The Hidden Catches In the Equifax Settlement
Since the government’s settlement with Equifax was announced last month, the fine print is becoming clearer. So Billshark wants to bring you up to date on what we’ve learned in the intervening weeks and how it can affect you.
Nearly two years ago, Equifax failed to prevent a data breach that allowed hackers to steal the personal information of nearly 150 million Americans. (Equifax is one of the three leading credit reporting bureaus—TransUnion and Experian are the others.)
This was the third major hack of Equifax in less than two years. It took the company three months to disclose the theft. And three of its top executives sold large blocks of its stock days after Equifax discovered the breach, but before it was revealed to the public. In addition, Equifax admitted it was aware of the security flaw for a full two months before it took action to plug the hole, thus allowing hackers access.
On July 22, Equifax agreed to pay the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) up to $700 million to settle investigations into the data breach by 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and to cover civil penalties. Between $300 million and $425 million of that is earmarked to compensate consumers affected by the breach.
What consumers were offered
Affected consumers can get at least four years of free credit monitoring of their credit report at all three major credit bureaus, plus an additional six years of free credit monitoring of their Equifax credit report. Minors are eligible for even more free credit monitoring.
Those who decide to opt-out of the free credit monitoring can receive a cash payment of $125.
Consumers may also be eligible for reimbursement and cash payments of up to $20,000 for:
- time spent protecting their identity or recovering from identity theft (up to 20 hours at $25 per hour);
- money spent protecting their identity or recovering from identity theft, like the cost of freezing or unfreezing their credit report or disputing unauthorized charges to their accounts; and,
- up to 25 percent of the cost of Equifax credit monitoring or identity protection products they bought between September 7, 2016 and September 7, 2017.
Finally, affected consumers are eligible for free identity restoration services for at least seven years if someone steals their identity or they experience fraud.
The money isn’t there
For some reason, the government negotiators who agreed to let Equifax off the hook by paying $31 million to the estimated 150 million affected victims didn’t realize that $31 million divided by 150 million wouldn’t equal $125 each.
“The public response to the settlement has been overwhelming,” the FTC reported. “Because the total amount available for these alternative payments is $31 million, each person who takes the money option is going to get a very small amount.”
The money is available for the free credit monitoring, however, and the reimbursement for recovering from identity theft.
You give up rights if you settle
If you were impacted by the breach and you do nothing, you will automatically waive your right to sue Equifax in the future. Remember, just because you haven’t been the victim of identity theft yet, this information is permanently “out there” and you may be impacted in the future.
By filing a claim, you also will lose your right to take future legal action, because you will have “settled” your claim.
What you can do
If you wish to file a claim, experts recommend opting for the free credit monitoring, which could be worth hundreds of dollars a year. Even if you have free credit monitoring through another source (as a result of some other data breach or through your credit card, for example), it may last only a year or two or cover only one or two of the three credit monitoring bureaus.
If you don’t want to give up your right to sue, you must opt out of the settlement entirely by filing a written “request for exclusion” by mail with the settlement administrator postmarked no later than November 19th, 2019. For more information on how to do this, check question #23.
If you have already filed a claim for the money, it’s not too late to opt for the free credit monitoring instead. According to the FTC, once the court approves the deal, the settlement administrator will be sending emails to people who submitted a claim for the cash alternative. However, the email will also give you an opportunity to switch to free credit monitoring. If you don’t want to wait, send an email to: info@Equifaxbreachsettlement.com.
Unlike this pitiful excuse for a “settlement,” Billshark is always on the up-and-up. Our offer is simple: Send us your bills and we’ll review them for free. You pay only if we can save you money. Period.