MARYLAND — Millions of people visited the Equifax data breach settlement site the first week it went online to apply for their share of the restitution, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Officials said more than 147 million Americans were impacted, including 3 million in Maryland, after the credit reporting company left sensitive data exposed to cyberattackers.
As restitution, Equifax offered the option of free credit-monitoring to victims of its data breach or up to $125 in cash for those who already had credit-monitoring services; and in late July, it set up a website where people could file claims.
Given what it called an "overwhelming response," the Federal Trade Commission this week issued a statement saying that the cash payout would likely be nowhere near $125.
Theoretically, if all 147 million people affected asked for the $125 payout and qualified, each would receive $0.21.
"A large number of claims for cash instead of credit monitoring means only one thing: each person who takes the money option will wind up only getting a small amount of money, nowhere near the $125 they could have gotten if there hadn't been such an enormous number of claims filed," according to a statement from the Federal Trade Commission
"So, if you haven't submitted your claim yet, think about opting for the free credit monitoring instead," the commission advised. "Frankly, the free credit monitoring is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year. And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already, because it monitors your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting agencies, and it comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services."
A separate pot of money is available for those who have paid out-of-pocket for services like hiring someone to help with identity theft or credit freezes, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which advised those people to ensure they submit documentation when making their claims.
"There is still money available under the settlement to reimburse people for what they paid out of their pocket to recover from the breach," officials said.
Benefits will not be distributed until Jan. 23, 2020, at the earliest, a date set by the court.
What To Do If You Submitted A Claim Already
"Because of high interest in the alternative cash payment under the settlement, consumers who choose this option might end up getting far less than $125," the Federal Trade Commission said in a July 31 statement, one week after the online portal went up for Equifax victims to file claims.
Those who want to change their preferred benefit to credit monitoring as opposed to the cash payment option can email the settlement administrator at info@EquifaxBreachSettlement.com.
People who have submitted claims already for the $125 payment will receive an email from the settlement administrator asking for the name of the credit-monitoring service they are using. They should also anticipate not receiving the full $125 amount.
What To Do If Impacted By The Equifax Breach
Social Security numbers, names, dates of birth, addresses, credit card numbers and in some cases, driver's license numbers, were left exposed after the Equifax failed to patch a vulnerability in its security monitoring system. As the breach went undetected for more than two months in 2017, sensitive information of 56 percent of adults was compromised.
Equifax has a tool so people can check whether they were impacted by the Equifax breach and are eligible for part of the settlement.
About 3 million Marylanders were affected, according to Attorney General Brian Frosh, who said that Equifax was now mandated to make "significant changes in the way it does business."
Equifax agreed to pay a total of $425 million to individuals and $175 million to states impacted by the breach, in the settlement made public July 22. The more than 40-page consent decree Equifax signed with Maryland outlines measures the company must also take to protect personal data, including weekly security checks and reports.
Within the $425 million to individuals, there is a $31 million cap for those seeking reimbursement for credit monitoring. According to the settlement, the $31 million will be divided equally among those who are eligible, so the more people ask for the payout, the less money goes to each person.
Those impacted can file a claim with Equifax on the settlement page.
People must file claims by Jan. 22, 2020.
There is also a portal through the Federal Trade Commission dedicated to the Equifax data breach settlement.
How To Protect Your Personal Information
- Get a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
- Call the Equifax Settlement Administrator at 1-833-759-2982.
- Take advantage of any free services being offered as a result of the breach.
- Use two-factor authentication on your online accounts whenever available.
- Consider a credit freeze.