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Equifax settlement: See if you are eligible, file an FTC claim, find out what you may get

The data breach affected 147 million people. If you're one of them, here's how to submit a claim and be part of the FTC settlement.

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James Martin/CNET

If you're among the 147 million people whose data was exposed in the 2017 Equifax data breach, you can now see if you're eligible to submit a claim to recover money you spent or lost as a result of the massive database hack. The Federal Trade Commission said in July that Equifax has agreed to pay at least $575 million and up to $700 million to help compensate victims of hackers who stole personal data from Equifax servers. Payments as part of the settlement can cover the costs to recover from the security breach of the free credit report company -- including recovering from the theft of your identity and freezing and unfreezing accounts -- and unauthorized charges to your account. You can also submit a claim to cover the cost of protecting yourself from identity theft, following the Equifax data breach.

To get started, you can check if you and your information were exposed as part of the breach. if your data was exposed, gather receipts and other documents related to the hack that show losses and out-of-pocket expenses. And finally, submit your claim for compensation. (The FTC said that because of the overwhelming public response to the settlement, the amount of cash you get to cover monitoring may be much, much less than $125. And make sure you are on the legitimate FTC settlement site: The FTC said fake settlement sites are appearing. You have until Jan. 22, 2020, to be part of the class-action settlement.)

The breach resulted in hackers stealing credit card and driver's license information, Social Security numbers, addresses, birthdates and other personal data stored on Equifax's servers. As part of its investigation, the FTC alleged that the free credit bureau failed to take reasonable steps to secure its network. 

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Even if you weren't part of the breach and don't qualify to file a claim, you can get free credit reports for seven years as part of the settlement.

Taking part in the Equifax settlement isn't completely straightforward. The exact amount that Equifax will pay out is undetermined. The proposed settlement will start with a $300 million fund to compensate affected consumers who bought credit-monitoring services. Equifax will also pay $175 million to state and districts -- and $100 million to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in civil penalties. 

If the initial $300 million infusion doesn't adequately compensate consumers, according to the FTC, Equifax has agreed to kick in $125 million more to the fund, for a total possible settlement payout of $700 million. If you're a claimant, your share of the settlement could include free credit-monitoring and identity-theft protection services. You might also be eligible for cash payments to cover expenses resulting from the breach -- such as legal fees and credit monitoring -- and for free help recovering from identity theft and free credit reports for 10 years.

Here's how to take part in the settlement.

Find out if you were affected by the breach

If you want to check whether your data was exposed, the FTC and official settlement site have an online tool you can use to check if you were part of the Equifax breach.

You'll need to enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number to see if your data was part of the hack.

check

To get started, enter your last name and last six digits of your social.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

Prepare and file your claim

On the Equifax Data Breach Settlement website, you can file a claim to get back money you lost or spent as a result of the wide-ranging hack. Here's how to prepare for and then submit a claim.

  • To support your claim, you'll need to gather any documents and receipts you have related to the breach to show expenses you had to recover from identity theft, for example, and money lost because of the breach.
  • To follow the settlement, the FTC suggests you sign up to receive email updates.
  • You can also check the FTC's Equifax Data Breach Settlement page and the official data breach settlement page for updates.
  • And the FTC has a number you can call -- (833) 759-2982 -- for updates.
  • On the official settlement site, you file a claim online.
  • You can also follow the instructions on the site to mail your claim or have a claim form mailed to you.
  • As part of the claim process, you'll select which benefits you are eligible for and review which documents you need to submit to support your claim. Supporting documents include statements showing unauthorized charges, costs of freezing your account, fees paid to professionals to help with the theft, and other associated expenses.
FTC form

To start the claims process, provide some information.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

What the settlement payments can cover

The proposed agreement caps payouts at $20,000 per person to help cover what you spent to recover from the breach. Here are costs and expenses you may be able to recover.

  • Expenses related to unauthorized charges to your accounts
  • Costs of freezing a credit report and credit monitoring
  • Fees paid to accountants, attorneys and other professionals
  • Expenses for postage, mileage, notary and other services
  • Fees related to credit monitoring, up to $125. (But don't expect to get that much.)
  • Cost of Equifax credit monitoring and other services for a year prior to the breach.

In addition, beginning in 2020, Equifax will provide all US consumers -- whether part of the settlement or not -- with six additional free credit reports per year for seven years, from its website.

When do I need to file a claim?

The FTC said you must submit your claim by Jan. 22, 2020. The soonest you will receive benefits you qualify for is Jan. 23, 2020, the FTC said.

This is the information we know right now, with a lot of details still to come. We'll update this story as we learn more.