EDITOR’S NOTE: Editor’s note: After this column was published, Equifax began requiring that applicants for alternative compensation of up to $125 to name the credit monitoring service they have subscribed to. Or to amend their claim to get 4 years of free credit monitoring. See https://secure.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/amendclaim.
The bad news is that I’m among the 147 million Americans whose personal data was stolen when the credit agency Equifax was accessed by hackers in April 2017. Name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.—all in the hands of bad guys.
Understandably, people weren’t too happy about this. And it’s likely that those bad guys have used some of that information to open up credit card accounts and other malfeasance. The result was a class-action lawsuit, which has now been settled.
The good news is that as a result of this $700 million settlement, Equifax is going to send me as much as $125. (However, the amount could be significantly less, depending on how many people request this particular reimbursement from Equifax, since they’ve capped the total at $31 million.)
You can check to see if your personal data was accessed in this breach by going to a website set up by Equifax at eligibility.EquifaxBreachSettlement.com. Simply enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number and click Submit.
(If you’re wary of entering the last six digits of your Social Security number, the fact is Equifax already has that information—and more.)
The intention of sending you money is to reimburse you for expenses you may have incurred by subscribing to a credit-monitoring service or identity-theft-protection service such as LifeLock in order to protect yourself from the bad guys.
Optionally, instead of the money, you can choose to sign up for four years of free credit monitoring from the three major credit agencies and six additional years from Equifax, giving you free monitoring for a total of 10 years.
Me, I just wanted the cash. If I suspect any new credit cards have been opened up in my name, I can simply go to AnnualCreditReport.com and get a free credit report. Federal law allows you to get one free credit report per year from each of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Plus, starting in 2020, you can get six free credit reports per year for seven years from the Equifax website.
In addition, my credit card company, Citi, immediately alerts me if there’s a change in my credit score. If someone opened credit cards under my name and began making lots of charges, it would likely trigger an alert.
If your credit card company doesn’t offer a similar service, you can simply sign up for a free account on CreditKarma.com to monitor your credit score and receive alerts.
Suppose you’re unlucky and suffered identity theft—resulting in hours trying to clear up the mess. Equifax will also reimburse you for that time and expense—up to $20,000. They’ll pay you $25 per hour for the time you spend, up to 20 hours. You’ll need to submit documentation showing the time spent.
In addition, they’ll reimburse you for a range of losses, such as unauthorized charges on your accounts, fees paid to attorneys or accountants, costs associated with freezing your credit report (making it difficult for thieves to open accounts in your name), any costs associated with credit monitoring, and other expenses such as notary fees, document shipping fees and postage, mileage, and phone charges.
The easiest way to file a claim is to go to EquifaxBreachSettlement.com. This page walks you through the above options: 10 years of free monitoring, $125, reimbursement for time spent, and reimbursement for losses. If you want reimbursement beyond $125, they specify the documentation you need to submit. They give you a choice of being paid by check or debit card.
The deadline for filing a claim is January 22, 2020. According to a helpful FTC page, payment will begin January 23 at the earliest.
What if you haven’t yet been a victim of identity theft but the stolen data results in such a theft in the future? Even if you don’t file a claim now, for at least the next seven years you can get free help restoring your identity by calling the settlement administrator at (833) 759-2982.
You can also opt out of the class action settlement and yourself sue Equifax, thereby not being bound by the $20,000 cap. The deadline for opting out is November 19 and requires sending a letter in which you file a “request for exclusion.”
If you don’t file a claim before January 22, or don’t opt out by November 19, you’ll lose any opportunity for compensation.
It just takes a couple minutes to go for the $125 option. And according to an interesting article in Slate, you ought to do it sooner rather than later. After all, the bad guys have your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number. They might decide to go for it themselves.
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