. The entire duration of the call was made up of an automated system that seemed overly sensitive even to the slightest background noise. About a minute in, we accidentally made some noise that interrupted the recorded voice and sent us down a rabbit hole. This kept happening a few times, until we figured out that even laughing about it was enough to set it off.
One of the menu options appeared to work, but then it led to a constant ringing and a dropped call. We tried the 1-800-525-6285 number again.
We finally got to a point where the system asked for our information in order to set up a 90-day alert. I provided my Social Security number, two phone numbers where I can be reached for verification, and a “please hold while we process your request” message.
The system informed us that we successfully set up a 90-day alert, but even now, we're still not sure if it was actually processed. That's because after my request went through, we were presented with the option of listening to our rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law that covers consumer credit. The alternative was having the legalese mailed to me — which seemed more appealing than listening and possibly mishearing something over the phone — but it turns out that that option was malfunctioning. So I agreed to listen to my rights. This went on for about eight minutes. There was never any explanation about how to follow-up about my 90-day alert.
My eyes were just about to glaze over, listening to my rights, when a slight noise in the background cut off the recorded voice. “Please hold while I connect you to an agent,” a voice said, even though I hadn't asked for one.
“Good,” we thought. “At least this person may be able to help — despite the fact that we'll never know what the rest of the recording was about to tell us about our rights.”
But our optimism was misplaced. Thirty seconds of ringing later, the call simply led to a busy tone — before finally going dead. It may not be a metaphor for anything, but it sure feels like one.