Data breaches affecting hundreds of millions of people are a sad reality of our interconnected world, but the 2017 Equifax breach was a major event by any standard. The credit reporting agency hack resulted in roughly 147 million people having their personal information compromised, with names, addresses, and Social Security numbers stolen for use in subsequent identity theft.
If you were one of the people who had to endure your data being disclosed and used without consent, there is some good news: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently approved a $425 million settlement with Equifax that will be used to compensate victims, with some consumers eligible to receive up to $20,000 for their troubles. Naturally, there's a catch.
To find out how much compensation you’re entitled to, you’ll need to go to the breach settlement website and file a claim. The site will be able to tell you if your information was impacted, making you eligible for four years of free credit monitoring at all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Equifax originally offered people the option of a $125 cash payment instead of the credit monitoring, but later withdrew the offer, citing limited funds. People can still opt for the cash payment, but Equifax has warned the amount will be significantly less than they initially promised.
If you’re one of the consumers who had to spend a significant amount of time protecting your identity due to hackers sharing and using your personal data, it’s still possible Equifax owes you money. The settlement allows for people to claim up to 10 hours of identity restoration efforts at $25 an hour with only minimal paperwork required. You’ll need to describe the actions taken as a result of the breach, like phoning credit card companies or dealing with unauthorized charges.
If you claim between 10 and 20 hours, you’ll need to go a step further and provide documentation proving fraud or identity theft happened as a result of the breach. If you have a paper trail, you can also claim expenses incurred in an effort to resolve the issue. That could mean professional fees to help restore your identity, mileage if travel was required, or document notarization.
In summary: If your data was affected, you’re eligible for free credit monitoring at minimum. If you spent 10 hours or less dealing with the fallout of the breach and can describe the steps you had to take, you can claim $25 an hour, or a max of $250. If you spent between 10 and 20 hours, you’ll need documentation to prove fraud occurred. That could net you an additional $250. You can also use those documents to request compensation for fees incurred to resolve the problem of up to $20,000. That could mean someone making large and unauthorized purchases on a card that were not refunded by the credit card company, for example.
It’s not likely most people will see the full $20,000 unless they really suffered a significant blow to their financial profile, and Equifax has already cautioned these payouts may be affected by the number of people submitting claims. In other words, you may be eligible for $500, but the amount could be reduced if a large number of people make similar and proven claims.
The deadline to file a claim is January 22, 2020. There’s one additional wrinkle: While the FTC and Equifax have agreed to the settlement, it still needs to be approved by a court. That’s likely but not guaranteed. You’ll also have to spend time preparing a lot of paperwork to see any significant amount of money. But at least it’s something.