WASHINGTON — Equifax announced Tuesday that its chief executive would step down effective immediately, weeks after the credit-reporting company disclosed a massive data breach.
Richard Smith, who also served as chairman of the Equifax board, is the latest casualty at the company as a result of the breach, which exposed the Social Security numbers and birthdates of as many as 143 million people.
Equifax’s weekslong delay in notifying the public about the intrusion into its vast database of sensitive information and the bungled handling of potential fixes led to an outcry from consumers and lawmakers as well as state and federal investigations.
The company’s stock price has tumbled as it scrambled to control the damage, including backtracking on initially making consumers give up their right to sue if they wanted free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.
Adding to Equifax’s troubles was the revelation that three executives sold thousands of shares of company stock in the days after the breach was discovered on July 29 _ long before the public was informed of the breach this month and the stock price nosedived.
Equifax has said the executives were unaware of the breach when they sold the shares.
The company’s stock was down about 1.8 percent Tuesday. It has declined about 27 percent since the data breach was announced.
Smith’s abrupt departure came just days before he is scheduled to face angry lawmakers at two congressional hearings. He still will receive his full pension, which was valued at $18.4 million as of the end of last year, but he will not get a 2017 bonus or severance payment, Equifax spokeswoman Ines Gutzmer said.
The board appointed Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., a seven-year veteran of the company who most recently served as its Asia Pacific region president, as interim CEO. The board also appointed independent member Mark Feidler to serve as non-executive chairman.
Equifax said it would start a search for a permanent CEO and would consider candidates from outside the company.