Personal Finance

Did you sign up for free credit monitoring after massive 2017 Equifax data breach? Keep an eye out for an email or letter

Key Points
  • Instructions on how to activate your service should arrive via email or a mailed letter.
  • The settlement received final court approval last month.
  • If you didn't sign up, there are other ways to protect your credit.

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Your ticket to free credit monitoring for four years may be sitting in your inbox.

If you signed up for this service a couple of years ago as part of the settlement from the 2017 massive data breach at credit-monitoring firm Equifax, you should have received information (or will by Feb. 25). It should come as either an email or mailed letter that includes instructions on how to activate your service, according to the Federal Trade Commission

"This is kind of the payoff … for pretty much everyone who was subject to the Equifax data breach," said John Ulzheimer, a credit expert and president of the The Ulzheimer Group in Atlanta. 

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In the wake of Equifax's 2017 data breach, which compromised the personal information of roughly 147 million consumers — including names, birthdates and Social Security numbers — the company ended up as the target of multiple lawsuits and reached a settlement in 2019 with the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and all U.S. states and territories.

As a result, consumers who were affected by the breach had the option of signing up for either up to $125 or free credit monitoring at all three of the largest credit reporting firms: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. (Consumers who sought cash payments should visit the settlement claims administrator's website for updates, Equifax told CNBC.)

After implementation was delayed due to legal challenges, the settlement received final court approval last month. 

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The free credit monitoring service is being offered through Experian. You can sign up through the Experian IdentityWorks website with an authorization code provided in the information you receive. Or you can call 1-877-251-5822.

"It may seem confusing to sign up with Experian for something that happened with Equifax … but ultimately it's Equifax footing the bill," Ulzheimer said.

You do not provide any payment information to enroll. And if signup instructions arrive via email, be sure it is from the Equifax Breach Settlement Administrator (info@equifaxbreachsettlement.com). You will not be contacted by phone about the settlement.

Although the initial deadline to file a claim was Jan. 22, 2020, consumers are still permitted to file a claim for expenses incurred after that date but before Jan. 22, 2024, due to identity theft or fraud related to the data breach, according to the FTC. That could include losses from unauthorized charges to your accounts, as well as fees paid or expenses incurred as part of recovering from identity theft.

If you didn't sign up for the service (or don't want to), you also can "freeze" your credit report for free, Ulzheimer said. This essentially blocks a lender from checking your report, which means a criminal would be unable to open an account using your personal data. Once the freeze is in place, you have to "thaw" it —either temporarily or permanently — if you apply for credit or a loan so the bank can check your credit. This is free now, as well.

However, you would need to contact all three of the credit reporting firms to cover all your bases. 

You also can put a short-term fraud alert on your report, which lasts one year. Under a fraud alert, a lender seeking to approve an application must first contact you to verify the request is not from an imposter.

Additionally, you only need to contact one of the credit firms to initiate a fraud alert, which in turn is legally obligated to share your notice with the other two. It also is free. However, it generally does not provide the same level of protection as a freeze.