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Equifax Data Breach Victims Drained Its $31 Million Settlement Fund in a Week

So many people have made claims in the data-breach settlement against consumer credit rating agency Equifax that, according to the Federal Trade Commission, each claimant is now likely to get “nowhere near” the $125 payout that was initially promised to victims in lieu of free credit monitoring. The FTC outlined the problem in a blog post on July 31st, just days after the settlement was reached and the claims process was launched.

Instead of requesting a cash payout, the FTC is now encouraging claimants to choose free credit monitoring services, in exchange for joining the settlement and dropping their legal claims against Equifax.

The settlement has been widely trumpeted as offering a $125 cash payout to victims of the September 2017 hack who already have credit monitoring service. But the FTC's information page about the settlement now emphasizes that all victims should take the offer of up to 10 years of free credit monitoring instead. The FTC goes on the explain that, while “you can still choose the cash option . . . you will be disappointed with the amount you receive,” and that “the free credit monitoring [option] provides a much better value."

The problem, the FTC spells out, is simply that too many people have already chosen the cash. According to the agency, millions of people have visited their page about the settlement in just the week since the claims portal went up. But there’s a fixed amount set aside for this part of the settlement—a mere $31 million total was meant to be divided among claimants.

That means no more than 248,000 people would be able to claim a cash settlement and still wind up with $125 each. But if two million people claim the cash, each payout would be just $15.50.

And even that is probably optimistic: 147 million people, or nearly half of all Americans, were victims of the Equifax breach. The $125 amount seemingly depended on the idea that people wouldn’t file claims very aggressively, but discussion of the settlement has been widespread in the last week. The higher-than-anticipated level of claims would seem to reflect lingering, deep-seated anger at the mishandling of data by Equifax – data that, thanks to the special status of consumer credit agencies, was gathered in the first placed without the consent of most victims.

The $31 million pool represents a small portion of Equifax’s overall settlement of nearly $700 million. Another $425 million is set aside to compensate victims who took concrete financial losses as a direct result of the hack. So if, for example, your bank account was drained by identity thieves after the hack, the claim process is probably still worthwhile.

Those who have already made a claim for cash will have a chance to change their mind now that the reward amount has shriveled. Claimants should be receiving an email outlining that option soon, according to the FTC.

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