Hurricane Irma complicates Equifax customer service efforts in wake of data breachSeptember 11, 2017 9:46pm

Sept. 11-- CHICAGO-Credit reporting bureau Equifax on Monday blamed Hurricane Irma for anticipated longer wait times at its call centers in the wake of a massive cybersecurity breach.

Equifax disclosed Thursday that a data breach might have exposed the Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver's license and phone numbers of up to 143 million consumers.

The company said Friday that it tripled its call center team to more than 2,000 agents and that it continues to add agents. But on Monday the Atlanta-based credit bureau said Hurricane Irma was a concern because many call center employees work in Florida and Georgia.

"When we recognized that Hurricane Irma could impact some of our call center wait times, we arranged to ramp up agents quickly to replace agents impacted by the storm," Equifax said Monday on its website. "As a result of the storm, we anticipate that call center wait times may be longer than usual for the next few days." It recommends that consumers visit its website.

Some consumers are doing more than calling Equifax.

At least two lawsuits, one from Sean Neilan, of Chicago, on Friday and another from Dan Lang and Russell Pantek, of Cook County, on Sunday, were filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago and seek class-action status. Those suits join others already filed in Oregon and Georgia.

Both of the Chicago-area filed lawsuits noted that Equifax discovered the breach-which the company said was the work of criminals-on July 29. The unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July.

"Equifax's decision to wait six weeks after the alleged data breach before informing all consumers was willful, or at least negligent," the Lang and Pantek lawsuit alleges.

Equifax has had other security failures in the past and has continually failed to safeguard consumers' information, the suit says.

"Equifax knew or should have known that the private information contained in its databases was a prime target for hackers," Neilan's suit alleges.

Both lawsuits seek jury trials as well as actual and punitive damages.

Equifax also said Monday that it added a frequently asked questions section to its website to confirm that enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that it's offering as part of the breach doesn't waive any rights to sue. Some financial services companies require customers to take their beefs to arbitration.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based credit reporting agency TransUnion is prominently displaying information on the Equifax breach on the home page of its website, providing a link back to its rival's website for worried consumers.

TransUnion, in its most recent annual shareholder report, said consumer awareness of the increased risk of identity theft is growing, partly due to data breaches. The number of consumers subscribing to a credit monitoring or identity protection service has more than doubled from 2014 to 2016, TransUnion said.

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