PhotoThere’s a string attached to the Equifax data breach settlement, one that is taking some consumers by surprise.

The settlement announced in July gives the more than 145 million consumers whose credit records were compromised in 2017 a choice. They can choose free credit monitoring or they can get $125 in cash.

Millions of consumers aren’t about to turn down free cash, but an email from the settlement administrator late last week revealed a caveat. Consumers who take the cash settlement must be enrolled in credit monitoring and remain enrolled for six months. The credit monitoring service does not have to be the one provided by Equifax.

Consumers opting for the cash settlement have until October 15 to verify their credit monitoring information or their claim will be denied. Consumers can also ask to change their claim for free credit monitoring instead of receiving cash.

Huge data breach

Almost exactly two years ago, Equifax -- one of the three credit reporting agencies -- disclosed that hackers had penetrated its network, getting access to credit records on 143 million consumers. That figure was later revised upward.

Making matters worse, consumers whose records were compromised didn’t find out about it until weeks later.  The hackers were able to access consumers' names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and in some cases, driver's license numbers. 

About 209,000 credit card numbers may also have been compromised. Lawsuits ensued by regulators, and the company reached an agreement on a settlement at mid-year.

The company may have misjudged how many consumers would opt for the cash payout, as small as it is. CNN and other news agencies have reported that only $31 million of the total settlement was set aside for cash payments.

Concerns about running out of cash

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put out a statement urging consumers to opt for credit monitoring instead of the cash because it was concerned the available cash would be exhausted.

“Because the amount of money set aside for the cash payment option is capped at $31 million, consumers who select that option may not receive the $125 they had expected,” the FTC said in a notice in early August.

The agency said consumers who haven’t already submitted a claim should consider choosing the credit monitoring service, which is worth more than the amount of money they would likely receive. 

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