In the past month, the Federal Trade Commission reached a major data security and privacy settlement with Equifax, which should benefit consumers for years to come.
What should you do to take full advantage of the settlement?
First, some background. The settlement with Equifax stems from its massive data breach in 2017 that affected about 147 million people. The FTC alleged that Equifax failed to patch its network after being alerted to a critical security vulnerability affecting one of its databases. Even though Equifax’s security team ordered that each of the company’s vulnerable systems be patched within 48 hours after receiving the alert, the FTC alleges that Equifax did not follow up to ensure the order was carried out, leading to the exploited vulnerability.
This is an important reminder for businesses that it’s not enough to be aware of vulnerabilities; you must follow up on getting them fixed.
Equifax will pay up to $700 million as part of the settlement, which involves multiple agencies. This includes paying $175 million to 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as $100 million in civil penalties to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Equifax also will provide free services and cash payments for people whose information was released during the breach. There are two benefits for people who were affected by the breach. First, you can file a claim to get up to 10 years of free credit monitoring, including at least four years of free monitoring at all three credit bureaus and up to six additional years of monitoring from Equifax. This also includes $1 million of identity theft insurance.
Second, you can claim a cash reimbursement (up to $20,000 per person) for expenses you paid as a result of the breach. This could include losses from unauthorized charges to an account or any costs you paid for credit monitoring or professionals.
To get one of these benefits, first find out if you were affected by the breach. You can do that by going to Eligibility.EquifaxBreachSettlement.com/en/Eligibility. You will be asked to put in your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security Number. This is one of the few times when it is OK to share personal information online. If you want any of the benefits, you must file a claim at EquifaxBreachSettlement.com/file-a-claim. This site allows you to file a claim online, print out a claim form, or request a claim form be mailed to you.
In addition, beginning this January, Equifax will provide all U.S. consumers, whether or not affected by the breach, with six free credit reports each year for seven years – in addition to the one free credit report from each credit reporting agency that we all are entitled to get every year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you have any questions or concerns about what to do, check out the FTC’s information webpage at ftc.gov/Equifax.
As always, remember that the scammers follow the headlines and are scamming people about this settlement. So be careful to only use the resources in this article.