When Equifax was hacked in November 2017 it was described as one of the greatest data breaches in history—it affected more than 147 million Americans. After nearly two years of negotiations the consumer credit agency has reached a settlement agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In 2017 despite the company’s massive data breach reports indicate its annual revenue exceeded $3.36 billion—a near 7 percent increase in earnings over 2016 and the company earned another $3.41 billion in 2018.
The Equifax-FTC settlement—that caps at $700 million—first, appeared to me as a mere financial slap on of the wrist for Equifax; but when I learned that of the $700 million—only $425 million was set aside for individual compensation—it then seemed to render the settlement much less than a slap on the wrist for Equifax and instead, more of a slap in the face for consumers either harmed and/or placed at risk by the data breach. And, as I will explain further in this discourse, the settlement was is even more egregious than that.
Afterall, when you do the math, $425 million divided by 147 million victims will give each individual $2.89 in compensation for Equifax’s inability to secure their private data including their names, dates of birth, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers and Social Security information. Worst yet, during the investigation the company acknowledged it was actually warned about its system’s vulnerabilities to attacks as early as March 2017, but they failed to act.
Despite the agreement’s shortcomings here is what is important for you to know. First, if you have not already done so you should determine whether you were affected by the breach.
The process is simple and only takes a few seconds to complete using the online look-up tool at https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility. If you were impacted, the next step is to file a claim with Equifax at https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlement.
When making your claim you can choose between 10 years of free credit monitoring and $1 million in identity theft insurance or if you already have credit monitoring, you can elect to receive $125. If you elect the cash payment option, you must choose between receiving the payment in a check or as a debit card that will be mailed to your home.
But, here’s the rub between the choices. Of the $425 million dollar set aside for consumer compensation, only $31 million is earmarked for cash payments. So, if all 147 million people impacted by the breach apply for cash payments, the average payment would be 21 cents.
Bottom line, the settlement was structured in such a way that the bulk of the $425 million was set aside to pay for creditor monitoring and limited reimbursements for anyone who can prove they were financially harmed by the breach. In other words, much of the $425 million dollar compensation set aside will actually go to Equifax (and for at least for the first four years possibly Experian and TransUnion) who will receive compensation from the settlement for providing the credit monitoring offered as part of the settlement—consumer credit that Equifax placed at risk in the first place. Also, Equifax will be the only agency providing credit monitoring after the first four years through the end of the ten-year free monitoring period.
Those impacted by the breach can opt out of the settlement agreement and thus reserve the right to bring their own suit against Equifax however opting out will prevent you from receiving free credit monitoring and insurance protections.
For those who can prove they were harmed by the breach and incurred damages greater than $125, you can file for compensation up to a maximum of $20,000. Again, if you opt out of the settlement agreement you cannot participate in this option. File your claim online at https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlement.
Those wishing to be excluded from the settlement should send a letter filing a “request for exclusion from the 2017 data breach settlement.” The letter must be postmarked no later than November 19, 2019. Send your written request to Equifax Data Breach Class Action Settlement Administrator, Attn: Exclusion, C/O JND Legal Administration, P.O. Box 91318, Seattle, WA 98111-9418.
Although some call the Equifax settlement historic. Despite the $700 million amount I count myself among those who believe this is an epically bad deal for the American people. What a rip-off. Equifax is paying itself to fix a problem it caused through willful negligence. However, I also believe it is important for those impacted to act. If you were breached and do not act, you give up your right to sue Equifax in the future and you forfeit the (probably less than) $125 or 10 years of free credit monitoring offered as part of the settlement.
Yes, $700 million is a mere inconvenience for a company like Equifax that spent a combined total of more than 2.4 million in lobbying and candidate contributions (almost all to Republicans) during 2017 and 2018 combined according to the Center for Responsive politics.
As limited as the Equifax settlement is—in today’s America where everything is for sale —this may be the only way to hold conglomerates like Equifax that impact our lives in such consequential ways—even least bit accountable for their failures.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.