The headlines have been pretty much everywhere. If you're among the 147 million Americans affected by the Equifax data breach in 2017, then you're entitled to at least $125. Head over to the Equifax settlement site to determine if you were part of the breach and start a claim. As my colleague Jason Aten points out, it only takes 10 seconds to check your eligibility.

There's just one problem. Data breach victims who make a claim for $125 almost certainly won't ever see that sum. And there's a much better offer on the table: 10 years of free credit monitoring. 

Why should you be skeptical that you'll ever see $125 from Equifax? Because of this little disclaimer on the settlement breach website: "If there are more than $31 million claims for Alternative Reimbursement Compensation [i.e. the $125], all payments for Alternative Reimbursement Compensation will be lowered and distributed on a proportional basis."

Do the math: It will only take 250,000 claims of $125 each to use up all of that $31 million, without even considering the many breach victims who will make larger claims, using it up even faster. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted to her 4.9 million followers, encouraging them to put in for their $125 settlement. If one in 20 of them took her advice, that would be enough to hit the $31 million cap, even if no one who didn't get the tweet made a claim. If all 147 million breach victims were each to make a claim for $125, and the $31 million was evenly distributed among all of them, they'd each get a check for just under 17 cents. And whatever the size of the check, you'll have to wait months for it because the settlement still needs to go through judicial approval before it's finalized.

Choose credit monitoring instead.

Why is this a better deal? To begin with, you do indeed need credit monitoring. Not only is this your first line of defense against identity theft and a host of other problems, but you'll have to "certify" to Equifax that you already have credit monitoring in order to collect that $125. It's not clear whether you'll actually have to prove it somehow or simply declare that you have it and intend to keep it for at least six months.

Of course, you could opt for a free credit monitoring service such as Credit Karma, which seems like a perfectly good alternative pay services. However, Credit Karma only monitors two of the three credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax, whereas the Equifax settlement offers four years of credit monitoring with all three major agencies, including Experian as well. Importantly, it also comes with up to $1 million insurance in case your identity is stolen. After the four years are up, you can have six more years of monitoring by Equifax. You'll have to sign up for the extra six years right from the start.

That's four years of a service for which Equifax normally charges $20 a month, close to a $1,000 value, and another six years of a pretty good service. It's a total of 10 years when you pretty much never have to wonder whether you're a victim of identity theft.

I don't know about you, but to me that seems like a much better deal than putting in for $125 and hoping you'll get more than 17 cents.

Published on: Jul 28, 2019
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