Need to know
- Equifax has been the subject of a disproportionate number of complaints to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)
- We talked to a number of customers who report that Australia's biggest consumer credit reporting bureau is difficult to deal with
- One Equifax customer had been paying for fraud protection for years without receiving any such service
It seems logical to assume that Australia's largest consumer credit reporting bureau, Equifax Australia, would run a tight operation where errors are few and far between. It would also make sense that the services it provides to paying customers would be top-notch.
After all, the business is responsible for maintaining accurate information on the credit history of many millions of Australians, and for keeping that information safe.
Consumers depend on the reliability of Equifax's services when applying for a mortgage or other loan, and the company holds sensitive personal information such as names, birth dates, driver's licence numbers and listings of loan defaults.
Some customers unhappy
But CHOICE has recently heard from a number of Equifax customers who have called the company's reliability into question.
Both paying Equifax customers and those who are trying to correct mistakes in their credit profiles (which consumers can do for free) are telling us that the company's services are lacking or not being delivered at all.
(All consumers are entitled to one free credit report every three months from Equifax or other credit reporting agencies. You can also access a free report if you've been refused credit in the last 90 days or your information has been corrected.)
Equifax services not delivered
One Equifax customer, Joel, got in touch in April to let us know that he'd been paying $14.95 a month for Equifax's 'Your Credit and Identity Ultimate' subscription without receiving any service at all for the past two years.
He was supposed to be getting email alerts when someone accessed his Equifax report so he could make sure it was authorised activity and not an attempt at identity theft or other fraud.
He only found out he wasn't getting alerts when he discovered that his Equifax report had in fact been accessed by potential creditors.
After Joel complained, Equifax told him that customers not receiving email alerts was a 'known issue' at the company. Equifax offered him a free year's subscription to its services to make up for the error.
It's an issue if they cannot alert people to credit enquiries, which is the anti-fraud measure people are paying for
"I am not being alerted to anything, including two recent credit enquiries," Joel tells us. "Well yes it's an issue if they cannot alert people to credit enquiries, which is the anti-fraud measure people are paying for." Joel says the last time he got an email alert was in 2020.
In May, Equifax offered Joel a full refund for the two years, totalling $358.80.
Keeping your Equifax data away from cybercriminals is an important step in avoiding identity theft.
Trying to fix mistakes
Another Equifax customer, Eric, told us in May that he was experiencing "problems with accuracy, and problems trying to make corrections" and encountering "belligerence or no replies" when attempting to contact the company.
"But I am most concerned they have contracted with employers to vet employees," Eric says, adding that prospective employees have little choice but to accept the Equifax check.
Lauren, another customer, also reports that trying to contact Equifax to fix mistakes has been difficult.
It's just frustrating that the onus is on me to go through that process to fix the error on their end
She's a busy mum who runs her own small business, and potential creditors have been telling her there's something amiss with her Equifax credit report. It hasn't been easy to find out what that might be.
"I've started the process with Equifax to go through and update my information a couple of times, and it is quite a lengthy and convoluted process," Lauren says.
"It's just frustrating that the onus is on me to go through that process to fix the error on their end. They've got incorrect information, but it's on me to fix that and not them."
Mistakes in an Equifax credit report wouldn't be an unusual occurrence. In 2019 CHOICE had 27 people access their credit reports from Equifax to check for errors. There were plenty, ranging from information that surprised and confused the recipients to outright errors.
Services falling short
Mark Thomas also got in touch with us in May to highlight the shortcomings of Equifax's Credit and Identity services feature, which was meant to protect against fraudulent activity in his account.
Mark works for a financial institution and is familiar with the standard protocols around anti-fraud measures. He was getting Equifax Identity Watch alerts as part of his $119 a year subscription, but they were sorely lacking in detail.
Should I be alarmed or shouldn't I be alarmed? It's not telling me anything in regards to whether there's been a data breachMark Thomas, Equifax customer
Messages such as 'your email address may have been compromised' from Equifax raised the alarm without detailing who or where the email was used.
"They tell me my email address may have been compromised on the 12th of December, for instance, but that's it," Mark says. "Should I be alarmed or shouldn't I be alarmed? It's not telling me anything in regards to whether there's been a data breach."
Mark says calling Equifax to find out got him nowhere. "You can talk to somebody, but it's more in regards to if you have a technical problem, things like that."
Disproportionate number of AFCA complaints
CHOICE is not the only organisation that's been hearing from people who've had problems with Equifax.
Between November 2018 and December 2021, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority received 1558 complaints about Equifax, making it one of the most complained-about medium-size financial businesses in the country.
Between November 2018 and December 2021, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority received 1558 complaints about Equifax
And since July 2020, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which regulates privacy issues in Australia, has received 235 complaints about credit reporting bureaus in general. (There are two other main ones in addition to Equifax – illion and Experian – but Equifax has far more market share.)
According to a 2022 IBIS World report, "Equifax dominates the market in providing consumer credit and credit investigation services, accounting for an estimated 75% of the market".
We contacted Equifax for comment about the issues that have been reported to CHOICE, asking in particular whether other customers have paid for services they didn't receive.
The company says the reason our case study Joel wasn't receiving alerts was because its 'Your Credit and Identity Ultimate Subscription' "is a reactive service and a customer will only receive an email alert if any of their uploaded identity details are identified on the dark web", adding that "at this point in time we do not send email alerts advising customers that their uploaded identity details have been checked and have not been found on the dark web".
Yet the subscription also includes credit alerts "when certain things change on your credit report", the spokesperson says, and the company refunded Joel's money on the basis that he wasn't receiving the alerts.
'I was not advised'
Shown Equifax's response, Joel questioned which certain things Equifax was talking about, saying "I was not advised of personal details changes such as address, phone number or email which would have alerted me to potential identity theft or takeover. I was not advised of any credit alerts for credit card applications or phone contracts which, again, would be an early warning to identity theft. These are the items criminals generally target."
I was not advised of any credit alerts for credit card applications or phone contracts which, again, would be an early warning to identity theft. These are the items criminals generally targetJoel, Equifax customer
Another Equifax subscriber, Mark, was receiving alerts from Equifax, but was frustrated that the only information provided, "your email address may have been compromised" was of little use.
The Equifax spokesperson said that, "Identity Watch alerts simply alert the individual that this information has possibly been compromised. It is a potential early sign of identity fraud and enables an individual to be more vigilant. If a subscriber receives such an alert Equifax provides general advice to change their password for that email address."
Difficult to contact?
As for people reporting serious difficulties contacting Equifax to correct mistakes in their credit reports, the company said it takes its role "as a custodian of credit information very seriously and this includes ensuring the accuracy of credit reports" but didn't address the issue.
According to Equifax, once a correction request is made "our Customer Resolutions team will investigate within 30 days and provide a response in writing".
Equifax background checks
Equifax confirmed that it provides background checks for employers "to support informed employment decisions".
It raises concerns that people looking for a job or a place to live could be rejected based on incorrect information
At least one other company, the real estate business REA Group, uses Equifax for background checks on rental applicants if the applicant opts in to the 'tenant check' service on realestate.com's application platform 1Form. (REA owns realestate.com and seven other real estate-related websites.)
Given Equifax's spotty track record, it raises concerns that people looking for a job or a place to live could be rejected based on incorrect information.
Correction 7 July 2022: An earlier version of this story implied that credit checks were part of the REA's tenant check. REA checks do not include information from a consumer's credit report.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.