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Settlement Deadline Looms for Equifax Breach Victims

The 147 million victims impacted by the 2017 hack of credit monitoring firm Equifax are facing a Jan. 22 deadline to apply for class-action settlement benefits. So far, only 15 million people have applied for benefits.

by Patricia Sabatini, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / January 13, 2020
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(TNS) — If you’re one of the millions of victims of the colossal Equifax data breach who haven’t yet applied for a piece of the settlement pie, you should know time is running out.

The deadline for filing a claim is Jan. 22 — just over one week away.

Benefits available include free credit monitoring, reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, and cash payments for time spent dealing with the breach or any misuse of personal information tied to the fiasco.

The class-action settlement agreement was announced in July and approved by a federal judge in Atlanta on Dec. 19. As of early December, roughly 15 million of the 147 million victims had filed claims. That’s about 10% of the class.

Claims can be filed online or by downloading a form and mailing it.

To get started, visit www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com to review the process and identify what documents you may need to gather first to support your claim.

If you still aren’t sure whether your personal information was part of the breach, the site allows you to punch in part of your Social Security number to find out. You also can call the settlement administrator at 833-759-2982 to confirm whether you were part of the breach.

The history and the deal

The 2017 hack was one of the largest ever to threaten private information, exposing the personal data of some 56% of U.S. adults.

Equifax, based in Atlanta, did not detect the attack for more than six weeks. A multistate investigation found the company failed to implement an adequate security system, despite knowing about a critical vulnerability in its software.

The compromised data included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers and, in some cases, data from passports. The loot from the massive heist put victims at risk of identity theft for their lifetimes.

The initial section of the settlement form offers victims free credit monitoring for up to 10 years, or a cash payment of up to $125 as reimbursement for the cost of another credit monitoring product.

The first option looks to be a much better deal. Based on the number of claims so far for the cash, victims will receive just a fraction of the maximum payout of $125. The estimate is less than $7, said Ted Frank, attorney and director of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute and Center for Class Action Fairness in Washington, D.C.

His group opposed the settlement and plans to appeal, contending, among other things, that it is unfair to residents of certain states where laws entitle data breach victims to collect statutory damages.

“State law damage cases were waived by class counsel. We are going to try to get this [settlement] thrown out,” Mr. Frank said last week.

Part two of the settlement form allows victims to claim up to 20 hours of compensation at $25 an hour — a maximum of $500 — for time spent taking preventative measures against identity theft (such as freezing credit reports) or dealing with identity theft tied to the breach.

Up to 10 hours can be self-certified by describing the actions and time spent. A claim for more than 10 hours requires documentation of misuse of personal data, such as a letter from the IRS, a bank or a police report.

Based on the number of those claims so far, individual payments are projected to be “substantially” less than the amounts claimed, according to the settlement website.

Part three of the form deals with reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, such as losses from unauthorized charges to accounts; the cost of freezing and unfreezing credit reports; credit monitoring; identity theft protection services; and fees paid to accountants or attorneys.

Any documented out-of-pocket claims are expected to be paid in full.

Frozen files

In the past, most consumers had been paying to freeze or temporarily unfreeze their credit files with the three main credit bureaus. In Pennsylvania, the fee was $10. But roughly a year after the Equifax breach was announced, Congress stepped in so that freezing and unfreezing is now free nationwide.

Freezing credit files is an effective way to safeguard against common types of identity theft, since it prevents credit bureaus from releasing your reports without your permission. Because most businesses won’t extend credit without checking a borrower’s credit history, identity thieves are blocked from opening fraudulent accounts in your name.

The downside is that people with frozen files must use a personal identification number to temporarily lift, or "thaw," their reports when applying for a credit card, mortgage, car loan or other type of credit.

Although the deadline for most claims under the Equifax settlement is Jan. 22, claims for certain losses in the future as a result of the data breach can be made during the extended claims period, which expires Jan. 22, 2024.

All settlement class members, including those who don’t file a claim, will receive access to free identity-restoration services for at least seven years. 

For questions about the claims process visit www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com or contact the settlement administrator at 833-759-2982.

©2020 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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