In September 2017, Equifax—one of the country's three major credit reporting bureaus—announced that criminals had hacked into its computer network. This breach exposed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver's license numbers of around 147 million people. Many lawsuits against Equifax, as well as governmental investigations into the company, followed. On July 22, 2019, Equifax agreed to pay up to $700 million in a settlement over its lapse in security. Much of the money (around $500 million) was earmarked to help consumers.
Read on to learn more about the Equifax settlement, how to get compensation if your confidential data was revealed in the breach, and what you can do to protect yourself from identity thieves.
Under the settlement terms, Equifax agreed to set up a fund to provide free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to consumers, as well as provide cash payments to people affected by the breach—up to $20,000 per person. The company also has to pay government fines and legal fees.
Here are the parts of the settlement that are of most interest to affected consumers.
Consumers can get free credit monitoring or up to $125. Under the terms of the settlement, you can get free credit monitoring services. You'll get at least four years of credit monitoring at the three major bureaus (through Experian), as well as $1,000,000 of identity theft insurance, plus up to six more years of free one-bureau credit monitoring from Equifax. If you were a minor in May 2017, you are eligible for a total of 18 years of free credit monitoring.
If you already have credit monitoring or protection services in place that will last for at least six more months, you may ask for a cash payment of up to $125 instead. However, the amount you'll actually receive will likely be much less. (See "Should You Pick Free Credit Monitoring or the Cash?" below.) And, if you already made a claim for the money, you'll have to take the additional step of verifying your claim by October 15, 2019. Or you can choose to switch to credit monitoring, or choose to opt out of both options. Keep an eye out for an email from the breach settlement administrator with instructions on how to complete the verification or go to the official settlement website.
Cash payments. You can get compensation for up to 20 hours at $25 per hour for the time you spent taking measures to prevent identity theft or dealing with identity theft. Ten hours can be self-certified, requiring no documentation.
Some consumers may be eligible for cash payments up to $20,000 to cover losses fairly traceable to the breach, such as:
Identity restoration services. If your identity is stolen, you may get at least seven years of free identity restoration services to help correct the effects of identity theft and fraud. Identity restoration services include:
To get free credit monitoring or a cash payment (or both), you must submit a claim:
You can opt to get payment in the form of a check or prepaid card. Class members will have six months—until January 22, 2020—to claim benefits, but don't need to file a claim to get free identity restoration services. If you're unsure of whether you're a class member, visit EquifaxBreachSettlement.com or call 833-759-2982.
After January 22, 2020, you can still file a claim if you incur expenses between January 23, 2020, and January 22, 2024, due to identity theft or fraud related to the breach, like:
You can be compensated up to $25 per hour up to 20 hours, but funds are limited so the amount you actually receive might be less. Even if you don't file a claim, you may still get free help to recover from identity theft.
On February 10, 2020, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it indicted four members of China's military for the cyberattack on Equifax. As of that date, the hackers hadn't used any of the information that they accessed and the data hasn't been found for sale on the Internet. But if your sensitive information was exposed in this data hack, you should initiate a credit freeze with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) because who knows what might eventually happen to all of the stolen confidential information. A credit freeze prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit files to review your credit history, which stops an identity thief from opening up new accounts in your name. Under federal law, placing or lifting a freeze on your credit files is free. Consider putting a fraud alert on your files as well.
You should also get free copies of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can get a free report from each of the three bureaus once a year. And, starting in 2020, you can get six additional credit reports from Equifax each year for seven years. Review your credit reports carefully, and make sure your personal and account information is correct. If you find errors or fraudulent activity on one or more of your reports, file a dispute with the credit bureau that produced the report.
To keep tabs on the Equifax Data Breach Settlement's progress and find out more about how to file a claim, go to the official settlement website. To learn more about the settlement, go to ftc.gov/Equifax. You can also sign up to get FTC email updates about this settlement.
To get more information about how to protect yourself if someone steals your identity or what to do after your personal information is compromised in a data breach, go to Identitytheft.gov and Identitytheft.gov/databreach. Identitytheft.gov is the federal government's primary resource for identity theft victims. If you're a victim of identity theft, you can get a personal recovery plan, find sample letters to send to your creditors, and get an Identity Theft Report.
If you need help straightening out your credit or dealing with collectors, or if you're being sued because a thief used your identity to incur debts, consider talking to an attorney. Also, consider talking to an attorney if you want to opt out of the settlement and sue Equifax on your own for claims related to the data breach. The deadline to opt out is November 19, 2019. (If you don't do anything—opt out or make a claim—you lose both the chance to sue and the opportunity to get compensation under the settlement.)
Effective date: July 22, 2019