FTC warns cash option may be small for Equifax settlement

FILE- This July 21, 2012, file photo shows signage at the corporate headquarters of Equifax Inc. in Atlanta. The FTC on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, told consumers affected by the Equifax data breach that they are unlikely to get the full $125 cash payment that many sought.

THE ISSUE

Consumers’ privacy, financial security and personal information have once again been jeopardized. “One of the country’s biggest credit card issuers, Capital One Financial, is the latest big business to be hit by a data breach, disclosing that roughly 100 million people had some personal information stolen by a hacker,” The Associated Press reported in a story that appeared in Wednesday’s LNP. This news comes on the heels of an Equifax announcement detailing how consumers who were affected by its 2017 data breach can seek compensation.

“Data breach” is a uniquely 21st century problem for Americans. An all-too-common one nowadays.

“Another week, another massive new corporate security breach that exposes your personal data,” Wired magazine’s Lily Hay Newman wrote last year. “Names, email addresses, passwords, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit card numbers, banking data, passport numbers, phone numbers, home addresses, driver’s license numbers, medical records — they all get swept up by shadowy, amorphous hackers for fraud, identity theft, and worse.”

For those who are victimized by these breaches, it can take years to recover.

For the rest of us, worrying about who might have our information can be endlessly exhausting. So much so that we perhaps become numb to it all.

If there’s a minuscule silver lining to all of these headaches for consumers, it’s that we seem to be getting slightly better at addressing the harm caused by data breaches.

The 2017 Equifax breach may have been a turning point. It was especially galling, because Equifax is a consumer credit reporting agency, and its cybersecurity breach exposed information about roughly half of the U.S. population. Equifax has access to our information on loans, child support payments, missed rent and utility payments, employment history and more.

Richard F. Smith, then chairman and CEO of Equifax, called the breach an event “that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do.” (He’s no longer with Equifax; he left the company in 2017 and is set to receive $19.6 million in stock bonuses, a $24 million pension and lifetime medical coverage, CBS News reported last month. Tough break for him.)

We recently learned that Equifax has agreed to pay out at least $700 million for claims. Affected consumers can register for free credit monitoring or monetary compensation.

Many of us were affected in some way, and we should all check out the settlement website — bit.ly/EquifaxSite — and urge others to do the same. (We do find it darkly ironic, however, that the online form for the Equifax data breach settlement requires us to provide much of our personal information.)

Here are some important details about the Equifax settlement from a recent NerdWallet article published on LancasterOnline:

— “All affected consumers can get free credit monitoring. Or, if they already have credit monitoring, they can apply for alternative compensation of up to $125. You are choosing between a guaranteed minimum amount of free credit monitoring or compensation that could be well less than $125, depending on how many people apply.”

— “Settlement terms say that alternative reimbursement claims will be paid from a $31 million ‘bucket.’ ... There would need to be no more than 248,000 approved claims out of the 147 million consumers affected ... for approved applicants to get the full $125.” More on this point: Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission told consumers that they are very unlikely to get the full $125 cash payment. It noted that “public response to the settlement has been overwhelming” and millions of people visited the claims site in the first week alone. The FTC touted the free credit monitoring as “a much better value, and everyone whose information was exposed can take advantage of it.” Those who have already submitted a claim for the cash payment can change their mind, the AP reported, adding that “the settlement administrator will be sending an email to those who chose the cash option with information on how to switch to free credit monitoring if they wish.”

— “You have until Jan. 22, 2020, to file for any of these remedies. You can apply online, print out an application form and mail it, or request that a form be mailed to you.”


Another breach

Meanwhile, Capital One Financial reacted quickly to its data breach, which affects about 100 million customers in the United States.

The AP notes that Capital One learned of the breach July 17 and needed just days to identify the suspect and determine what data was accessed. That information was forwarded to the FBI, which made an arrest 10 days later — the same day the bank publicly disclosed the breach. “By contrast, it took Equifax six weeks before it publicly disclosed its security incident,” the AP noted.

Capital One will reach out to those affected using “a variety of channels” and plans to make free credit monitoring and identity protection available to everyone affected. Consumers can visit www.capitalone.com/facts2019 for the latest information on response efforts.

The AP also notes that, in the wake of the Capital One announcement, “consumers should also obtain copies of their credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. By federal law, consumers can receive a free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the three big agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.”

We urge everyone to do so. There is no such thing as being too careful in monitoring and safeguarding our financial information.

Additionally, according to the AP, some should consider freezing their credit, “which stops thieves from opening new credit cards or loans in your name.” This can be done online, and consumers can freeze their credit for free — instead of paying $5 to $10 per agency — because of a law that President Donald Trump smartly signed last year. Consumers must temporarily unfreeze credit to apply for a new credit card or loan.

Finally, this is a good reminder that we should change our passwords regularly. Make passwords unique and strong.

Taking these steps to protect our privacy are a necessity, when the next data breach is surely, and lamentably, just around the corner.