It has been nearly two years since the massive Equifax data breach occurred. On September 7, 2017, credit reporting bureau Equifax reported that sensitive personal information belonging to 143 million Americans had been exposed to hackers.
The Equifax data breach remains the largest breach in modern history. This includes the data breach that was recently disclosed at Capital One Financial Corp in which a hacker obtained the personal information of more than 100 million people who had applied for credit cards going back more than a decade.
Equifax Settlement Finally Reached
It took almost two years but Equifax has finally reached a settlement to pay claims related to the exposure of millions of Americans’ sensitive personal information.
According to the settlement, which Equifax reached with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, Equifax will pay a minimum of $575 million. Massachusetts and Indiana were not included in the settlement because they have filed their own lawsuits against Equifax.
You can visit the Equifax settlement website to determine what kind of compensation (if any) you might be eligible for. Most of the settlement benefits will be available to individuals who were directly affected by the data breach — however, some benefits are available to all U.S. consumers.
For example, everyone will be eligible to receive six additional Equifax credit reports free of charge every year for the next seven years. This will make it easier to monitor your credit files in search of possible signs of identity theft.
Benefits You Could Receive
According to the settlement, if it turns out that you were directly affected by the Equifax data breach, you will be eligible to receive the following:
- Free credit monitoring — This includes four years of credit monitoring from all three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) followed by six years of free Equifax credit monitoring. If you already have credit monitoring, you can receive up to $125 in cash instead.
- Reimbursement and compensation — This includes refunds of fees you paid to freeze or unfreeze your credit and credit monitoring costs you incurred after the Equifax data breach announcement. It also includes losses you incurred from unauthorized charges that occurred due to the breach and breach-related expenses you incurred, including attorney’s fees, as well as compensation at $25 per hour for up to 20 hours you spent dealing with the data breach.
- Additional benefits — These include $1 million in identity theft insurance coverage and identity restoration services, such as coaching to help you resolve any ongoing problems from identity theft that resulted from the data breach.
How to Determine Eligibility for Benefits
Equifax will begin making its additional free credit reports available to all U.S. consumers next year. In the meantime, you can find out now if you’re eligible to make a claim for benefits by entering your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number on the Equifax settlement website.
Here are a few more steps you might consider taking right now:
- Gather receipts to substantiate any fees you might currently be paying for credit monitoring services or to free or unfreeze your credit after the breach so you can be quickly reimbursed.
- Document any costs you incurred and estimate the time you spent dealing any problems arising from identity theft caused by the data breach that resulted in large financial losses.
- Sign up for email alerts from the FTC about any new developments related to the Equifax data breach settlement.
Also, many experts recommend that consumers freeze their credit at all three credit reporting bureaus in order to block access to their credit reports, as well as sign up for fraud alerts. This will effectively prevent identity thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name and let you know if there is any suspicious activity in your credit files. There is no charge to freeze or thaw your credit as often as you like.
Please contact us if you have more questions about steps you can take to guard against identity theft.