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The Equifax Hack Is The Most Disastrous Data Breach In History Because Now Hackers Have The Credit Information Of 143 Million Americans

Talk about a nightmare.  It is being reported that criminals were able to hack into Equifax and make off with the credit information of 143 million Americans.  We are talking about names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses and even driver’s license numbers.  If this data breach was an earthquake, we would be talking about a magnitude-10.0 on the identity theft scale.  We have never seen anything like this before, and to say that this will be “disastrous” for the credit industry would be a massive understatement.

What really disturbed me about this story is that this hack reportedly occurred between “mid-May and July of this year”

Credit monitoring company Equifax has been hit by a high-tech heist that exposed the Social Security numbers and other sensitive information about 143 million Americans. Now the unwitting victims have to worry about the threat of having their identities stolen.

The Atlanta-based company, one of three major U.S. credit bureaus, said Thursday that “criminals” exploited a U.S. website application to access files between mid-May and July of this year.

So why didn’t we learn about this until September?

Somebody out there really needs to answer that question for us.

And even though the “143 million” number is being thrown around constantly, according to USA Today we may never know the true number of victims…

When asked if there’s a way to quantify how many people have been harmed, John Ulzheimer, a credit expert and former employee at Equifax and credit score firm FICO, said: “There’s no way to know, and there may never be a way to know.”

Personally, I don’t see how Equifax can possibly survive after this.  Their stock price is already crashing, and now it has come out that they had put a “music major” in charge of data security…

When Congress hauls in Equifax CEO Richard Smith to grill him, it can start by asking why he put someone with degrees in music in charge of the company’s data security.

And then they might also ask him if anyone at the company has been involved in efforts to cover up Susan Mauldin’s lack of educational qualifications since the data breach became public.

It would be fascinating to hear Smith try to explain both of those extraordinary items.

Also, we are now finding out that Equifax has not just had security problems here in the United States.

According to the New York Post, data breaches have been taking place all over the globe…

Hackers had access to the names, dates of birth and e-mail addresses of nearly 400,000 people in the United Kingdom, said Equifax’s British subsidiary in a statement last week.

In Canada, sensitive data belonging to 10,000 consumers may have been hacked in the breach, said a statement from the Canadian Automobile Association.

In Argentina, one of the company’s portals was so easily accessible that it allowed quick exposure to the personal information of more than 14,000 people.

As noted above, the public didn’t learn about any of this until September.

But once top Equifax officials learned what had happened, some of them started dumping their shares of Equifax very rapidly

Three Equifax executives — not the ones who are departing — sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered the breach, according to documents filed with securities regulators.

Equifax shares have lost a third of their value since it announced the breach.

Needless to say, the SEC is going to be looking into this very closely.

As we move forward, there is a tremendous amount of concern as to how much this data breach will affect the U.S. economy.

Only time will tell, but without a doubt it will have an impact.  For example, according to Bloomberg this data breach could potentially have an absolutely disastrous impact on store-branded credit cards…

Equifax Inc.’s massive data breach could make an already tough market outlook even more daunting for the firms behind Gap Inc.’s and Ann Taylor’s store-branded credit cards.

Those retailers’ banking partners, including Synchrony Financial and Alliance Data Systems Corp., could see fewer account originations as more consumers freeze their credit to avoid hack-related fraud. Consumers have to take extra steps — including calling the credit bureau, going online or paying fees — to lift a block and get a new card.

“If people are defaulting to credit freezes, then if you’re a Macy’s retailer trying to sell credit cards, you can’t get that done at the point of sale,” said Vincent Caintic, an analyst at Stephens Inc. “It could become a regular thing, these freezes. It does slow down the origination process and it’s probably going to increase acquisition costs.”

If you believe that your data may have been compromised in this breach, there are some things that you can do right away to help protect against identity theft.  You can sign up for 24 hour a day credit monitoring, you can request fraud alerts, you can enable “two factor authentication” and beyond all of that you could go as far as to freeze your credit.

But if everybody in America suddenly started freezing their credit, that would slow down economic activity dramatically.  So needless to say authorities are hoping that does not happen.

In this case, Equifax needs to step up and do the right thing.  They need to inform all of the victims (even if that means reaching out to 143 million different people), and they should automatically provide free credit monitoring for all of those that were affected.

I seriously doubt that Equifax will take these measures, and I also seriously doubt that Equifax will be able to survive much longer.

When you bungle something as badly as Equifax has done, it is nearly impossible to restore faith in an organization.  The credit information of 143 million Americans is now in the hands of criminals, and the potential damage that could be done is absolutely off the charts.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

The Subprime Auto Loan Meltdown Is Here

Debt Loans Auto Loans - Public DomainUh oh – here we go again.  Do you remember the subprime mortgage meltdown during the last financial crisis?  Well, now a similar thing is happening with auto loans.  The auto industry has been doing better than many other areas of the economy in recent years, but this “mini-boom” was fueled in large part by customers with subprime credit.  According to Equifax, an astounding 23.5 percent of all new auto loans were made to subprime borrowers in 2015.  At this point, there is a total of somewhere around $200 billion in subprime auto loans floating around out there, and many of these loans have been “repackaged” and sold to investors.  I know – all of this sounds a little too close for comfort to what happened with subprime mortgages the last time around.  We never seem to learn from our mistakes, and a lot of investors are going to end up paying the price.

Everything would be fine if the number of subprime borrowers not making their payments was extremely low.  And that was true for a while, but now delinquency rates and default rates are rising to levels that we haven’t seen since the last recession.  The following comes from Time Magazine

People, especially those with shaky credit, are having a tougher time than usual making their car payments.

According to Bloomberg, almost 5% of subprime car loans that were bundled into securities and sold to investors are delinquent, and the default rate is even higher than that. (Depending on who’s counting, delinquency is up to three or four months behind in payments; default is what happens after that). At just over 12% in January, the default rate jumped one entire percentage point in just a month. Both delinquency and default rates are now the highest they’ve been since 2010, when the ripple effects of the recession still weighed heavily on many Americans’ finances.

The chart below was posted by David Stockman, and it shows how the delinquency rate for subprime borrowers has hit the highest level since 2009.  In fact, we are not too far away from totally smashing through the previous highs that were set during the last crisis…

Subprime Auto Loans

It is quite foolish to try to sell expensive cars to people with bad credit.  This is especially true now that the economy is slowing down significantly in many areas.  But people are greedy and they are going to do what they are going to do.

The most disturbing thing to me is that many of these loans are being “repackaged” and sold off to investors as “solid investments”.  The following description of what has been happening comes from Wolf Richter

The business of “repackaging” these loans, including subprime and deep-subprime loans, into asset backed securities has also been booming. These ABS are structured with different tranches, so that the highest tranches – the last ones to absorb any losses – can be stamped with high credit ratings and offloaded to bond mutual funds designed for retail investors.

Deep-subprime borrowers are high-risk. Typically they have credit scores below 550. To make it worth everyone’s while, they get stuffed into loans often with interest rates above 20%. To make payments even remotely possible at these rates, terms are often stretched to 84 months. Borrowers are typically upside down in their vehicle: the negative equity of their trade-in, along with title, taxes, and license fees, and a hefty dealer profit are rolled into the loan. When the lender repossesses the vehicle, losses add up in a hurry.

It almost makes you want to tear your hair out.

This is exactly the kind of thing that caused so much chaos with subprime mortgages.

When will we ever learn?

Meanwhile, we continue to get even more numbers that indicate that a substantial economic slowdown has already begun

We just got the clearest sign yet that something is wrong with the US economy.

Markit Economics’ monthly flash services purchasing manager’s index, a preliminary reading on the sector, fell into contraction for the first time in over two years.

The tentative February index was reported Wednesday at 49.8.

Statistic after statistic is telling us that a new recession is already here.  And of course some would argue that the last recession never actually ended.  According to John Williams of shadowstats.com, the U.S. economy has continually been in contraction mode since 2005.

If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.  All over the world, “non-performing loans” are starting to become a major problem, and already some financial institutions are starting to get tighter with credit.

As credit conditions tighten up, this is going to cause economic activity to slow down even more.  And as economic activity slows down, it is going to become even harder for ordinary people to make their debt payments.

Deflationary forces are on the rise, and most global central banks are just about out of ammunition at this point.

Everyone knew that the global debt bubble could not keep expanding much faster than the overall rate of economic growth forever.

It was only a matter of time until the bubble burst.

Now we can see signs of crisis popping up all around us, and things are only going to get worse in the months ahead…

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