I have been telling you for a couple of months now about the Equifax settlement of claims brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and all but two of the states’ Attorneys General related to the avoidable Equifax 2017 data breach in which personal data on more than 147 million people was stolen. The personal information included the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of 147 million people putting them in serious danger of identity theft for the rest of their lives. Scammers are always quick to exploit anything in the news and they have been setting up fake Equifax settlement claim pages in which they seek to obtain your personal information in order to make you a victim of identity theft so it is very important that you go to the proper website to file your claim. Scammers are adept at having their phony websites appear high on Google and other search engine searches so merely because a website is high on a search does not mean that it is legitimate. It is important to note that you do not need to provide your Social Security number to file a claim for benefits under the settlement although you will be asked for the last four digits of your Social Security number if you go to the real settlement website to find out if you were affected by the data breach. Recently Equifax has been sending out emails encouraging people to apply for benefits under the settlement. However, scammers are also sending out similar emails and it is important to avoid these phony phishing emails that are attempting to lure you into providing information that will lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is advising victims of the data breach who already have some form of credit monitoring not to claim the $125 payment provided for in the settlement, but rather accept the offer of four years of free credit monitoring at all three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion along with six more years of free credit monitoring at just Equifax. While the three credit bureaus all have similar files on you, they are not identical and to be fully effective credit monitoring should cover all three credit bureaus. The reason that the FTC is suggesting that you not apply for the $125 payment is because while the media trumpeted the settlement amount as being as high as 700 million dollars, the amount allocated toward payments to people regarding credit monitoring was only 31 million dollars. Because so many people have already filed claims, it appears that the amount that people will actually be getting who claim the cash payment originally slated at $125 could be as little as under a dollar.
In addition to the credit monitoring or credit monitoring related cash payment, there are other worthwhile benefits to be derived from the settlement including cash payments for expenses you incurred in response to the breach, such as the cost of freezing your credit reports, credit monitoring costs and fees paid to accountants or lawyers related to the data breach. In addition, you also can be paid for the time you personally spent dealing with the data breach at a rate of $25 per hour and if your claim is for ten hours or less you do not have to provide documentation to prove your activities. Other settlement benefits include identity theft restoration services for seven years and an additional six free copies of your Equifax credit report annually for the next seven years. Federal law already provides you with the right to one free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting bureaus. The bottom line is that while the Equifax settlement may be flawed, it does offer benefits that make it worthwhile for you.
If you have not done so already, the first step to take is to find out if you were one of the 147 million people affected by the data breach and therefore eligible to apply for benefits under the settlement. Here is a link to the section of the real settlement website to input your information to determine if you were a part of the data breach. https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility
If you were affected by the data breach, here is the link to the part of the real settlement website where you can file a claim. https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/file-a-claim. All claims must be filed no later than January 22, 2020.
A good question for many people is whether they should have or get identity theft protection services on their own if they accept the free credit monitoring and other services offered through the settlement. My opinion is that the extensive benefits provided by private identity theft protection services, such as Identron which I personally endorse can go far beyond the basic services provided by Equifax in the settlement. Services such as Dark Web monitoring, credit score monitoring, Social Security number monitoring and other services that are critical to protecting your identity are nowhere to be found in the services provided by Equifax in the settlement.
As further developments occur in regard to the Equifax settlement, I will report them to you.
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