If you have already submitted a claim in the Equifax data breach settlement, you are far from alone. More than 15 million claims had been received by Dec. 1, according to court documents.
Haven’t gotten to it yet? You can still file a claim ahead of the Jan. 22 deadline if you’re among the more than 147 million affected by the 2017 Equifax hack. It exposed sensitive personal information, putting consumers at risk of identity theft and fraud.
Distribution of benefits can begin now that a U.S. District Court judge granted final approval of the settlement Jan. 13 and as the initial claims period ends.
But temper your expectations and beware of scams.
What to expect
What to expect depends on which benefit you chose when you filed.
If you chose credit monitoring: If you signed up for free credit monitoring, you’ll get an email with an activation code and link so that you can enroll. Credit monitoring watches your credit reports and alerts you if there are signs of fraudulent activity.
If you asked for cash for alternative compensation or time spent: You can expect a check or prepaid debit card, sent to the address you provided when you submitted your claim. You may well get less than you asked for — these claims will be reduced proportionately if the money allotted falls short.
For example, consumers were offered “up to $125” in alternative compensation if they already had credit monitoring. There’s $31 million for these claims, and if just 5% of eligible consumers filed for it, the payout would be less than $5. Also, those who filed early in the process might get nothing if they overlooked a September email that added a requirement to name the company providing credit monitoring.
If you asked for compensation for out-of-pocket losses: Expect a check or prepaid debit card if your claim is approved. These claims were capped at $20,000 each and required documentation.
Guard against scams
As the filing deadline hits, you might get phishing emails or scam texts and calls.
Adam Levin, chairman of CyberScout, a company offering identity theft education and resolution services, says consumers may see emails offering to extend the credit monitoring period or check the status of their claim.
Carrie Kerskie, identity theft expert and author of “Your Public Identity: Because Nothing Is Private Anymore,” explains that clicking on a link in a scam email could “take the person to a bogus website to harvest sensitive information or it could install malware onto the person’s device.”
Levin suggests ignoring texts or phone calls about the settlement. If you get an email saying you must take an action, don’t click on a link it provides. Instead, navigate directly to the settlement website. You can check your claim status by entering your claim number.
A spokeswoman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advises contacting the settlement administrator if you have concerns. You can reach JND Legal Administration by calling 833-759-2982 or sending an email to info@EquifaxBreachSettlement.com.
Protect your credit with a freeze
Kerskie doesn’t want the free credit monitoring. “You have to provide your sensitive information to another third party that could potentially be breached,” she explained via email.
Her advice is to freeze your credit at the three major credit bureaus, as well as at Innovis and the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange, or NCTUE. The last two are much smaller, but Kerskie says she has seen identity theft activity show up on both.
Levin says he’ll take all the free monitoring he can get. “It’s like chicken soup. Can too much hurt? Definitely not. And it might help,” he noted via email.
However, he says, identity theft monitoring — which can include things like checking for the use of your driver’s license, bank account numbers, health insurance ID and more — with “robust resolution services” is better than traditional credit monitoring.
The Equifax settlement provides seven years of identity restoration services to anyone affected by the breach, regardless of whether they filed a claim.
Monitor your own credit, for freeYou can do your own credit monitoring, too. “By doing it yourself, you are limiting your exposure of new account fraud AND the risk of the monitoring service breaching your information,” Kerskie said.
To monitor your credit:
- Periodically review your full credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. Use AnnualCreditReport.com to get the free copies you’re entitled to annually.
- Watch for big, unexpected changes to your score or activity you don’t recognize on your report. Many personal finance websites, banks and credit card issuers offer access to your credit score and credit report information.
- Make a habit of reviewing bank and credit account statements.
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Bev O’Shea is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.