In 2017, the credit bureau Equifax had one of the biggest security breaches in history, with hackers acquiring the personal information of 147 million people. That includes names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers. It's enough to potentially wreck people's credit for years, and because there are only a very small number of credit bureaus that own all other credit services, many of those people likely had no idea they were even customers of Equifax in the first place.
There was some small consolation, though. According to The New York Times, "the F.T.C., the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 50 states and United States territories agreed to a global settlement with Equifax that promised up to $700 million in payments, including fines." Starting last week, people could go to an Equifax website to see if they qualified for a $125 payout as part of that settlement. The link quickly went viral. New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez encouraged her 5 million followers to see if they qualified, tweeting, "Everyone: go get your check from Equifax! $125 is a nice chunk of change. Get that money and pay off a bill, sock it away, take a day off, treat yourself, whatever you’d like - but cash 👏🏿 that 👏🏽 check! 👏🏻"
Unfortunately, the deal seems too good to be true. The $125 is evidently the upper limit of what Equifax and the Federal Trade Commission have agreed to pay per person, and now the FTC is pushing for people to accept free credit monitoring instead. Robert Schoshinski, assistant director of the FTC’s division of privacy and identity protection, wrote in a statement that public response has been "overwhelming," adding:
But the pot of money that pays for that part of the settlement is $31 million. 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. Nowhere near the $125 they could have gotten if there hadn’t been such an enormous number of claims filed.
Of the $700 million Equifax agreed to pay out, only 4.4 percent was designated to repay the people affected by the breach, with the rest, apparently, paying for fines. The company and the FTC seem to have been counting on a very small portion of eligible people actually making claims, which would explain why Equifax required individual people to log in and apply, rather than just mailing them checks directly. The company, after all, knows everyone who was affected and what information was taken, and has their addresses on record—mailing checks would have been much more straightforward but would have required them to pay out to everyone affected, not just the people who managed to check in. And $31 million, evenly split, would have meant a $0.21 check—not even a quarter—to each of the 147 million people, which certainly wouldn't help the company's image.
That $31 million payout was a steal then, and the people affected by the company's lax security have no way to hold them accountable. Usually, when that many people are affected by a company's negligence, they can band together in a class-action suit in the hopes of recuperating some damages. But like many companies, Equifax requires customers to agree to binding arbitration as a cost of doing business with them, meaning that it's legally impossible to sue them for any kind of negligence. When the company offered to let people check its website to see if their data had been compromised, those people were required to first click away their right to sue. Shortly after the breach became public, the Senate voted on a bill that would have allowed consumers to bring class-action lawsuits against banking businesses like Equifax. A tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence killed it.
In the end, $0.21 might be the best anyone can hope for.
Update: A previous version of this story wrongly stated that $31 million split between 147 million people was $4.74, not $0.21. We've corrected the story and regret the error.
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Originally Appeared on GQ