by Chelsea Vuchinich
What you need to know about the Equifax Settlement.
Now that Equifax has made a preliminary Settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission, 147 million affected Americans have some decisions to make.
On July 22, 2019 Equifax reached a preliminary settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and 50 U.S. states and territories regarding the data breach of September 2017. That breach exposed the personal information of approximately 147 million Americans, nearly half the population of the United States. This information included addresses, names, birthdates, social security numbers as well as other personal data. Hackers also accessed thousands of images uploaded to Equifax's servers of social security cards, passports and driver's licenses. Because this is only a preliminary settlement, no benefits will be distributed until the Final Approval Hearing. That hearing will be held on December 19, 2019.
Who was affected?
An estimated 147 million Americans and 100,000 Canadians.
Was my data affected?
Check your Eligibility.
What are the main Risks of Identity theft?
Identity theft can take different forms. Financial, Medical and Criminal are the three major types and all three can cause considerable damage to those individuals affected. If you are concerned that you may be a victim of identity theft please let us know and we can provide suggestions which may include setting up a PIN to file your tax return.
What are my options?
Free Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection Services
Up to 10 years of free credit monitoring. The free credit monitoring includes: At least four years of free monitoring of your credit report at all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and $1,000,000 of identity theft insurance. Up to six more years free monitoring of your Equifax credit report.
Equifax is offering a one-time cash payout for those who already have credit monitoring for the next 6 months. This means if you don't have credit monitoring you will need to sign up for it first and then file your claim for cash. This is a variable payout based on number of people who file. The current number of claims have already reduced the cash payout to substantially less than $125.
If you already have credit monitoring and plan to keep it for at least six months, you can choose the cash option. You must have the monitoring in place when you apply. This does not need to be credit monitoring that you pay for, free monitoring that you have signed up for also qualifies.
What if I chose the cash option but I changed my mind?
Equifax will be sending a letter to those who chose cash payout and offering them the opportunity to switch to 4 years of free credit monitoring.
Free Credit Monitoring
4 years free 3 bureau credit monitoring offered through Experian. After that expires, you can enroll in an additional 6 years of monitoring via Equifax. You must opt in for the extended service when you submit your initial Credit Monitoring claim.
Equifax states that this will include Dark Web Monitoring that monitors internet activity for the trading or selling of your personal information.
The credit monitoring is a good value if you don't already have it but it won't actually prevent your information being used for fraudulent activity. To prevent new lines of credit being opened in your name we recommend putting a freeze on your credit.
Put a freeze on your credit
Freezing your credit is the most secure option as it prevents anyone from opening a new line of credit in your name. When you freeze your credit, you will be given a secure pin that you will use to unfreeze it. You will need to unfreeze your credit before applying for a home, auto loan or a personal line of credit. This applies to credit checks as well. As long as you don't mind lifting the freeze when necessary, this is an excellent option to consider as it can prevent many forms of fraudulent activity before they occur.
To place, temporarily lift, or permanently remove a security freeze on your Equifax, Experian or TransUnion credit report, you will need to contact them directly.
Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/ or call 1-800-349-9960
Experian: www.experian.com/freeze/center.html or call 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion: www.transunion.com/credit-freeze or call 1-888-909-8872
Other Cash Payments
Have you suffered identity theft or fraud or other misuse of your personal data that you can trace to the breach?
Have you sustained out of pocket losses resulting from the breach?
You may be eligible for cash payments of up to $20,000 under "Settlement Benefit: Payment for Unreimbursed Out-of-Pocket Losses". The amount you receive will depend on the damages and the criteria that Equifax has laid out. Like the cash payout, this amount will depend on the number of valid claims submitted and approved.
You can choose to opt out of the Settlement. If you opt out, you won't be limited by the terms of the Settlement Agreement but you also won't receive the compensation that Class Action Members are entitled to. You are free to hire your own attorney and you reserve the right to file your own claim against Equifax. If you have sustained documented, provable damages due to the breach, and have the time, energy and legal fees to devote, this may be an option to consider.
You can opt out and do nothing. If you choose this option you will not receive the free monitoring or the cash reimbursement. You will also loose the right to share your opinion with the court regarding the breach and the Settlement. If you choose to opt out, you will need to write a letter with specific language and instructions and it needs to be postmarked by November 19th 2019. FAQ 24 provides instructions on how to opt out.
Share your opinion with the court on the settlement
If you are a Settlement Class Member, you have the right to tell the court what you think of the settlement. You can also object to the settlement if you don't think it is fair, reasonable or adequate.
The deadline for this is November 19, 2019 and there are very specific instructions.
What are the deadlines?
Preliminary Approval Date. The Court entered an Order approving notice to the individuals who were impacted by the 2017 data breach, or “class members” in the lawsuit.
Deadline to Exclude Yourself or Opt-Out of the Settlement. This is the deadline to exclude yourself from the settlement, which you can do by informing the Settlement Administrator that you want to “opt-out.” If the settlement becomes final, this is the only option that allows you to retain your rights to separately sue Equifax for claims related to the Data Breach. If you opt-out, you may not make a claim for benefits under the settlement.
Deadline to Object to the Settlement. This is the deadline to object to the settlement, which you can do by writing to explain to the Court why you don’t think the settlement should be approved. If you object, you will remain a Settlement Class Member, and if the settlement is approved, you will be eligible for the benefits of the settlement and give up your right to sue on certain claims described in the Settlement Agreement, which is available here.
Final Approval Hearing. This is the date of the Court’s final approval hearing, when it will determine whether to approve the settlement. Please note that no settlement benefits will be distributed or available until after the Court finally approves the settlement. For more information, see FAQ 24.
Initial Claims Period Deadline. This is the deadline for the Initial Claims Period. You must file a claim by this deadline in order to receive the Free Credit Monitoring Services offered under the settlement, or Alternative Reimbursement Compensation up to $125, and for any out-of-pocket losses or time spent before this deadline.
Extended Claims Period Deadline. You must file a claim by this deadline in order to receive benefits for losses that occurred after the Initial Claims Period deadline.
What if I do nothing?
If you do nothing, you will still be included in the settlement but will not receive the monitoring or the variable cash compensation. You will waive the right to any future claims should you later incur damages due to the breach. You will still be eligible for help recovering from any future Identity theft you may experience.
If you do not file a claim but you also do not opt out, you get:
Free Help Recovering from Identity Theft
For at least seven years, you are eligible for free identity restoration services. If you discover misuse of your personal information, call the settlement administrator at 1-833-759-2982. You will be given instructions for how to access free identity restoration services.
How do I get updates?
You can check the Equifax website for questions or updates.
You can also visit the FTC's website which is updated regularly.
Contact Equifax directly:
For more information or to request that a copy of the Notice be sent to you in the mail, you can also contact the Settlement Administrator at 1-833-759-2982, by email at info@EquifaxBreachSettlement.com, or by mailing a letter to:
Equifax Data Breach Settlement Administrator
c/o JND Legal Administration
PO Box 91318
Seattle, WA 98111-9418