By Jon Aldrich
You have probably heard by now either on social media, the news, or your friends that everyone is entitled to their $125 for damages from the Equifax data breach in 2017. Wow, this is great, how do I partake in this windfall? Well, not so fast. There is an inconvenient truth that has not been so well explained, and I wouldn’t hold out much hope for getting anything remotely close to $125 in cash. So Jon, are you are telling me that social media had misleading information on it? That never happens, does it? Well, I am here to help you sift through the reality of the situation and discuss what you actually “might” get if you fill out the settlement documents versus what the posts on Facebook may tell you.
The Equifax breach was monumental in the number of people whose sensitive data was exposed to nefarious eyes. Estimates ranged from 143 million to 147 million people that were affected. You can check to see if you were affected here. You do have to give the last 6 digits of your Social Security number, but Equifax already has this information, so it is not like you are disclosing anything new to them. They just need it to verify if you were one of the affected.
Let’s crunch the numbers and find out why you will not be getting $125 in cash. If you go to the Federal Trade Commission site for this breach https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlement and scroll down to FAQ # 7, you will see that in the infinite wisdom of the government and the attorneys involved that only $31 million of the $575 million settlement was set aside for the $125 payouts for affected persons. Ok, let’s do the math: If only 248,000 people apply, then they would all be entitled to $125 ($31,000,000/248,000 = $125 per person). Easy enough, right? But up to 147 million people were affected, so let’s just say only 1 million of them apply, the settlement drops to $31 per person ($31,000,000/1,000,000 = $31 per person). If 70 million people apply, that leave 44 cents per person! Heck, the stamp is going to cost you more than that if you mail it in!
If you can prove that your identity was stolen and there were monetary damages to resolve, you can apply to receive cash compensation of up to $20,000. This could include attorney and professional fees, your time and other costs incurred to get your identity back. It is unknown how many people suffered identity theft as a result of this breach.
But instead of opting for the measly cash settlement, you can opt for the 10 years of free credit monitoring that is being offered. However, many experts say that this credit monitoring is largely useless, as there have been so many other breaches that have offered free credit monitoring the last few years. Also, many credit cards and other organizations offer free credit monitoring, so how is a redundant service going to help you? The ultimate protection from identity theft is to just do a credit freeze. Credit freezes are free to do. However, if you do not already have some credit monitoring and don’t want to freeze your credit, companies still do charge for it at up to $25 a month, so you could consider 10 years of credit monitoring up to a $3,000 value, if you want to take an optimistic view. Personally, I would not value it that high.
One more thing to note, is that if you elect to take the cash or credit monitoring, you do vacate your right to sue Equifax. So, if you were expecting to dig your heels in and take them to court, do not file a claim.
How to change your selection if you've already filed your claim
If you have filed a claim, you should receive an email from the settlement administrator giving you an option to switch from a cash payment to credit monitoring. There's no word on when this email might go out, so just keep an eye on your inbox, and if you're worried you can contact the settlement administrator directly.
However, when you file (or update) your claim, be careful. Scammers are trying to steal your personal information by putting up fake claim sites. Before handing over your personal data, be sure you know who you’re handing it to. The only valid websites for the Equifax settlement are ftc.gov/Equifax and equifaxbreachsettlement.com. If you’re on any other website, you’re probably being scammed.
All in all, many people are rather upset at the meager amount of cash being set aside for this settlement and with good reason. Also, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is partially responsible for all the misinformation going around regarding the $125 that everyone was supposed to get. I just hope you have not spent it already. And now Capital One has been breached and another 100 million are affected! What (or who’s) in your wallet!