The Shrinking Payout of Equifax Settlement Funds
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If you’re a skeptic searching for evidence we’re not really in a boom economy, look no further than the mad goldrush to claim a $125 payout from Equifax. For some, $125 is walking-around pocket money; for most of us, it’s nothing to scoff at. It could go to a medical bill, a family trip to a restaurant, car repair, or interest on that eternal student loan debt. Clearly, American consumers had plans for that $125.
The sum of $125 per affected consumer was derived from a portion of Equifax’s $575 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau over a data breach in 2017. Due to an egregious and apparently preventable intrusion, a yet to be determined hacker gained access to personal information in the files of an estimated 147 million Americans from the database of Equifax, one of the three largest credit monitoring companies which provide customer ratings for its predominantly corporate clients. That information included home addresses and credit data as but two examples.
Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were also parties in the settlement. Of the total funds, $31 million was put aside to handle monetary claims of affected consumers, explained Jacqueline Connor, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection in Washington, D.C.
Connor worked the Equifax case from beginning to resolution, and, in an audio conference call for media hosted by Ethnic Media Services, she explained, that the $125 per person payout would get reduced, per person, depending on how many consumers actually filed claims. In other words, $125 was a number destined to move in only one direction: down. Mike Murphy, writing for MarketWatch, calculated that only if 248,000 eligible consumers filed, would they each receive $125.
Connor noted that 147 million affected individuals approaches “about half the population of the United States.” However, many parents have yet to request their child’s Social Security number, and though some minors were a part of the affected class, most have yet to incur a personal debt to be reported. Thus, it becomes understandable why another reporter estimates that the data breach probably culled information on about two out of three of every American adult. By the U.S. Census Bureau’s updated calculations on the U.S. population after the 2010 census, there were over 73 million children under the age of 18 out of a total U.S. population of 326 million in 2017, the year the breach occurred.
Connor’s audio call focused on the nuts and bolts of the claimant process. To find out whether you were an affected individual, check the Equifax site. Please click here, or, get to a computer, smart phone, or a device to access the Internet and type in: https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/eligibility. You only need enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Connor advised individuals who have a space or an apostrophe in their last name to try variations to confirm eligibility.
She also discussed other funds under the settlement to reimburse those who lost money on account of the breach, including payments that will reimburse consumers for the time they spent correcting and repairing their files.
If you want to be excluded from the settlement, presumably in order to sue Equifax, you have to contact Equifax in order to “opt out.” That information can be found here, or again, get Internet access and key in: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/faq#q-24. Be advised that you have to bear the up-front legal fees to retain an attorney.
On the upside, Connor encouraged attending media to advise their audiences to take advantage of other services being made available such as years of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. The latter, for instance, will insure consumers for up to a million dollars in losses and also direct them to free assistance to help restore one’s identity. Connor, an affected consumer herself, pointed out that, in the aggregate, the cost of those services spread out over the years offered, far exceed the $125 payout consumers were eager to claim. In addition, all consumers, whether part of the affected class or not, are eligible to receive free credit reports beyond the single free annual report to which they have been currently entited.
Connor advised the media to caution their audiences about being steered to websites set up by scam artists. She said the best way to access information on the settlement is to start the search process through the official Federal Trade Commission site: https://FTC.gov/Equifax.
Khalil Abdullah is a contributor for Ethnic Media Services. He has served in a number of administrative roles with New America Media, The Beat Within, and the Washington Afro-American Newspaper, among others.