credit & debt

The Best You Can Hope for from the Equifax Settlement

The average payout will be far less than $125. But you may be reimbursed for other costs.

The $700 million Equifax settlement is a landmark moment for consumer data privacy, but if you’re counting on a payoff, you’ll probably be disappointed. While we won’t know how much victims will be paid until after the settlement’s application deadline—January 2020—early signs haven’t been promising.

There is some good news: If you’ve spent time or money since September 2017 dealing with the breach, you have a few options. You can request reimbursement for up to 20 hours spent on reclaiming your identity, at a rate of up to $25 per hour. For other expenses—accounting fees, unauthorized account withdrawals and the like—customers can ask for up to $20,000 in restitution. You won’t need to prove that Equifax is to blame for any identity fraud you’ve dealt with as long as it occurred after the breach and your data was involved. (To apply for reimbursement, go to equifaxbreachsettlement.com.)

Caveats. Before you file for reimbursement, consider that, first, consumers will generally be expected to document their damages and time spent dealing with the problem—and the more money you ask for, the more documentation you’ll be asked to provide. Up until now, that’s been unprecedented for data breach settlements, says Charity Lacey, of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “If that’s the trend, are we expecting customers to document everything they do after they’re affected by a breach? Every breach?” she asks.

The other caveat concerns the amount of funds available to consumers and how that money will be allocated. Although a total of about $400 million has been set aside for consumer restitution, the actual amounts available for different settlement options—such as hour-by-hour re­imbursement, free credit monitoring services, and credit monitoring re­imbursement—varies by option.

At least one pool has already been stretched painfully thin by the volume of applicants. One week after the settlement was announced in late July, the Federal Trade Commission told consumers they’d be “disappointed” if they expected the full $125 reimbursement payout available to those who have already signed up for credit monitoring elsewhere.

Only $31 million was set aside for the payment pool, which would pay only 248,000 people if everyone received the full $125. Because the reimbursement payments will be paid equally to everyone in the pool, the actual payment will likely be a fraction of the advertised amount. More than 4.5 million people visited the official settlement website in the week after the deal was announced, the FTC said.

If you believe you’re owed more than $20,000—or you’re concerned that your payoff will be diluted by the number of claimants—you can opt out of the suit by November 2019 and retain your right to pursue separate legal action. If you don’t opt out and you apply for any kind of restitution—or you don’t take any action—you’ll be unable to sue the company for any future damages from the 2017 breach.

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