The Equifax security breach caught me off guard and took some time to fully comprehend. It meant my financial information had probably been compromised. My stolen identity could be used soon (if not already), in ten years, never. But the bottom line was that I would be more vulnerable – for the rest of my life. Like many others, I felt shocked and more than miffed.
The breach came during a crunch period when I already had lots of pending deadlines. Knowing I didn’t have much time to deal with this sudden intrusion, I quickly placed a credit freeze with all three reporting agencies and immediately felt a sense of relief.
Several days later, however, I found out that the Personal Identification Number (PIN) that Equifax assigned to my account freeze wasn’t random and could easily be deciphered. By using that number, a hacker could unfreeze my account. I mumbled a sarcastic, “Great” to myself, annoyed that now I needed to get a new number.
Determined to keep this unexpected threat off my worry list, I scoured the Equifax website for instructions on how to change your PIN. No luck. I tried to muster more resolve when I realized that I would have to reach them by phone.
Surprisingly, I quickly got through to a live person and asked about how to change my freeze number. When the representative said she didn’t know and couldn’t help me, I asked for another number to call. She said, “I don’t have one.”
What? She didn’t have a number she could refer me to? Obviously peeved by her reply, I pressed her, and she gave me a number that turned out to be an automated line for placing a fraud alert. No help there. Plus, I felt worse after letting my anger spill into our conversation.
I called the “dedicated call center” again and spoke with another female staff member. Only this time I thought about what it must be like to work at Equifax right now and have to deal with callers who were frustrated and angry. I knew the woman I was speaking with had zero responsibility for the breach, so why express my irritation to her?
Instead, I said, “It must be tough having to talk to so many frustrated people. I hope it goes well.” She seemed relieved and thankful for my simple acknowlegement and well wishes.
Despite spending 45 minutes and calling five numbers, I never got the information I needed. But I ended my efforts with a better feeling inside than when I started – after I deliberately chose to show kindness and understanding to the woman on the phone. My kindness seems to boomerang and comes back to me. I’m left with a good feeling, knowing I treated someone else the way I would want to be treated.
The Equifax call reminded me of a life lesson I’ve learned many times in the past and am clearly still learning: There is always time to be kind. To smile at a stranger for no reason. To say something supportive to a store clerk who is struggling to help customers. To offer a light-hearted comment to someone stuck in a long checkout line.
To thank a customer service representative who has helped me over the phone, making sure to express the sincerity of my thanks. Small, everyday ways to interact with people that lift us both up just a bit in the brief moment of our connection.
These things don’t make my task any longer. They don’t take extra time. And they definitely make me feel better. Offering spontaneous acts of kindness is a life lesson I keep practicing, trusting that my practice will help me get better at shining a little light when I can. It doesn’t take much to make any experience more positive.
I eventually got a new account number, and I’ll keep taking more steps to protect my identity and financial information. But for right now, my anger at Equifax is overshadowed by a sense of gratitude for a situation that gave me one more chance to learn an important lesson in life.
Linda Gannaway of Fresno is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of Life Lessons: How to Learn Your Lessons and Create the Life You Want.” Connect with her at www.lindagannaway.com.