There’s no such thing as easy cash for victims of Equifax data-breach settlement.
The $700 million settlement they’re owed comes with some strings attached, a settlement administrator said this month. The settlement, unveiled in July, offers the 147 million consumers affected by the massive 2017 breach a choice between 10 years of free credit monitoring or $125 in cash.
But now applicants are learning they have to show they already have “some form of credit monitoring or protection in place” to stand any chance at any cash offered in the settlement.
Over the weekend, people seeking the $125 started receiving emails from settlement administrators saying they must verify they “had some form of credit monitoring or protection in place and will continue to have the credit monitoring in place for a minimum of six months.”
That notice was the latest piece of bad news for people who were hoping to get some cash from the settlement. In late July, the Federal Trade Commission said victims of the breach would be better off going for the free credit monitoring instead of the cash because there’s only $31 million earmarked for the $125 individual payments, so individual payouts could end up being a lot smaller than $125.
The FTC said people should take the credit monitoring because it’s a better value compared to any money reward. Many consumers are eligible for free credit monitoring because it’s frequently offered to people who’ve been victims of large data breaches, like the ones suffered by Equifax, Capital One /zigman2/quotes/204480509/composite COF -0.97% and Marriott. /zigman2/quotes/200170042/composite MAR +1.55% Those who must pay for the service can expect to pay from about $19 to more than $30 a month, according to The Balance and NerdWallet .
In a CompareCards survey pegged to the second anniversary of the Equifax breach, just 14% of 750 polled Americans said they subscribed to credit-monitoring services. That’s up from 11% right after the breach. The survey also found 26% of the participants planned to claim money damages, 16% said they’d go for the free credit monitoring, and 21% said they wouldn’t file a claim.
Victims of the Equifax breach have until Oct. 15 to either name the credit monitoring service they were using when they filed their claim for the cash, or change their claim to ask for free credit monitoring instead of the $125, according to the email from settlement administrators.
People making a bid for the cash need to identify the monitoring service they are using and certify they’ll use it for at least six months, but they do not have to submit a proof of payment, said Amy Keller, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case.
If claimants don’t do one thing or another by Oct. 15, their bid for money will be denied, the email warned.
“Based on the number of potentially valid claims that have been submitted to date, payments of these benefits likely will be substantially lowered and will be distributed on a proportional basis if the settlement becomes final,” the email added. “Depending on the number of valid claims that are filed, the amount you receive for alternative compensation may be a small percentage of your initial claim.”
To be sure, the proposed settlement unveiled in July did mention the strings attached to the $125 cash payment.
Class-action members “must identify the monitoring service and certify that he or she has some form of credit monitoring or protection as of the date” they submit their claim and vouch they “will have such credit monitoring in place for a minimums of six (6) months from the claim date,” the settlement terms said.
Under the settlement terms, the attorneys representing consumers in the case are seeking $77.5 million in fees and another $3 million to reimburse their expenses.
Government regulators and plaintiffs lawyers insist the free credit monitoring is a great deal — now more than ever considering how money for “alternative compensation” in this settlement is getting stretched thin.
The free credit monitoring consists of four years of free credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus, Equifax /zigman2/quotes/208789454/composite EFX -0.42% , TransUnion /zigman2/quotes/209192458/composite TRU -0.02% and Experian /zigman2/quotes/210252954/delayed UK:EXPN -0.45% . After that, applicants can get six more years of free credit monitoring from Equifax. The retail price for this amount of monitoring is $1,920 per person, plaintiffs’ lawyers have previously said.
There’s a Jan. 22, 2020 final deadline for people to submit a claim for free credit monitoring or “alternative reimbursement compensation.”
The settlement also offers up to $20,000 “for documented losses fairly traceable to the breach,” court papers said. But experts say consumers have a challenging task if they want to prove the breach was directly responsible for monetary losses.
An FTC spokeswoman said the agency explained the email’s context on its website. She added that the agency previously gave consumers a heads up in a blog post that the settlement administrator would be sending an email to applicants about their need to identify their credit-monitoring service.
The Equifax and the settlement administrator, JND Legal Administration, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Equifax shares are up 55% from the start of the year. Meanwhile the S&P 500 Index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.29% has increased more than 18% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.11% has gained nearly 15%.