The ink was hardly dry on the press releases telling us we could get a check for $125 from the recent Equifax settlement when another put the brakes on the expectations of millions of Americans who were put at risk by the Equifax security breach. It just goes to demonstrate, once again, that you shouldn’t count your money until it’s actually in your wallet.
If you haven’t heard by now, don’t expect to get anywhere near that much (if anything) when checks are cut in January from the massive settlement.
Like many Americans, I took to my computer and logged into the settlement website when the cash payments were announced July 22. Sure enough, the website promised me, I would get $125 cash if I picked Door Number 1. Behind Door Number 2 was free credit monitoring. Unsurprisingly, most Americans just said, “Show me the money!”
But it wasn’t to be. Whether planners were optimistic, naïve or just took a shot in the dark, the $31 million set aside for actual cash payments was far too small to actually make the payments if more than 248,000 people filed claims. (By the way, $31 million is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared with the up to $700 million going to lawyers, government agencies and the few ordinary folks who can prove real damage.) The Federal Trade Commission hasn’t said how many have actually filed, but many sources indicate it’s already in the millions. And the agency no longer lists the $125 payment at the top of the claim form.
Simple math reveals that, if five million claims are filed, each check would be $6.20. The FTC has admitted that the average consumer’s check will be “nowhere near” the original $125 possibility.
Since the announcements, a torrent of complaints has erupted. “With just $31 million to be divided up by all the Americans who filed to receive their $125 check, Americans have the choice of receiving pennies for having their credit details spilled out online, or receiving virtually worthless credit monitoring,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, in a statement. “Another clear failure by the FTC.”
But the FTC said there’s been a misunderstanding. “The option to obtain reimbursement for alternative credit monitoring, as set forth originally in the class action settlement, was never intended to be a cash payout for all affected consumers,” the agency said in a statement, and points out that the value of the credit monitoring being offered in the settlement is sold by Equifax for $1,200.
A lot more could happen with this story, depending on how many people file claims. It’s possible that the amount of reimbursement could be raised eventually and you’ll get your money, but that will take years.
If you can demonstrate you used your own money and time because of the breach, you can be reimbursed. Anything beyond 10 hours of time, however, must be documented. “You can still ask for reimbursement for any other credit monitoring you purchased after Sept. 7, 2017, or costs associated with credit freezes after that date, any losses due to identity theft, or any notary fees, long-distance phone call bills, postage, copying, or mileage involved in trying to deal with the fallout of the breach,” noted Slate’s Josephine Wolf.
If you’ve already filed a claim, you will likely be contacted soon by the company administering the settlement, offering you the opportunity to change your option and take out free credit monitoring after all. In light of this situation, some pundits suggest it might be a good alternative. And many experts suggest that freezing your credit for the near future is a good idea as well.