So many people are seeking cash payments from Equifax following its disastrous 2017 data breach, there may not be enough claims money for everyone to receive a $125 check, the Federal Trade Commission warned on Wednesday.
Now, the FTC is trying to persuade Americans to pick a different option: take Equifax's offer of free credit monitoring instead.
"Millions of people" have logged onto a claims website set up by the federal government, the FTC said, following a multi-million-dollar settlement with Equifax announced last Monday. The site has been live for a week.
Under the deal, consumers can file for Equifax's free credit monitoring or to receive a check for up to $125, which is meant to reimburse the cost of getting credit monitoring from elsewhere.
But the fund dedicated to the cash payouts is only $31 million, the FTC said. That means the more people who file claims for a check, the less likely it is that they'll receive the full $125 payment. The response has been so overwhelming that the agency warned recipients will get "nowhere near $125."
"If you haven't submitted your claim yet, think about opting for the free credit monitoring instead," the agency said in a blog post Wednesday. "Frankly, the free credit monitoring is worth a lot more — the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year."
The $31 million cash fund is part of a larger $300 million fund that Equifax agreed to pay for under its data breach settlement with the FTC. The rest of the Equifax money provides free credit monitoring for customers who select that option instead of cash. Some is also earmarked for cash reimbursements to those who say the breach cost them significant amounts of time — up to $25 for each hour spent freezing credit, disputing fraudulent charges or seeking credit monitoring.
If the overall fund has not been exhausted by the end of 4.5 years, some of that money will go toward expanding the $31 million fund for future claims, an FTC official said. It will not, however, go toward more money for the original claimants.
Equifax agreed to contribute an additional $125 million if the overall fund ran low. But the FTC's blog post appears to suggest that Equifax is not under the same obligation if only the $31 million fund specifically for the cash payouts up to $125 runs dry.
An FTC spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Equifax didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.