In 2017, Equifax exposed the personal data of 147 million U.S. consumers by declining to patch a known vulnerability in its system. To make recompense for this data breach, the credit bureau set up a website where those affected could file a claim to receive either “free credit monitoring or [a] $125 cash payment” in compensation.
A lot of people opted for the cash (which isn’t too surprising, given that the consumers in question just had a very negative credit-related experience involving Equifax). And that has proved to be a problem — because, contrary to the wording on the settlement website, Equifax never actually agreed to provide all affected consumers a “$125 cash payment,” but merely a cash payment of “up to $125.” The agency set aside $31 million with which to make this category of settlement payments, which is enough to give $125 to 248,000 affected consumers, or a bit less than .002 percent of all those whom Equifax hurt. Thus once more than 248,000 people apply for cash payments, each individual settlement shrinks to accommodate new claimants.
On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission released a notice strongly advising consumers to opt for the four years of free credit monitoring instead of the (increasingly tiny) cash payment:
For those who have not submitted a claim, the FTC is recommending that affected consumers consider choosing the free credit monitoring service, which is worth hundreds of dollars and comes with identity theft insurance and restoration services. For consumers who have already chosen the cash option, the settlement administrator will e-mail those consumers and provide them with the opportunity to either (1) submit additional information, or (2) switch to the free credit monitoring service. Consumers can also contact the settlement administrator directly.”
According to NerdWallet, the market value of the credit-monitoring service appears to be about $20 a month, or roughly $960 over four years.
Now, this doesn’t mean that those most adversely impacted by the breach will be getting nothing more than a credit service facilitated by a bureau that mismanaged their data and then misled them about what to expect in the way of restitution. Equifax has put together other pots of cash to compensate consumers for time lost dealing with the data breach, or money already spent on credit-monitoring or other relevant services.
To see if you are eligible for restitution — or to learn more about the various forms of compensation to which you may be entitled — you can visit the settlement’s official website here. Just be sure to read the fine print.