The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was caught off guard by the number of people seeking cash payouts from the settlement it reached with Equifax last week over the 2017 data breach that exposed sensitive information from 147 million people, the agency said on Wednesday.
The FTC said there is a limited pool of money to pay out victims of the data breach and urged consumers to instead consider opting for free credit monitoring offered to those affected as part of the settlement.
Robert Schoshinski, the assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, wrote in a blog post that only $31 million out of the settlement’s $300 million compensation fund is available for the cash claims.
“A large number of claims for cash instead of credit monitoring means only one thing: each person who takes the money option will wind up only getting a small amount of money,” Schoshinski wrote. “Nowhere near the $125 they could have gotten if there hadn’t been such an enormous number of claims filed.”
Equifax agreed to pay a total of $700 million in a multipronged settlement with 48 state attorneys general, the FTC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the 2017 incident.
Many lawmakers and privacy advocates decried the fine as a slap on the wrist for a credit reporting agency worth nearly $18 billion.
FTC Chairman Joseph Simons said during a press conference last week that his agency didn’t ask Equifax to pay more than $300 million because its economic analysts said that a larger sum would hurt the company’s ability to invest in better cybersecurity infrastructure and to remain competitive within its industry.
Anyone affected by the breach — which exposed Social Security numbers, names and addresses, among other information — is eligible to file a claim for free credit monitoring or $125 out of the $31 million pool. Others who can show damages that resulted from the breach are able to file claims for money from the rest of the $300 million.
“Frankly, the free credit monitoring is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year,” Schoshinski wrote on Wednesday. “And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already, because it monitors your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting agencies, and it comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services.”
Consumers can visit the settlement’s website to check if they were affected by the breach and file a claim.