It’s been more than two years since Equifax, one of America’s three major credit reporting bureaus, suffered a major data breach, exposing the information of 143 million people. While we see a lot of data breaches, in this case, thieves made off with a dangerous amount of personal information, including social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers. This is particularly dangerous because it’s everything a thief would need to steal your identity and open credit accounts in your name.
Though there’s no way to make your information private again, Equifax has reached a settlement with the FTC that offers a small payoff for anyone who was a victim of the breach. You can either claim a $125 cash payment or receive 10 years of free credit monitoring to alert you to potential identity theft.
Here's what you need to do to claim your $125.
Were you a victim of the Equifax breach?
You can check whether your data was stolen and you're eligible for the settlement on the Equifax settlement website. Just enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number, and you’ll find out whether you’re eligible to receive your choice of credit monitoring or a cash payment.
Do you want credit monitoring or cash?
The fact that this data breach included social security numbers makes identity theft a major risk. Once your SSN is in someone else’s hands, you have to more vigilant about keeping an eye on your credit report to be sure no one’s opening fraudulent accounts in your name. You can also place a "security freeze" on your files with all three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, as well as the lesser known Innovis. A security freeze prevents credit reporting agencies from releasing your credit report without your consent, making it impossible for anyone to apply for credit in your name. But it also makes it more cumbersome for to apply for a loan, credit card or mortgage, so keep this in mind if you're in the process of buying a house or financing a car. You'll need to lift the freeze, which you can do by logging in to your account with a PIN that's issued when you place the freeze.
You can monitor your credit report for free by requesting your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and checking it for errors. If anything’s amiss, you can report it and get it fixed immediately, before much damage is done. The problem is that you have to remember to do it regularly, and that’s where credit monitoring services come in. They keep an eye on your credit report for you and alert you of unusual activity as soon as it happens. It's after some damage has already been done and you’ll still have to verify that the activity is fraudulent and report it, but credit monitoring lets you know about it quickly. Whether you opt for credit monitoring or cash from the settlement, Equifax is offering free identity theft restoration help, so you aren’t entirely on your own if you see signs of identity theft.
Credit monitoring can cost $10 to $20 per month, which adds up to a lot more than the $125 Equifax will pay you in cash. But if you already have credit monitoring or you’re the DIY type and prefer to keep tabs on your own, the cash payment is a good option. Experian also offers a free credit monitoring service called CreditWorks Basic which offers notifications of credit inquiries and new accounts.
You might be eligible for more than just $125
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft due to the Equifax breach, you may be eligible for a higher payment to cover your time and expenses, up to a maximum of $20,000. You’ll have to provide documentation of your identity theft-related expenses, which may be a headache to put together — but if you had any extra expenses related to this breach, it's worth the effort to get them reimbursed.
How to get your settlement benefits
You can file a claim online or download claim forms to file by mail. Filing online is the easiest option, and just takes a few minutes. An online form will walk you through the information you need to provide, including claims for any extra expenses. In a handful of clicks, you’ll be done.
You must file your claim by January 22, 2020, and we recommend doing it now so you don’t forget about it.
When will I get my benefits?
The settlement has to be approved by the court before cash payments or credit monitoring services are provided — which could take several months. If you opted for a cash payment, you will receive a check or pre-paid debit card in the mail (your choice), and if you opted for credit monitoring, you’ll get an email with an activation code to sign up online.
To find out when the settlement is approved, you can sign up for email updates from the FTC.
[Image credit: gavel and cash via BigStockPhoto]