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Opinion | Equifax Doesn’t Want You to Get Your $ 125. Here’s What You Can Do., Hacker News

Opinion | Equifax Doesn’t Want You to Get Your $ 125. Here’s What You Can Do., Hacker News

Consumers have a few options for dealing with the data breach settlement.

Charlie Warzel


CreditCreditIllustrations by Yann Bastard

Equifax had one job – keep i ts vast trove of personal financial information on millions of Americans secure. In 2017, the company failed spectacularly at that job when a hack compromised the information of more than147 million people.

This July, Equifaxsettled alawsuitwiththe Federal Trade Commission in response to that failure for up to $ 700 million. A settlement website was created to allow those who had their information exposed by Equifax file a claim to receive either free three-bureau credit monitoring for up to 10 years or up to $ 125 (if you already had credit monitoring, no documentation necessary).

News spread. Millions listened and inundated the claim site. A week later, Ireportedon some fine print in the settlement suggesting that Equifax earmarked only $ 31 million for claims, meaning that if all 147 million people affected by the breach filed a claim, everyone would get just 21 cents. Two days later,the F.T.C. admitted thisand urged victims instead to take the free credit monitoring. Activists and politicians,including Elizabeth Warren, excoriated the FTC, calling the initial settlement “misleading.”

Last weekend, victims looking for their $ 125 faced yet another indignity in the form of an email from the Equifax settlement team. The email – which looked so spammy the F.T.C. had toassure readers on its websitethat it was legitimate – said that people looking for a cash reward must verify they had credit monitoring in place by Oct. 15, 2019, or their claims would be denied.

To recap: Equifax exposed personal financial information, was sued by the government and settled. The government publicly touted a cash reward alternative of up to $ 125 to victims without ensuring enough money had been set aside to guarantee the max amount for every possible person affected; the government backtracked on its statement; eventually, the Equifax settlement team sent a mid-weekend email adding a new hurdle for victims to claim their money. And the cash settlement? “Forget about the $ 125 alternative, ”the Los Angeles Times columnistMichael Hiltzikwrote. “It doesn’t really exist in the real world.”

As one of the 147 million who had their personal information exposed (my weekend email was helpfully buried in the purgatory of Gmail’s “Promotions” tab), the settlement high jinks are enraging to me – an example of financial restitution in the form of a news release only. Worse yet, the bungled payouts may have long-term repercussions for the way Americans think about privacy.

“This deal makes me sick,” Jay Edelson, a class-action lawyer who specializes in privacy cases, told me last week. “This is going to be most Americans’ experience with privacy class-action suits. And their view is going to be, I assume, ‘We were promised a lot and we’re going to get nothing and that’s how it’ll always be. ”

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Fortunately, experts say there are still things you can do if you feel frustrated and misled.

This may seem obvious but the best thing you can do, especially if you have credit monitoring protections active, is make sure you find , open and respond to the Equifax email the settlement team sent out.Theodore H . Frank, a lawyer who specializes in class-action suits, told me this week that only 3 percent of the people who get class-action emails actually respond. But responding is important, because it shows real consumer interest in restitution.

Of course, you’ll need to show proof that you have credit monitoring to be eligible for a cash settlement. But there’s a chance you might have credit monitoring active even if you weren’t previously aware. Many major credit cards actually provide a form of credit monitoring – it’s worth checking with your credit card company to see if you have some form of monitoring in place. If you do, it’s a loophole that might allow you to receive your piece of the settlement.

Granted, this requires some legwork – more than many people may be willing to put in. But giving up is exactly what the settlement team is hoping for when they send out a suspect-looking email, Mr. Frank argued. “Boycotting this unfair settlement isn’t doing anything. The settlement attorneys will still get paid, even if you don’t, ”he said.


(Write a letter to the court)

Before anyone can get their money, the court – specifically, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia – has to approve the settlement. This, two class-action lawyers told me, is where victims have some real power to exert some influence. According to one lawyer familiar with the settlement, one of the factors the court looks at are the responses from those who write letters.

These objections can come in many forms –you can find information on how to object hereunder FAQ section 25 – and you can simply write a standard one-page letter. No legalese or lawyers necessary. “Courts actually read all the objections,” one attorney said. Because most people are too intimidated to write in, a small percentage can go a long way. “Even if it’s just 1, 000 or 2, 000 people, that can send a big message. ”The letter should be brief and outline the process, stressing that you feel deceived by the terms of the settlement – if you do.

Another option is to write your state attorney general to complain about the settlement. Multiple class-action lawyers I spoke with noted that a number of state attorneys general were part of this settlement and that inundating them with letters could ratchet up the pressure to push back on the settlement.

The difficulty is that people usually don’t realize a settlement is unfair right away. Often, it’s not until years later, when a check for a few cents arrives, that they’ll realize they’ve been baited and switched. But then it’s too late.


(File a formal, legal objection

Then there’s the heavy-lift option, which involves class-action lawyers like Mr. Frank. This process is likely to take time, as the objection will cite case law and make a formal argument to the settlement judge. Once these formal objections are filed, other victims can join them without needing to do as much legwork.

There are some serious downsides to filing a formal objection, according to Mr. Frank. Those who do could face long, aggressive depositions from Equifax’s lawyers. Their financial records could be subpoenaed as well. “The lawyers take these objections very personally,” he said. “They have $ 80 million in fees at stake. It’s going to be really ironic when the lawyers who were fighting for the privacy of the class will harass them and invade their privacy to keep their money. ”

But, Mr. Frank argues, if people come out in droves with formal objections, it may lessen the burden for all victims. “It’s like that meme where if 10, 000 people storm Area 51, the government won’t shoot them all. If enough people object, they probably won’t get deposed. And if they do, well, you can look at it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. ”

(Why should I do this?)

If all of this sounds elaborate, it is. But if you care about the future of privacy, the impact could be meaningful. As Mr. Frank notes, this is ultimately about sending a message on behalf of millions of victims that protecting privacy does matter and that those expose entrusted personal information owe victims real compensation. Not some bait-and-switch news release.

Like other media companies, The Times collects data on its visitors when they read stories like this one. For more detail please seeour privacy policyandour publisher’s descriptionof The Times’s practices and continued steps to increase transparency and protections.

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