Equifax and other credit bureaus, like it or not, collect information on one’s finance history as a means of assessing a customer’s credit risk and the data they and other similarly-focused businesses gather leaves few stones unturned.
So, when they suffered the unfathomable hack of personal data impacting a total of nearly 147 million people, folks became worried, angry and concerned about the future — and with good reason. Now, almost two years following news about the exposure, the company has initiated plans to assist those affected and those who believe they may have been affected with a series of benefits aimed at repairing credit and restoring the public’s trust.
During a recent telebriefing with Ethnic Media Services, in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), details were shared and questions answered on the global settlement to which Equifax has agreed with the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and 50 U.S. states and territories.
Joining journalists from among the nation’s leading ethnic media outlets and publications, a lawyer representing the FTC and responsible for monitoring privacy and ID protection concerns, highlighted key elements of the $700 million settlement which includes up to $425 million to assist those affected by the data breach.
“I worked on the settlement that was recently reached and have been involved pretty much from the time the data breach was initially discovered and announced to the public in September 2017,” said Jacqueline Connor, an FTC attorney and spokesperson.
“This was a massive breach as 147 million [affected] consumers represent about 50 percent of the U.S. population,” she said. “I, too, am one of those affected consumers. The information stolen included names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers and other personal data. Some consumers are unsure if they were even impacted. That’s where the FTC comes in.”
Connor says the first step is for consumers to visit www.ftc.gov/Equifax and review the steps to proceed or to glean additional recommendations on the official website. Consumers should avoid accessing or responding to any other websites that claim to offer help.
“There are a number of benefits and they’re easy to take advantage of,” she said. “They can even be done from a mobile device. For all consumers, regardless of whether they’re part of the data breach, they can receive up to six free credit reports from Equifax for seven years. Currently, consumers can only receive one free report annually.”
Connor recommends taking time to frequent the website on a periodic basis.
“The site will be updated regularly and serves as the surest means of avoiding potential scams,” she said. “And there are some very helpful infographics.”
One question that many consumers have relates to who actually obtained the data and to what end.
“We still don’t know who the attackers were as it’s extremely difficult to tie ID theft to the breach,” she said. “But consumers don’t have to prove that their personal identity theft is connected to the Equifax breach. They’re eligible for compensation, which may include cash payments or free credit monitoring and repair as long as any breach took place within the dates as specified on the website.”
Some of the questions that consumers have and which are answered on the website include:
How to find out if you were affected by the breach?
How to claim your benefits in the form of free credit monitoring or cash payments?
When will the claims process start?
When will you get your benefits?
How will you get your benefits?
In response to a question from The Washington Informer, Connor emphasized that communities like African Americans who may have misgivings about the federal government’s trustworthiness should know that while they served a big role in securing the settlement, they are not part of the distribution of benefits.
“The distribution of benefits themselves will be provided by a third-party administrator,” she said. “Benefits themselves and the oversight of the FTC website actually are being conducted by a third party as well. That should provide consumers a greater sense of security and trust in the system.”