Over the weekend, Americans who have filed to claim $125 from the Equifax data breach settlement learned that there is yet another step to claim compensation: They must verify that they already have credit monitoring in place and will continue to do so for the next six months, according to an email from the settlement administrator. They will have until October 15 to verify this information (or their original claim will be denied), or they can request to change their claim for free credit monitoring and opt out of receiving money.
In September 2017, the credit reporting agency Equifax revealed that the private information of up to 143 million US consumers was compromised in a massive data breach. Hackers had obtained Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses, but customers whose private data was at risk weren’t informed until six weeks later. As Vox’s Karen Turner pointed out in 2017: “Following what might be the worst data breach of the past decade, such a long delay is shocking — but given the lack of regulation it’s not all that surprising.” (Regulation is left primarily to states, although since the Equifax breach, states like Illinois, Texas, and Washington have amended their data privacy notification laws.)
Equifax became embroiled in a whirlwind of hearings and ongoing investigations in the two years following the breach and agreed to pay up to $700 million in a July settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The credit reporting service agreed to pay money out to anyone affected by the breach if customers filed their claim by January 22, 2020. The claim process “is incredibly simple,” The Verge reported in July. There’s a site where users can check whether they’ve been affected by the breach, submit biographical information, and request to receive either a $125 check or pre-paid card, or free three-bureau credit monitoring.
But there is a catch, noted at the end of the email and on the settlement website. The amount of compensation a person can receive “may be significantly reduced depending on how many valid claims are ultimately submitted by other class members for this relief.” Considering how many claims have been filed already, payments “likely will be substantially lowered and will be distributed on a proportional basis if the settlement becomes final.”
In other words, if you filed a claim, expect to receive less than $125. Wired reported shortly after the settlement that the $125 disbursements will be capped at $31 million, which means that after 248,000 claims, that compensation number could likely going down. But the $31 million cap could be lifted after roughly four years if Equifax doesn’t spend its entire $425 million consumer restitution fund — money set aside to cover people’s significant out-of-pocket losses as a result of the breach.
A Slate article in July noted that compensation “may take a while, but odds are decent that you will eventually get your full $125” — unless, of course, Equifax drains that consumer fund before then. In August, Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized the FTC, writing on Twitter that it “may have misled the public” into thinking they’d receive reimbursement for the settlement.
A $31,000,000 compensation fund ÷ $125 = 248,000 checks.
That’s right: the FTC planned for less than 1% of people to get the money they’re owed.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 14, 2019
For now, it seems unlikely that anyone will know for certain exactly how much money they’re entitled to (until that check physically arrives). This weekend, people publicly fumed on Twitter, outraged that they have to take additional, more complicated steps to receive their federally mandated payouts.
After pulling a bait-and-switch on the $125 promised to victims of the Equifax breach, the Federal Trade Commission is now turning to a common tactic: forcing additional steps and hoping that people will fall out.
— David Dayen (@ddayen) September 8, 2019
“I have been trying to submit a claim since yesterday,” Leah Stokes, an agitated Equifax consumer, wrote to me in a Twitter message. “The website won’t load. [It] says the captcha isn’t working but I don’t see any captcha.” Stokes filled out the form twice this morning, but couldn’t submit it and kept trying to reload the page.
“Seems like an intentionally buggy website to me,” Stokes concluded. “They are clearly erecting barriers to submission.”
Having a very interesting experience trying to submit a claim to @Equifax over the past 24 hours. Almost seems like they intentionally built a glitchy, broken website so that no one can submit their final claim.
So I’d like to @AskEquifax: Did you do this intentionally?
— Leah Stokes (@leahstokes) September 9, 2019
Meanwhile, Equifax appears to have deployed a team on Twitter to directly respond to the flurry of negative comments, asking users to send them a direct message for further assistance. Equifax has not yet responded to a request for comment from Vox.
I do apologize for the delay in response. I have sent you a direct message addressing your concern -Kirk G.
— Equifax Inc. (@Equifax) September 9, 2019
Virtual assistance might not do much to soothe the public’s vitriol against the credit reporting service, but many customers are determined to get their payout — no matter how many bureaucratic obstacles are thrown in their way.
“Even if I only get a dollar, I’m still doing this so that they have to print out a check and mail it to me,” one Reddit user wrote. “Because fuck them.”
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