Con artists push fake Equifax settlement websites. How to tell phony from real — and figure out if you’re eligible for cash

Consumer News

(CBS) – It’s been mere days since credit-reporting firm Equifax agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle claims over a massive 2017 data breach and already scammers are trying to exploit the deal to fraudulently get their hands on your personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission warns that con artists have put up fake websites to look like the official Equifax settlement website, hoping to lure some of the estimated 147 million potential claimants who may be eligible for up to $425 million in compensation from the settlement.

To make sure you’re not handing over sensitive financial information to a fake website, start your claims process on the FTC’s Equifax page at ftc.gov/Equifax. The federal agency noted that consumers never have to pay a fee to claim benefits from the settlement and said anyone who calls to urge you to file a claim is most certainly a con artist. 

On the settlement website, you can figure out whether you’re one of the eligible claimants. Enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number in a website operated by the settlement administrator (not Equifax). If told your personal information was affected by the data theft, then you can file a claim. 

How to get your settlement from the Equifax data breach

That’s relatively easy to do, too. You can make a claim for compensation and upload any supporting documents online at https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/. This is the only official website.

If you’d rather mail your claim, you can download and print a designated form, which can be filled out and sent with any supporting documents to:

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

Note that claims on behalf of anyone who was a minor on May 13, 2017, must use this formand be sent via conventional mail.

Take the free credit monitoring or the $125 cash?

Consumers impacted by the data breach are entitled to up to 10 years of free monitoring of their credit reports. You can also sign up for at least four years of monitoring services provided by Experian at no cost, or if you already have credit monitoring going, you can file to be compensated for up to $125 in cash.

The key words here are “up to,” according to the Associated Press and the financial advice website NerdWallet, which notes you are choosing between a guaranteed minimum amount of free credit monitoring or compensation that could be well less than $125, depending on how many people apply for the benefit in coming months.

Settlement terms say that alternative $125 reimbursement claims will be paid from a $31 million “bucket.” If there are enough claims to empty that bucket, the amount each person gets will drop as the pool of money is distributed proportionally. NerdWallet says that means there would need to be no more than 248,000 approved claims out of the 147 million consumers affected — or less than one-fifth of one percent — for approved applicants to get the full $125.

What about money to reimburse hack expenses?

People who were harmed in the cybertheft can also claim as much as $20,000 in cash reimbursement for expenses related to the breach. Those include fees to freeze or unfreeze credit reports, as well as for credit-monitoring services; losses from unauthorized charges to accounts; and any payments to lawyers and or accountants.

You can make a claim for up to 20 hours of time spent dealing with the breach. The good news here is that backing documents aren’t required, and you could see compensation for time you spend trying to recover from identity theft (or avoid it in the first place) of $25 an hour (up a maximum of 10 hours — more than that and you will need documents backing up your additional time spent). You must certify that you are being truthful. 

Again, notice the words “up to” for the hourly reimbursement offer. NerdWallet notes there is another $31 million bucket of money to cover claims for time spent. If it is exhausted, payouts will be reduced proportionally.

What is the deadline for filing your claim?

The deadline to file claims is Jan. 22, 2020, for most benefits, and you won’t receive anything until the settlement administrator gets the go-ahead from a court — that would be Jan. 23, 2020, at the earliest. 

To keep on top of the situation, just sign up for email alerts from the FTC or call (833) 759-2982 for updates.

The settlement site includes a page with answers to frequently asked questions, from basics like how the settlement came about to how long it could take to get your money (the process could take several months or more).

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.