COMMITMENTS AND CONTINGENCIES
|12 Months Ended
Dec. 31, 2020
|Commitments and Contingencies Disclosure [Abstract]
|COMMITMENTS AND CONTINGENCIES
|COMMITMENTS AND CONTINGENCIES
2017 Cybersecurity Incident.
In fiscal 2017, we experienced a cybersecurity incident following a criminal attack on our systems that involved the theft of certain personally identifiable information of U.S., Canadian and U.K. consumers. Criminals exploited a software vulnerability in a U.S. website application to gain unauthorized access to our network. In March 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security distributed a notice concerning the software vulnerability. We undertook efforts to identify and remediate vulnerable systems; however, the vulnerability in the website application that was exploited was not identified by our security processes. We discovered unusual network activity in late-July 2017 and upon discovery promptly investigated the activity. Once the activity was identified as potential unauthorized access, we acted to stop the intrusion and engaged a leading, independent cybersecurity firm to conduct a forensic investigation to determine the scope of the unauthorized access, including the specific information potentially impacted. Based on our forensic investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017.
Product Liability. As a result of the 2017 cybersecurity incident, we offered TrustedID® Premier, a credit file monitoring and identity theft protection product, for free to all eligible U.S. consumers who signed up through January 31, 2018. In late 2018, the Company extended the free credit monitoring services for an additional twelve months for eligible consumers impacted by the 2017 cybersecurity incident by providing them the opportunity to enroll in Experian® IDNotify™ at no cost. We also provided free credit reports and scores, credit monitoring and identity theft protection for twenty four months to impacted consumers in Canada and the U.K. We have recorded the expenses necessary to provide this service to those who signed up. The remaining product liability balance at December 31, 2020 and 2019 was not material to the Consolidated Financial Statements.
Litigation, Claims and Government Investigations. In fiscal 2017, we experienced a cybersecurity incident following a criminal attack on our systems that involved the theft of certain personally identifiable information of U.S., Canadian and U.K. consumers. Following the 2017 cybersecurity incident, hundreds of class actions and other lawsuits were filed against us typically alleging harm from the incident and seeking various remedies, including monetary and injunctive relief. We were also subject to investigations and inquiries by federal, state and foreign governmental agencies and officials regarding the 2017 cybersecurity incident and related matters. Most of these lawsuits and government investigations have concluded or been resolved, including pursuant to the settlement agreements described below, while others remain ongoing. The Company’s participation in these settlements does not constitute an admission by the Company of any fault or liability, and the Company does not admit fault or liability.
Consumer Settlement. On July 19, 2019 and July 22, 2019, we entered into multiple agreements that resolve the U.S. consolidated consumer class action cases, captioned In re: Equifax, Inc. Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, MDL No. 2800 (the “U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation”), and the investigations of the FTC, the CFPB, the Attorneys General of 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico (the "MSAG Group") and the NYDFS (collectively, the “Consumer Settlement”). Under the terms of the Consumer Settlement, the Company will contribute $380.5 million to a non-reversionary settlement fund (the “Consumer Restitution Fund”) to provide restitution for U.S. consumers identified by the Company whose personal information was compromised as a result of the 2017 cybersecurity incident as well as to pay reasonable attorneys’ fees and reasonable costs and expenses for the plaintiffs’ counsel in the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation (not to exceed $80.5 million), settlement administration costs and notice costs. The Company has agreed to contribute up to an additional $125.0 million to the Consumer Restitution Fund to cover certain unreimbursed costs and expenditures incurred by affected U.S. consumers in the event the $380.5 million in the Consumer Restitution Fund is exhausted. The Company also agreed to various business practice commitments related to consumer assistance and its information security program, including conducting third party assessments of its information security program.
On January 13, 2020, the Northern District of Georgia, the U.S. District Court overseeing centralized pre-trial proceedings for the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation and numerous other federal court actions relating to the 2017 cybersecurity incident (the “MDL Court”), entered an order granting final approval of the settlement in connection with the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation. The MDL Court entered an amended order granting final approval of the settlement on March 17, 2020. Several objectors have appealed the final approval order. Until the appeals are finally adjudicated or dismissed and the settlement becomes final in accordance with its terms, we can provide no assurance that the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation will be resolved as contemplated by the settlement agreement. If the Court’s order approving the settlement agreement was overturned by an appellate court and not cured in accordance with the terms of the consent orders with the FTC and CFPB, the consent orders with the FTC, CFPB and MSAG Group would remain in place and the Consumer Restitution Fund would be administered by the FTC. In that event, there is a risk that we would not be able to settle the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation on acceptable terms or at all, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition.
Other Settlements. Financial Institutions MDL Class Action. On May 15, 2020, the Company entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the consolidated financial institutions class action cases pending before the MDL Court (the “Financial Institutions MDL Litigation”). Under the settlement, the Company agreed to pay for valid claims submitted by class members up to a maximum amount, reasonable settlement administration and notice costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses. The Company also agreed to adopt and/or maintain certain business practices related to its information security program. The court granted final approval of the settlement on October 22, 2020.
Other Matters. We face other lawsuits and government investigations related to the 2017 cybersecurity incident that have not yet been concluded or resolved. These ongoing matters may result in judgments, fines or penalties, settlements or other relief. We dispute the allegations in the remaining lawsuits and intend to defend against such claims. Set forth below are descriptions of the main categories of these matters.
Georgia State Court Consumer Class Actions. Four putative class actions arising from the 2017 cybersecurity incident were filed against us in Fulton County Superior Court and Fulton County State Court in Georgia based on similar allegations and theories as alleged in the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation and seek monetary damages, injunctive relief and other related relief on behalf of Georgia citizens. These cases were transferred to a single judge in the Fulton County Business Court and three of the cases were consolidated into a single action. On July 27, 2018, the Fulton County Business Court granted the Company’s motion to stay the remaining single case, and on August 17, 2018, the Fulton County Business Court granted the Company’s motion to stay the consolidated case. These cases remain stayed pending final resolution of the U.S. Consumer MDL Litigation.
Canadian Class Actions. Five putative Canadian class actions, four of which are on behalf of a national class of approximately 19,000 Canadian consumers, are pending against us in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Each of the proposed Canadian class actions asserts a number of common law and statutory claims seeking monetary damages and other related relief in connection with the 2017 cybersecurity incident. In addition to seeking class certification on behalf of the approximately 19,000 Canadian consumers whose personal information was allegedly impacted by the 2017 cybersecurity incident, in some cases, plaintiffs also seek class certification on behalf of a larger group of Canadian consumers who had contracts for subscription products with Equifax around the time of the incident or earlier and were not impacted by the incident.
On December 13, 2019, the court in Ontario granted certification of a nationwide class that includes all impacted Canadians as well as Canadians who had subscription products with Equifax between March 7, 2017 and July 30, 2017 who were not impacted by the incident. Our motion for leave to appeal this decision was granted in part, and our appeal is now pending. All remaining purported class actions are at preliminary stages or stayed.
Government Investigations. We have cooperated with federal, state and foreign governmental agencies and officials investigating or otherwise seeking information, testimony and/or documents, regarding the 2017 cybersecurity incident and related matters. Except as described below, these investigations have been resolved as discussed in prior filings or there has been no further activity.
The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) opened an enforcement investigation against our U.K. subsidiary, Equifax Limited, in October 2017. The investigation by the FCA has involved a number of information requirements and interviews. We continue to respond to the information requirements and are cooperating with the investigation.
Data Processing, Outsourcing Services and Other Agreements
We have separate agreements with Google, Amazon Web Services, IBM, Tata Consultancy Services and others to outsource portions of our network and security infrastructure, computer data processing operations, applications development, business continuity and recovery services, help desk service and desktop support functions, operation of our voice and data networks, maintenance and related functions and to provide certain other administrative and operational services. The agreements expire between 2021 and 2027. The estimated aggregate minimum contractual obligation remaining under these agreements is approximately $318 million as of December 31, 2020, with no future year’s minimum contractual obligation expected to exceed approximately $133 million. Annual payment obligations in regard to these agreements vary due to factors such as the volume of data processed; changes in our servicing needs as a result of new product offerings, acquisitions or divestitures; the introduction of significant new technologies; foreign currency; or the general rate of inflation. In certain circumstances (e.g., a change in control or for our convenience), we may terminate these data processing and outsourcing agreements, and, in doing so, certain of these agreements require us to pay significant termination fees.
Under our agreement with IBM (which covers our operations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific), we have outsourced certain of our mainframe and midrange operations, help desk service and desktop support functions, and the operation of our voice and data networks. The scope of services provided by IBM, and the term of our agreement with respect to such services, varies by geography and location. The estimated future minimum contractual obligation under the revised North America (US and Canada), Europe (UK and Spain), Australia and Latin America agreements is approximately $61 million for the remaining term, with no individual year’s minimum expected to exceed approximately $37 million. We may terminate certain portions of this agreement without penalty in the event that IBM is in material breach of the terms of the agreement. During 2020, 2019 and 2018, we paid approximately $50 million, $52 million and $49 million, respectively, for these services.
Under our agreement with Google, we have outsourced certain areas of our network and security infrastructure. The estimated future minimum contractual obligation under the agreement is approximately $120 million for the remaining term, with no individual year’s minimum expected to exceed approximately $44 million. We may terminate certain portions of this
agreement without penalty in the event that Google is in material breach of the terms of the agreement. During 2020, 2019 and 2018, we paid approximately $29 million, $14 million and $7 million, respectively, for these services.
Change in Control Agreements
In February 2019, we adopted the Equifax Inc. Change in Control Severance Plan (the “CIC Plan”) for certain key executives. The CIC Plan does not apply to Mark W. Begor, our Chief Executive Officer, whose severance benefits in a change of control are contained in his employment agreement with the Company. The CIC Plan and Mr. Begor’s agreement provide for, among other things, certain payments and benefits in the event of a qualifying termination of employment (i.e., termination of employment by the executive for “good reason” or termination of employment by the Company without “cause,” each as defined in the applicable document) following a change in control of the Company. In the event of a qualifying termination, the executive will become entitled to continuation of certain employee benefits for years, as well as a lump sum severance payment, all of which differs by executive.
Change in control events potentially triggering benefits under the CIC Plan and Mr. Begor’s agreement would occur, subject to certain exceptions, if (1) any person acquires 20% or more of our voting stock; (2) upon a merger or other business combination, our shareholders receive less than two-thirds of the common stock and combined voting power of the new company; (3) members of the current Board of Directors ceasing to constitute a majority of the Board of Directors, except for new directors that are regularly elected; (4) we sell or otherwise dispose of all or substantially all of our assets; or (5) we liquidate or dissolve. If these change in control benefits had been triggered as of December 31, 2020, payments of approximately $32.4 million would have been made.
Under the Company’s existing employee stock benefit plans, upon a change in control, outstanding awards will continue to vest in accordance with the terms. However, if outstanding awards are not assumed or continued in the change in control transaction or if the executive incurs a qualifying termination in connection with the change in control, then all outstanding stock options and nonvested stock awards will vest. With respect to unvested performance based share awards dependent upon the Company’s three-year relative total shareholder return, if at least one calendar year of performance during the performance period has been completed prior to the change in control event, the awards will be paid out based on the Company’s performance at that time; otherwise the payout of shares will be at 100% of the target award. Under the Company’s existing director stock benefit plans, upon a change in control, all outstanding nonvested stock awards will vest.
We will from time to time issue standby letters of credit, performance or surety bonds or other guarantees in the normal course of business. The aggregate notional amount of all performance bonds, surety bonds, and standby letters of credit is not material at December 31, 2020 and generally have a remaining maturity of one year or less. We may issue other guarantees in the ordinary course of business. The maximum potential future payments we could be required to make under the guarantees is not material at December 31, 2020. We have agreed to guarantee the liabilities and performance obligations (some of which have limitations) of a certain debt collections and recovery management VIE under its commercial agreements. We cannot reasonably estimate our potential future payments under the guarantees and related provisions described above because we cannot predict when and under what circumstances these provisions may be triggered. We had no accruals related to guarantees on our Consolidated Balance Sheets at December 31, 2020.
Many of our commercial agreements contain commercially standard indemnification obligations related to tort, material breach or other liabilities that arise during the course of performance under the agreement. These indemnification obligations are typically mutual.
We are the lessee under many real estate leases. It is common in these commercial lease transactions for us, as the lessee, to agree to indemnify the lessor and other related third parties for tort, environmental and other liabilities that arise out of or relate to our use or occupancy of the leased premises. This type of indemnity would typically make us responsible to indemnified parties for liabilities arising out of the conduct of, among others, contractors, licensees and invitees at or in connection with the use or occupancy of the leased premises. This indemnity often extends to related liabilities arising from the negligence of the indemnified parties, but usually excludes any liabilities caused by either their sole or gross negligence and their willful misconduct.
Certain of our credit agreements include provisions which require us to make payments to preserve an expected economic return to the lenders if that economic return is diminished due to certain changes in law or regulations. In certain of
these credit agreements, we also bear the risk of certain changes in tax laws that would be subject to payments to non-U.S. lenders to withholding taxes.
In conjunction with certain transactions, such as sales or purchases of operating assets or services in the ordinary course of business, or the disposition of certain assets or businesses, we sometimes provide routine indemnifications, the terms of which range in duration and sometimes are not limited.
The Company has entered into indemnification agreements with its directors and executive officers. Under these agreements, the Company has agreed to indemnify such individuals to the fullest extent permitted by law against liabilities that arise by reason of their status as directors or officers and to advance expenses incurred by such individuals in connection with the related legal proceedings. The Company maintains directors and officers liability insurance coverage to reduce its exposure to such obligations.
We cannot reasonably estimate our potential future payments under the indemnities and related provisions described above because we cannot predict when and under what circumstances these provisions may be triggered. We have no accrual related to indemnifications on our Consolidated Balance Sheets at December 31, 2020 and 2019.
Subsidiary Dividend and Fund Transfer Limitations
The ability of some of our subsidiaries and associated companies to transfer funds to us is limited, in some cases, by certain restrictions imposed by foreign governments, which do not, individually or in the aggregate, materially limit our ability to service our indebtedness, meet our current obligations or pay dividends.
In addition to the matters set forth above, we are involved in legal and regulatory matters, government investigations, claims and litigation arising in the ordinary course of business. We periodically assess our exposure related to these matters based on the information which is available. We have recorded accruals in our Consolidated Financial Statements for those matters in which it is probable that we have incurred a loss and the amount of the loss, or range of loss, can be reasonably estimated.
Although the final outcome of these matters cannot be predicted with certainty, any possible adverse outcome arising from these matters is not expected to have a material impact on our Consolidated Financial Statements, either individually or in the aggregate. However, our evaluation of the likely impact of these matters may change in the future. We accrue for unpaid legal fees for services performed to date.