If you’ve been hanging around with Your Nerdy Best Friend for a while, you know how completely freaked out I was about the Equifax data breach almost two years ago.
Equifax revealed the breach in the fall of 2017, but several months earlier, the company knew of vulnerabilities and hacker activity and more. More than 147 million U.S. residents were affected by the theft of incredibly personal information including social security numbers, dates of birth, names, addresses and more. This is the golden ticket for identity thieves, who can use this info to wreck your world.
This week Equifax set up the settlement site for victims of the breach, and there’s a pretty good chance you can get some money back.
Avoid My Mistakes!
Oops. I had dollar signs in my eyes (thinking that I could get $750 from Equifax for me and the hubby) and just jumped in to file claims. Chances are I messed up and will receive less than I should have gotten because…
- I didn’t check to make sure both of us were eligible (D.J. wasn’t).
- I didn’t read the FAQs where it said I needed to claim expenses for credit freezes in a different part of the form than I used.
- I didn’t stop to consider what I was giving up in exchange for getting $125.
- I didn’t realize that you can’t go back to change things and that you wouldn’t get any kind of confirmation (at least not in the first 24 hours since I did it).
Step ZERO: Do This NOW
Equifax will pay at least $380,500,000 into a Consumer Restitution Fund. They’ll add another $125,000,000 if that runs out. But as the money runs out, they may reduce the amount of money you can claim.
But first, read this so you don’t make my mistakes.
Step One: Determine If You’re a Victim
My first mistake in filling out the claim forms was not starting here. I had already filled out a claim for me and the hubby before I discovered this link, and it turns out that D.J. was not in the breach. I submitted a claim for him anyway. We’ll see what happens.
You may not be one of the 147 million people, but I’m betting some of your family members are. Pass this along!
Step Two: Read the FAQs
I just jumped right into the claim, and I probably missed an opportunity to recoup some fees. It’s a good idea to read the FAQs to see the big picture before you fill anything out because there’s no way to go back and modify your claim.
You can get money in three ways from the claim form:
- Opting out of the credit monitoring in exchange for $125
- Claiming money for time and effort you spent dealing with the breach
- Claiming money for fees you spent dealing with the breach
You can get $25 an hour up to 20 hours for time you spent on activities related to the breach. I assumed that this would cover the time and hassle I spent trying to freeze my credit, but that’s in another area. I didn’t discover that until after I submitted the claim, so I may face an obstacle in getting paid for that time.
Another thing to consider in this category is whether or not you want to be a part of the settlement. You can opt out and take separate action if you want.
Step Three: Start the Claim
After you’ve determined that you’re eligible and have reviewed the FAQs, filling out the online form will be very simple and fast. You can also request a written form or print it out if you don’t trust the site with your info. It’s worth noting that this site is run by the settlement company, not Equifax.
I was very happy to see that the online form did not ask for my social security number. The hubby and I have moved since the breach, so I’m interested in seeing if/how they connect the info with the right person.
Step Four: Decide about Credit Monitoring
Equifax has committed to help victims keep an eye on their credit for years to come.
Experian (not Equifax) will provide three-bureau credit monitoring for at least four years. I’ve been involved in these types of breaches before, and my credit monitoring coverage has been extended twice so far, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you get it for longer. You also get identity theft insurance, real-time credit notifications, dark web monitoring and more. Further, Equifax will cover you for 6 years as well.
You can also opt for a $125 payout. That’s what I did because I’m being monitored elsewhere. But think about what you’re giving up for that $125… you might want the extended credit monitoring and insurance instead. I’m not sure I should have chosen the money for D.J. (and since he wasn’t affected, I bet he won’t get any money anyway unless they’re just approving everything, which is also a possibility).
Step Four-A: Check to See if Your Kids Are Affected
NOTE! Your kids could have been affected by this breach! This is especially dangerous because since your children are not yet employed, they might not notice identity theft or use of the their Social Security number for years, and then it might be too late. Equifax will let parents/legal guardians make a claim for kids and offers some longer-term credit monitoring options.
Step Five: Describe the Time and Money You Spent as a Result of the Breach
This is where things got confusing and where I should have spent more time understand the fine print.
In this section, you can ask for $25 an hour for up to 20 hours of time you spent as a result of the breach. Here’s what I did:
- Researched the hell out of what happened
- Obsessed over checking my credit
- Went through the hassle (and expense) of freezing my credit and D.J.’s.
- Called my family and friends to warn them
- Wrote several blog posts and did videos to warn you guys
I know I spent at least 20 hours dealing with it, and *I think* I can claim those hours without having to show any documentation. I thought that was what they were asking for in this area, but reading the FAQs, they clearly say you can’t claim the freeze time/stuff in this section. I still don’t know 100%.
I also don’t know that you can claim 20 hours without documentation. The FAQs say 10 hours, but other areas make it seem like 20. So again, I don’t know. I did have to click the box that I would upload documents later after I filled in the 20 hours.
Step Six: Ask for Money You Spent as a Result of the Breach
I skipped this section, thinking that the credit freeze fees were covered in the previous section. Oops. Here’s where you can ask for money you actually paid out. You can even ask for mileage and postage — and fax expenses!
Because I jumped on the credit freeze right away before many of the services waived their fees, I paid quite a chunk to pay for both me and D.J. And then I have had to unfreeze and freeze again, with little fees here and there and a lot more hassle. Clear as day, this area of the form asks you to enter those fees here. Oops.
And here’s where you can ask for big bucks if you’ve had a big problem after the breach (and it can be reasonably traced back to this event). Did you suffer identity theft in the past two years? Did you have to pay someone to help? Here’s where to get Equifax to pay you back.
Step Seven: Wait
As I mentioned, the claim process takes very little time, then you submit. Neither my husband nor I received a confirmation, and we can’t go back to fix our errors (I don’t think). A weird thing… to write this blog post, I put in absolute gobbledygook in the claim, and I got the same confirmation screen, so I know that at least right now they’re not verifying any info or checking for errors. So it’ll be interesting to see how things progress.
Step Eight: See Step Zero
I’m not kidding folks… make your claim now. The only benefit for waiting a little while is to see if they change the process (like let you go back and change things). They sometimes do that if a lot of people have trouble with the process. You only have until January to file a claim for money and time you have already spent, and then you have until 2024 to file claims for future problems.