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Editor's note: Some objectors have appealed the court's decision to approve the settlement. According to the breach settlement website, the settlement will not become final until all appeals have been resolved, and there is no timeline for that.
The period for filing initial claims in the Equifax data breach settlement ended Jan. 22. If you filed a claim, all that's left now is waiting for benefits to arrive. However, new appeals to the approval of the settlement will delay the distribution of benefits.
But everyone — even those who didn’t file a claim in the first round — should keep an eye out for identity theft that might be related to the breach. There's an extended claims period for that, which runs till 2024.
The 2017 Equifax data breach exposed personal data, including in some cases Social Security and driver’s license numbers, of more than 147 million consumers. Equifax agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to help consumers affected by the breach. According to court documents, more than 15 million claims had been submitted by Dec. 1, with several weeks left to file claims.
When will I get my benefits?
Claims are being reviewed and validated by settlement administrator JND Legal Administration. (A settlement administrator is a neutral party that makes sure a court-approved settlement is followed exactly.)
The Equifax data breach settlement site counsels patience and says it could be “several months or more.” A spokeswoman suggested checking the settlement website, and said it will be updated regularly. You can enter your claim number on the website to check the status of your claim.
How will I get my benefits?
If you asked for money
If you requested the compensation of up to $125 or reimbursement for time spent recovering from fraud or ID theft, a check or debit card will be mailed to the address you used when submitting your claim.
Be prepared for compensation that is much less than you requested. The settlement set aside $31 million for this type of claim. If the volume of valid claims exceeds that, the amount each person gets will be reduced proportionally. The number of claims filed suggests that benefits are likely to be significantly less than the maximum offered.
If you requested credit monitoring
You’ll get an email with an activation code and instructions. Be on the lookout for scammers, and key in website URLs yourself rather than following a link.
What benefits can I access now?
Anyone affected by the breach can access identity restoration services from Experian if they experience identity theft in the next seven years. Go to the settlement website and click on “Find out if your information was impacted” to see if you’re eligible.
Identity restoration services include help dealing with companies, government agencies and credit bureaus. You can use the service even if you never make a claim from this settlement. For instructions on how to get the free identity restoration services, call the settlement administrator at 833-759-2982.
In addition, all U.S. consumers — even those not affected by the breach — can get six additional free credit reports from Equifax every year for the next seven years. Regularly requesting your free credit reports from the credit bureaus can help you spot suspicious activity. Between those downloads, you can monitor your credit by using a personal finance website, bank or credit card issuer.
What if I have a loss later on?
The settlement provides an extended claims period. Here are the details:
Extended benefits are available if you were affected by the breach. You can check whether you are affected on the settlement website.
Extended benefits cover out-of-pocket losses or time spent resolving fraud or identity theft related to the breach. However, there’s no compensation provided for time and money spent protecting your credit.
The extended claims period applies to losses that occur after Jan. 22, 2020. Claims must be made by Jan. 22, 2024.
Claims will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis.
Can I opt out of allowing credit bureaus to have my data?
The short answer is no. If you use credit products such as car loans, credit cards or a mortgage, data about your accounts is likely to be shared with the credit bureaus by your creditors. The only thing you can opt out of is receiving prescreened offers.
What can I do to protect my credit?
The very best protection is freezing your credit. Freezing and thawing credit are now free in every state, in response to the Equifax breach.
Freezing your credit blocks access to your credit reports. That effectively keeps new accounts from being opened in your name because potential lenders or credit card issuers cannot check your credit history. Freezing does not affect your credit score.
“If you are not actively seeking credit, freeze your credit,” advises Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group.
Mierzwinski suggests freezing your children’s credit as well: “Kids may not have a credit history, but they do have Socials” — and Social Security numbers are what identity thieves seek. Credit bureaus must now create a credit file to freeze a minor’s credit if a parent requests it.