With 147 million consumers impacted, the scale of the 2017 Equifax data breach is the largest in cybersecurity history. From full names and dates of birth to driver’s license numbers and social security numbers, the data breach enabled hackers to gain access to a plethora of information about some 56 percent of all American consumers.
Equifax confirmed during the investigation that they had been informed in March of the system vulnerability that allowed the September incident to occur. They also admitted that they did nothing at the time to patch or repair the known vulnerability.
Many have waited on pins and needles for the settlement agreement that was just announced yesterday. In total, the company agreed to a total $700 million dollar settlement with state and federal investigators.
It will pay $175 million to states in civil penalties. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will also receive $100 million in fines from the company.
The remaining $425 million will be a restitution fund directed at helping consumers affected by the data breach. It’s broken down into $300 million dedicated immediately, and an additional $125 million at the ready should compensation exceed the initial $300 million.
How Can Benefits Be Claimed?
There is a website set up by Equifax that explains the settlement and where you can file a claim. You can visit www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com.
The settlement administrator is now accepting claims. The deadline to file a claim is January 22nd, 2020. Filing a claim online is very simple and easy! The FTC is encouraging anyone affected to sign up for email alerts about the settlement and claims process.
What Benefits Will Be Available To Impacted Consumers?
Under the settlement, consumers will be able to make a number of claims for benefits, including:
1. 10 Years Of Free Credit Monitoring
The ten years of free credit monitoring is broken down into two tiers. Claimants will be able to request at least four years of free credit monitoring from all three major credit bureaus. Thereafter, claimants can request up to six years of free credit monitoring based on Equifax’s credit report services alone.
Some Important Notes:
• The first tier is accompanied by $1 million in identity theft insurance.
• Claimants will revive an activation code via email or postal mail for free credit monitoring.
• The settlement extends the free credit monitoring services to 18 years for anyone who was a minor at the time of the incident.
• Those already enrolled in a credit monitoring service that will last at least six months can opt to receive a $125 payment instead of the free credit monitoring.
• Currently, all Americans can request one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus. From 2020 to at least 2027, all U.S. consumers will now have annual access to an extra six free credit reports from Equifax’s website.
2. Free Identity Restoration Services
To help victims recover from identity theft and fraud, claimants can receive at least seven years of free identity restoration services.
3. Cash Payments & Reimbursements
Claimants may be eligible for certain time reimbursements and cash payments. These are limited to $20,000 in total and will be paid by either debit or check sent to your mailing address. It includes three parts:
• Consumers who purchased any of EQUIFAX’s identity protection or credit monitoring services from September 7, 2016 to September 7, 2017 can claim a reimbursement for up to 25 percent of the cost.
• Payment for up to 20 hours of time spent on recovery from identity theft and/or on identity theft protection. Payment is $25 per hour for a maximum cash payment of $500.
• Reimbursement for any monies spent recovering from identity theft and/or guarding against it, including the cost of credit reports, unauthorized charges, and fees to accounts, freezing and unfreezing actions, accounting and legal fees, and even phone and postage charges incurred.
How Hard Will It Be To Collect Benefits?
Given that officials and Equifax spokespeople agree that the information connected with the data breach hasn’t ever actually been found for sale anywhere on the dark web, experts agree that proving that data was misused and connecting it back to this data breach will be an uphill battle. Out-of-pocket financial losses and documentation of time spent preventing and/or correcting those losses may be equally hard for consumers to prove.
With the above said, a New York Attorney General’s Office spokesperson and an FTC spokesperson have both said that the rules will allow any consumer who’s been victimized by any breaches, not just identifiable to Equifax, to apply for compensation if it occurred after the September incident and involved the same type of personal information.
The FTC also stated that it intends to make the restitution process as easy as possible, and they’re advising that potential claimants start gathering any documentation that supports their claims now.
Concern For Further Victimization?
As with any settlement involving direct financial compensation to consumers, there’s always the possibility and likelihood of unscrupulous individuals further victimizing the victims. These people call, text, email, and even send out direct mail under the guise that they’re officials trying to help consumers gain compensation. They’ll ask for sensitive information or even claim that the consumer needs to pay to be compensated. Never give out personal information to unsolicited sources.
The FTC is very clear that the next steps are still awaiting court approval. Again, claims are not open yet. Any benefits will not be sent out until the claim’s process deadline expires, and that hasn’t been set yet. The FTC advises consumers to sign up for the email list on their website, which will only ask for an email address and no other information, to receive updates and further instructions.
What Should You Do Now?
Save all documents you have related to your efforts to avoid fraud or recover from identity theft after the 2017 Equifax data breach. Check out more information by visiting: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2019/07/Equifax-pay-575-million-part-settlement-ftc-cfpb-states-related