DALLAS - There is a lot of confusion about the offer to much of America for $125 in the infamous Equifax data breach settlement.
When the company settled a class-action lawsuit, it offered everyone affected by the data breach free credit monitoring or $125 in cash for those who are already monitored. But Equifax has since changed the wording on its website. It now says consumers can have monitoring or "up to $125."
Apparently, the fund for those $125 payouts is only $31 million or roughly enough to make full payments to only 248,000 people. With more than 147 million people affected by the data breach, an equal division of the $31 million could mean less than $1 for each person who files a claim.
The Federal Trade Commission is now advising consumers to take the free credit monitoring instead. The agency says the market value of the monitoring is hundreds of dollars each year and includes at least four years of tri-bureau monitoring provided by a third party.
Those who take the monitoring option also get $1 million in identity theft insurance and enhanced identity restoration services, as well as the option to add even more monitoring from Equifax.
It all sounds pretty good but it's also important to understand that anyone who is trying to keep someone from using their credit in the front end as opposed to catching and repairing credit on the back end can put a fraud alert or freeze on their credit for free.
For those who already have monitoring, the settlement does include another option to consider. There is $300 million available to reimburse consumers up to $20,000 each for out-of-pocket expenses paid due to the breach like fraudulent charges, freezes to their credit or purchasing monitoring. The fund also pays out for time spent responding to the breach.
The process to claim that cash is far more detailed and requires documentation. So if few people do it, and that $300 million isn't paid out over the next four and a half years, then the unused portion can be applied toward lifting the cap on the $31 million limit for those taking the $125 cash reimbursement.
Consumer reporter Steve Noviello shared his two cents.
"If you don't have credit monitoring, this is a great chance to get it for free. So take it. If you already have it, you can enhance it. Bottom line, if the thought of a maybe extra $125 is really enticing to you, sure you can roll the dice. But the value of what you're getting will be far less," he said.
People who have already made an election will be able to change it soon. A settlement administrator will be contacting people to offer that opportunity.