Equifax hack: Financial expert Mellody Hobson says "assume you are breached"

Equifax is already facing more than 30 lawsuits over one of the largest cyberattacks in history. The credit reporting company disclosed last Thursday that hackers stole the personal information of about 143 million Americans. That includes Social Security numbers, addresses and credit card data.  

So what can hackers do with this information?

"Very simply, steal your identify. Steal it. They can go out and get credit cards, loans, wreak havoc on your credit," CBS News financial contributor Mellody Hobson said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning." "This is a bad situation for Equifax and for people in America and Canada and the U.K. where they were exposed."

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Mellody Hobson

CBS News

While Equifax set up a website where you could check if you are potentially impacted, Hobson advised people to "take the safest precaution and assume you are breached because these numbers are so huge."

"The one thing I want to make sure our viewers understand: this is not a short-term thing," Hobson said. "You want to be vigilant about this credit monitoring for a long time because a lot of the data that was breached is evergreen. Like your Social Security number and your birth date. This is not about a credit card number that will expire or that you can change."

The company now faces mounting criticism over how it's handled the breach. Hobson said Equifax has "bungled" the response "in every way possible."

"Everything from initially the site had some kinks in it when you went to check it, to the fact that they had this waiver that $9 worth of free credit monitoring would be worth waiving your rights to a future lawsuit. They have since changed that," Hobson said. "There's some questions around some stock sales that occurred for three senior people inside of the company that they say is coincidental. I mean, there are a lot of issues here. And I would expect at a company of this scale and size and this kind of sensitive data to have run all sorts of scenarios to be prepared for a crisis like this, and clearly they're making this up as they're going along. This is just not good."

Hobson said Equifax has already lost about 22 percent of its market value – "$4.5 billion just wiped out in days." They'll also be spending a lot of money on legal fees, she said.

"I think they will be paying some settlements in terms of these suits and so this is going to go on for a while," Hobson said.

CBS News reached out to Equifax about the lawsuits. They sent back a "progress update for consumers," which is posted on their website. In a statement initially announcing the hack, the company's CEO said: "We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations."

The FBI is also investigating the breach, and Hobson said she expects the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to look into it as well.