October 24, 2019

What You Need to Know About the Equifax Data Breach Settlement

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Introduction

I wanted to share information I have learned about the Equifax data breach settlement. First, let’s review what this settlement is all about. In September 2017, Equifax announced that it had been the victim of a cyberattack on its systems. Thieves stole the personal information of approximately 147 million U.S. consumers. The information included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, or other personal information. Many lawsuits were brought on behalf of consumers resulting in a class action lawsuit.

Many articles have been released in various publications since the announcement of the proposed class action settlement on July 22, 2019. When I first started reading about the settlement, I got a bit confused as each article I read gave a slightly different perspective on the settlement and the various claims that can be made by consumers. This prompted me to make this attempt to summarize the key information for my clients in the hopes of making it easier for them to make a decision on which claim to file if they were impacted.

Note that the settlement has not been officially approved by the court yet. The settlement is being reviewed by the federal district court for the Northern District of Georgia. I searched but so far, I have not been able to find the date when the court is expected to rule on the settlement. The only thing I found was mention of a six-month court approval process. Even though the settlement has not been approved by the court yet, those who were impacted can file claims now in anticipation of the court approval.

And as is typical in these types of settlements, Equifax agreed to the settlement while denying any wrongdoing. If approved, the settlement will be the largest ever for a data breach at a cost of up to $700 million to Equifax.

Equifax Data Breach Settlement Website Addresses

Here is the address for the main Equifax data breach website.

https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/

Here is the address for the page to check if your information was stolen.

https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility

Here is the address for the Frequently Asked Questions page.

https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq

Here is the address for the page to start the online claim process.

https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/file-a-claim

Check if Your Information was Stolen

The first thing you should do is check to see if your information was stolen. If it was, then you are a class member entitled to a claim. Go to the following website to enter your name and last six digits of your Social Security number to find out.

https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility

If your information was stolen, you will see the following message:

If your information was not stolen, you will see the following message:

If your personal data was impacted (stolen), then you are automatically a settlement class member and you can file a claim. If you do not want to be a settlement class member, and want to keep the right to file your own lawsuit against Equifax in the future, you must choose to opt out of the settlement (explained in more detail down below).

Summary of Settlement Benefits

I have summarized the settlement benefits and key highlights of each below. Note that items 1 and 2 are exclusive of each other – you must choose one or the other. If applicable, items 3 and 4 can both be claimed in addition to item 1 or 2. All settlement class members automatically receive item 5 – you do not have to file a claim for item 5. I have also provided the Equifax website address for the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) related to each item so you can read the details for yourself if you want.

1. Free credit monitoring for 10 years.

  • This is instead of the cash payment of $125 (see item 2).
  • Includes four years of free credit monitoring for each of the three primary credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian; also called the three-bureau monitoring) followed by six more years of free credit monitoring for Equifax only (one-bureau monitoring).
  • Note that at the time you submit a claim for the free credit monitoring, you must choose to opt in to get the additional six years of monitoring provided by Equifax only (the one-bureau monitoring). However, this does not automatically sign you up for the one-bureau monitoring; it just means you will be notified with instructions on how to sign up for it before the three-bureau monitoring ends.
  • Includes up to $1 million dollars in insurance covering costs related to identity theft or fraud.
  • Dark web monitoring that monitors the internet for trading or selling of your personal information.
  • Up to 18 years of free credit monitoring for minors (the first four years for all three bureaus and the remainder for Equifax).
  • Deadline for filing this claim: 1/22/2020.
  • FAQ address: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-8

2. Cash payment of $125.

  • This is instead of the free credit monitoring (see item 1).
  • You can only make this claim if you certify that you already have credit monitoring and plan on keeping it for at least six months.
  • Note that the amount you claim will be proportionally reduced if more than $31 million in claims is made. Equifax has already indicated that due to the number of potentially valid claims submitted so far, that the payment you receive will be substantially lowered.
  • Deadline for filing this claim: 1/22/2020.
  • FAQ address: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-10

3. Cash payment for time spent.

  • If you have already spent time remedying fraud since the data breach or in taking preventative measures (such as enabling/disabling security freezes on credit reports, or purchasing credit monitoring or identity protection), you can submit the number of hours spent and be paid $25 per hour by Equifax for up to 20 hours.
  • For claims of 10 hours or less, you can describe your actions and time spent without having to provide proof.
  • For claims of more than 10 hours, you will have to provide documentation of fraud, identity theft, or other misuse of your personal information.
  • Note that the amount you claim will be proportionally reduced if more than $31 million in claims is made. Equifax has already indicated that due to the number of potentially valid claims submitted so far, that the payment you receive will be substantially lowered.
  • Deadline for filing this claim: 1/22/2020.
  • Extended claims period deadline: 1/22/2024 (for time spent after the 1/22/2020 deadline however, these claims will only be paid if there is money left in the fund).
  • FAQ address: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-7

4. Compensation for out-of-pocket losses up to $20,000.

  • If you have already spent money dealing with fraud or identity theft, or to protect yourself from future harm, then you can submit a claim for reimbursement up to $20,000 including your claim for time spent (see item 3 above).
  • Note that Equifax says fraud or identity theft you have experienced has to be fairly traceable to the data breach.
  • Claims can include the cost of credit monitoring services, fraud and identity theft services, loss of money, and other costs associated with repairing your identity and credit.
  • Up to 25% reimbursement for money paid to Equifax for credit monitoring or identity theft protection subscription products between 9/7/2016 and 9/7/2017.
  • Deadline for filing this claim: 1/22/2020.
  • Extended claims period deadline: 1/22/2024 (for claims for future losses).
  • FAQ address: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-7

5. Free identity restoration services.

  • All settlement class members will receive access to Assisted Identity Restoration services if they experience an identity theft event.
  • The services are provided for 7 years.
  • Services include access to a U.S. based call center providing services relating to identity restoration, assignment of a certified professional to assist you in addressing an identity theft event, and assistance with a step-by-step process to deal with companies, government agencies, and credit bureaus.
  • Available to all settlement class members even if you never make a claim from the settlement.
  • FAQ address: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-11

Opting Out

If you make a claim, or if you do nothing, then you will be releasing all of your legal claims relating to the data breach against Equifax (when the settlement becomes final). Basically, this means you are giving up your right to file a lawsuit or seek compensation from Equifax in the future.

If you want to keep your right to file a lawsuit against Equifax in the future, you must exclude yourself from the settlement class (also known as “opting out”). If you exclude yourself from the class, then you will not be able to participate in the settlement (you cannot receive any benefits from the settlement). In order to exclude yourself from the settlement, you must mail a written “request for exclusion” postmarked no later than 11/19/2019. Your request for exclusion must adhere to very specific requirements as outlined on the Equifax website. See frequently asked question 24 on the settlement website. Here is the address.

https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-24

What to Do If You Were Impacted?

First, you have to decide whether you want to remain a member of the settlement class. Are you okay with giving up your right to file a lawsuit against Equifax related to the data breach in the future? Even if you are not okay with that, do you think it is realistic that you would ever go to the trouble and expense of filing your own lawsuit? This is not an easy question to answer because we don’t know how our stolen information might be used in the future or what negative financial impact we might face because of its misuse.

Assuming you do not opt out of the settlement class, then if you have already spent time dealing with fraud or identity theft since the data breach and/or have related out-of-pocket expenses, you should file the claims described in items 3 and 4 above. If you do not have credit monitoring already, you should file the free credit monitoring claim described in item 1 above. If you already have credit monitoring, you may want to consider canceling it and then filing the free credit monitoring claim (assuming you can cancel with minimum or no penalty).

Filing the claim for the $125 in place of the free credit monitoring is probably not going to get you $125 because there is not enough money to pay out $125 to everyone who claims it. You will likely end up with very little. From a financial perspective, the free credit monitoring is the best option as it is likely worth thousands of dollars over a ten-year period.

Freeze Your Credit Reports

Consider freezing your credit reports. Credit monitoring tells you what happened after the fact but it cannot stop someone from opening credit in your name while a credit freeze can. If a lender is unable to access your credit history because of a freeze on your credit report, then it is likely they will not grant credit. By law, you are entitled to freeze and unfreeze your credit for free. Read the article 5 Boring but Important Financial Chores for the New Year that I wrote containing information on how to freeze your credit.

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