AP Photo/Mike Stewart
The $700 million Equifax data-breach settlement presents a relatively simple choice to affected consumers: Would you rather get paid $125, or go for the 10 years of free credit monitoring?
On Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -1.02% and Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -1.19% , plenty of people say that’s not even a question: They’ll take their $125, thank you very much.
Better think again, says the Federal Trade Commission.
Some 147 million consumers were impacted by the 2017 data breach. Earlier this month, Equifax settled a class-action suit in relation to the breach. Up to $425 million of the sum is earmarked for consumer relief.
If one quarter of those in the class-action suit against Equifax — 36.75 million people — go for the money, they stand to deposit an 84-cent check.
“A large number of claims for cash instead of credit monitoring means only one thing: Each person who takes the money option will wind up only getting a small amount of money,” said Robert Schoshinski, assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.
Millions of people have already visited FTC’s site for claims since the settlement was announced a week ago, according to Schoshinski. “The public response to the settlement has been overwhelming,” he said.
On Monday, the agency told consumers to be on the watch for phony websites holding themselves out as the place to put in claims.
Benefits include payments up to $20,000, but only if class-action members can show they’ve been harmed in the breach.
Members of the class-action suit also have the option of 10 years of credit monitoring. That’s four years of credit monitoring and identity protection from Equifax /zigman2/quotes/208789454/composite EFX -4.67% and the two other major credit bureaus, TransUnion /zigman2/quotes/209192458/composite TRU -4.88% and Experian /zigman2/quotes/208623784/delayed EXPGY -3.46% . Then Equifax will offer another six years of credit monitoring. It includes up to $1 million in identify-theft insurance and identity restoration services, he said.
The monitoring also offers “dark web” monitoring and alerts if a payday loan is taken out using a a class member’s Social Security number, court papers show. The overall retail value of the monitoring is $1,920 per person, according to filings from the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Many people — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York — said the credit monitoring was a better deal than the cash.
Some credit-monitoring services cost anywhere from $80 per year to $240 per year.
“The free credit monitoring is worth a lot more,” Schoshinski said. “The market value would be hundreds of dollars a year. And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already.”
If breach victims already applied for the $125, they can switch to requesting the free credit monitoring, he said.
“From a pure dollars and cents perspective, the credit monitoring service provides more value to consumers than the alternative compensation,” said Amy Keller, of DiCello Levitt Gutzler, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the underlying class action lawsuit. She noted “it would cost consumers nearly $2,000 to buy the same type of credit monitoring we are offering in the settlement on the retail market themselves.”
There are other ways to get money in the Equifax settlement.
The pact will pay class members $25 an hour for the 20 hours they spent dealing with the breach’s affects or preventing harm. The first 10 hours, $250, require claimants to certify they’ve spent the time dealing with the headache but it doesn’t require documentation. Claiming the next ten hours will require documentation, including bank and credit card statements.
Equifax did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has not admitted any liability in the settlement.