The Equifax Data Security Breach and What it Means for You

On July 22nd, Equifax settled with the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Board and State Attorneys General from 47 states and territories, including New York.  The $700 million settlement includes $425 million to cover the affected individuals, $175 million to the states and $100 million to the CFPB in civil penalties.

Later in July, Equifax released details of the settlement and links for consumers to process claims related to the settlement, as well as an FTC follow-up post recommending consumers file for free credit monitoring rather than receiving a flat fee payout.  Concerns were also raised by Elizabeth Warren, in an open letter to the FTC, about the flat fee payout (originally stated as $125) being diminished due to the breadth of consumers actually filing claims.

Timeline

    Mid-May – Mid July 2017 – Equifax data breach occurred.

    July 29, 2017 – Breach discovered by Equifax.

    September 7, 2017Equifax publicly announces unprecedented data breach affecting over 8.3 million New Yorkers, 143 million consumers nationwide.  Equifax along with Experian and Transunion hold all critical consumer data points.  Hence, the breach was uniquely harmful to consumers, who expect a greater standard of care.

    September 8, 2017 – New York Attorney General’s Office launches a formal investigation into Equifax.  A series of class action lawsuits and individual claims are filed separately in courts across the country.  State Attorney Generals and federal agencies begin filing enforcement actions against Equifax as well.

    September 18, 2017Governor assigns Department of Financial Services (DFS) to investigate Equifax on behalf of New York Consumers.

    September – December 2017 – Starting with Massachusetts, several states, including New York, launch enforcement actions against Equifax.

    October 12, 2017 – Equifax amends their security breach notification with New York State to include over 8.4 million New Yorkers and a total over 145.5 million people affected.

    December 6, 2017 – United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued a Conditional Transfer Order consolidating 76 proposed class action lawsuits against Equifax to the North District of Georgia. The Panel’s order went into effect on December 18.  Click here for a complete list of the 76 cases transferred.  Additional individual cases introduced against Equifax related to the data breach were processed through the North District of Georgia and were also part of the June 22, 2019 settlement.

    December 12, 2017Governor announces additional oversight of Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies, including Equifax, by the Department of State, Division of Consumer Protection (DCP), through emergency regulation.

    June 18, 2017NY DFS joins eight other states in separate state settlement and imposing additional oversight.

    July 22, 2019 – Equifax settlement announced by Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Options for Consumers

First, check whether you are eligible.  The FTC provides a link to the “look up tool.”

  1. Opt In
    1. Cash Payment – lump sum
    2. Cash Payment – sum dependent on consumer action
    3. 10 years of credit monitoring
  2. Opt Out
  3. Do Nothing

Opt In

If you are eligible for funds, you can decide whether you want to exercise your rights under the settlement.  If you would like to proceed with a claim for settlement, it must be filed by January 22, 2020.  The details for filing a settlement claim are below.  Consumers should get their claims in sooner rather than later as claims are being processed on a first come, first served basis.

Consumers may be entitled to one of three settlement claim opportunities.  The claim opportunity depends on the consumer’s response to the original breach notification. 

  1. Cash payment – lump sum
  2. Cash payment – sum dependent on consumer action
  3. 10 years of credit monitoring

Choosing between cash payment options.  Originally, the cash payment was advertised at $125, however, the immediate consumer response led to a currently unknown reduction in the total amount consumers may receive.  If you do submit for the cash option and you previously had some form of credit monitoring or protection in place and will continue to have the credit monitoring in place for a minimum of six months from the date of your claim filing, include that credit monitoring service information in your response. 

(For more on this issue, see question 5 of the FTC’s complaint FAQs.)

If you already entered a claim for the cash option, you will need to enter additional information – by October 15, 2019.
The Division has learned that the settlement group is requesting additional information from people who requested the cash option.  Check your email before October 15, 2019 as you need to provide the name of the credit monitoring service and proof that you had some form of credit monitoring or protection in place and will continue to have the credit monitoring in place for a minimum of six months from the date of your claim filing. 

Choosing credit monitoring option. Alternatively, if you decide instead on the 10 years of credit monitoring, the services are split:

  • Four (4) years of credit monitoring across all three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), including up to $1 Million dollars in identity theft insurance*.
  • Six (6) years of Equifax-only credit monitoring.

To calculate the value to New Yorkers for the first four years, the Equifax site sets the value of full credit monitoring services at around $16.95/month, which makes it $203.40/year and $813.60 for four years, if you were purchasing the same services individually through Equifax.  In addition, monitoring your Equifax credit score and FICO score daily is a service that Equifax advertises for $14.95/month, which makes it $179.40 per year and $1,076.40 for six years.

[*The calculation does not include obtaining identity theft insurance because that is not a recognized form of insurance in New York State and cannot be sold to New York residents.] 

    Value of Equifax’s settlement offer for a combined 10 years of credit monitoring = $1,890.

    There are additional benefits to credit monitoring services:

    1. You are regularly alerted to unauthorized charges and new accounts that may be opened, so you can more quickly respond and work to remove them before they become debt you are responsible for.

    2. You will know your credit score, so if your credit report is pulled for a new credit card or loan and is not accurate, you would be alerted and could correct any negative impacts.
If you acted and paid money for services after the breach, there may be additional funds for services purchased after the initial breach announcement, including

  • Losses from unauthorized charges to your accounts.
  • The cost of freezing or unfreezing your credit report.
  • The cost of credit monitoring.
  • Fees you paid to professionals like an accountant or attorney.
  • Other expenses like notary fees, document shipping fees and postage, mileage, and phone charges.
  • For the time you spent dealing with the breach. You can be compensated $25 per hour up to 20 hours. There are limited funds available so your claim may be reduced. See FAQ 7 for more details.
    • If you submit a claim for 10 hours or less, you must describe the actions you took and the time you spent doing those things.
    • If you claim more than 10 hours, you must describe the actions you took AND provide documents that show identity theft, fraud, or other misuse of your information.
  • For the cost of Equifax credit monitoring and related services you had between September 7, 2016, and September 7, 2017, capped at 25 percent of the total amount you paid.

For these claims, you will need to include receipts and other documentation to show you spent the money. 

Note, if you are eligible and decide to “opt in” to one the settlement options for the Equifax breach, it does not preclude you from bringing separate claims against Equifax for other issues besides the security data breach.

Opt Out

If you decide NOT to claim funds as part of the settlement, you can reserve your right to sue Equifax later, by sending a letter of exclusion by November 19, 2019.

This statement must contain the following information:

  • The name of this proceeding (In re: Equifax Inc. Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, Case No. 1:17-md-2800-TWT, or similar identifying words such as “Equifax Data Breach Lawsuit”);
  • Your full name;
  • Your current address;
  • The words “Request for Exclusion” at the top of the document or a statement that you do not wish to participate in the settlement; and
  • Your signature.

Send the statement directly to:

Equifax Data Breach Class Action Settlement Administrator
Attn: Exclusion
c/o JND Legal Administration
P.O. Box 91318
Seattle, WA 98111-9418

The current settlement ends the existing cases pending against Equifax related directly to the security data breach, so only new claims can be filed.  Opting-out allows you to bring a lawsuit against Equifax for specific claims related to the data breach later.  Your timeline to bring a suit will depend on the statute of limitations for the additional claims you are making.  The Division strongly recommends contacting an attorney prior to making the decision to opt-out of the settlement. Consumers should also review what it takes to file a claim in advance of opting out.

Do Nothing

You have until November 19, 2019 to let Equifax know you are actively not participating in the settlement, until January 22, 2020 to file a claim for settlement or you can do nothing.  If you do nothing, you give up your right to sue Equifax in the future for claims related to the data breach, and you forego the flat dollar amount or 10 years of free credit monitoring provided by the settlement.

Tools to Protect

Whether or not you were affected by the Equifax breach, New Yorkers are entitled to several tools to help manage their credit scores.  By law, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are required to provide New Yorkers the opportunity to place a free fraud alert or free security freeze on their credit report.  A fraud alert requires any business that submits an inquiry about your credit to check with you before opening a new account.  A security freeze restricts access to your credit file, limiting access to anyone trying to open new accounts in your name.  For more information about these services, see https://www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection/identity_theft/index.htm.

Consumers can also receive free credit reports four times a year, by first going to www.annualcreditreport.com and then go to each of the credit reporting agencies during the remainder of the year and request a free annual credit report from each (www.equifax.com, www.experian.com, and www.transunion.com).

Important Settlement Dates

November 19, 2019 – Deadline to exclude yourself from the Equifax settlement, if you want to file your own claims specifically about the 2017 security breach separately.

December 19, 2019 – The Court will hold a hearing to consider any objections, and decide whether to approve the settlement, award attorneys’ fees and expenses, and grant service awards to the named class representatives. You may enter an appearance through an attorney, but do not have to. The Court has appointed lawyers to represent you and the class, but you can hire another lawyer at your own expense.

January 22, 2020 – deadline to decide on the settlement for cash or credit monitoring services as part of the settlement.

Questions

If you have additional questions about tools to manage your credit or want to know more about monitoring your credit, the Division of Consumer Protection can assist New Yorkers via the Consumer Helpline at 800-697-1220, available Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time via the Division’s website. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.