JULY 28, 2019
Two years after Equifax revealed that hackers accessed the personal information of up to 147 million people, the credit bureau’s newly-announced settlement for up to $700 million will provide cash payments for those who have been affected — but there are some key requirements people should be aware of before they file a claim.
Under the terms of the settlement announced Monday, the major credit bureau is paying a mix of government fines, legal fees and, most importantly for consumers, setting up a fund that will underwrite free credit monitoring, identity theft protection and individual cash payments to people affected by the breach, which are capped at $20,000 per person.
Some 147 million American consumers had their personal information stolen, according to the class-action lawsuit being settled in the deal. That’s almost half of the 329.2 million people living in America. The stolen information included names and birth dates, and hackers also took approximately 146 million Social Security numbers, according to Equifax’s SEC filings.
Equifax (EFX) is immediately paying $300 million into the consumer fund, and it will add another $125 million to pay further out-of-pocket expenses if needed.
Mark Begor, the company’s CEO, said at a Monday press conference that the total payout was “by far, the largest ever” for a data breach case. “It reflects, from our perspective, the seriousness in which we took this matter.” Equifax denied any wrongdoing in the breach as part of the settlement.
Equifax has not seen instances of stolen data being used for identity theft and it has not found hacked personal data for sale on the dark web since the September 2017 breach, he said. Because of that, Begor anticipated the company wouldn’t have to pay the extra $125 million to the fund.
However, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who co-led the attorneys general probe into the incident, said individual consumers were harmed. “For some, their identity was stolen,” he said in a press conference, but did not provide specifics about the cases or the number of stolen identities. Jacklin Rhoads, a spokeswoman for Shapiro’s office, declined to give specific numbers, but said the office did see a rise in consumer complaints about alleged identity theft after the breach.
“This breach happened because Equifax was more interested in profits than in infrastructure to protect our data.,” Shapiro sad.
Begor noted Equifax is also invest $1.25 billion into the company’s technology and security.
Getting reimbursed for documented losses tied to the breach could prove difficult, however. Here’s what you need to know before putting in a claim for the cash and credit monitoring:
Credit and ID theft monitoring
Affected consumers will get four years of credit monitoring and identity protection from Equifax and the two other major credit bureaus Experian (UK:EXPN) and TransUnion (TRU) . Though all three bureaus are monitoring, Experian is the company relaying the information to consumers. After those four years, Equifax is offering six extra years of credit monitoring.
If consumers in the class action already have credit monitoring, they can be paid $125.
Every person can receive up to $500 for the time they spent “taking preventative measure or dealing with identity theft,” court papers said. Consumers are eligible for up to 20 hours of reimbursement. Ten hours — $250 — can be self-certified and do not require any documentation, according to the document. Another 10 hours have to backed up by documentation such as banking and credit card statements.
The fund will pay back up to $20,000 “for documented loses fairly traceable to the breach,” the filing said. That could include expenses like the cost of freezing and unfreezing a credit file, paying for an attorney, accountant or credit monitoring services.
To prove those out-of-pocket loses and preventative steps, court papers on the settlement said claimants will have to supply “reasonable documentation” that includes credit card statements, bank statements, invoices, telephone records, and receipts.
Settlement payouts will be overseen by a third-party administrator. It falls on the administrator decide what qualifies as “fairly traceable.” Some of the factors include timing of the alleged loss, which have to happened after May 13, 2017 and whether the loss involved the type of personal data stolen from Equifax.
In the wake of the breach, experts recommended consumers to put a freeze on their credit report, which meant no one — including potential lenders — could access credit report information without their permission.
Only 8% of consumers froze their credit report, but 65% of consumers said they looked at bank and credit card statements a lot more often since the breach, according to a survey last year.
An Equifax spokesman said the company does not publicly disclose the number of credit freezes.
When does the claims process start?
The claims process will start once a judge approves the settlement. The proposed settlement was filed Monday morning in Atlanta federal court. Approval of the settlement will likely take several months. Equifax is estimating that plaintiffs’ lawyers will ask for final approval on the settlement by late this year, or early 2020, according to the company’s Monday morning call with reporters.
How do I know if I’m one of the 147 million people allegedly affected by the breach?
There will be four emails sent to class members, and “aggressive digital and social media campaign,” radio ads and a full-page advertisement in USA Today, according to court papers filed Monday.
Another way to keep tabs on the case, or find out if you were affected at all, is a website that’s been specially established for the settlement, and a toll-free number: 1-833-759-2982.
The settlement claims website will have a tool letting consumers plug in their name to see if they are a member of the class, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In addition to settling with the 50 states and the class action case, Equifax is also settling with the FTC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
What if I’m not in the lawsuit’s class of consumers?
Equifax’s deal has bearing for everyone, not just plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.
Beginning next year, all consumers in the US. Can receive six free credit reports per year from Equifax for seven years. That’s a big increase, because right now, consumers are entitled to one free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
Equifax shares are up 48.6% from the start of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is up more than 16% in that same time, while the S&P 500 Index (SPX) has seen a 19% gain.