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The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling. The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft.
Later this month the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection will consider a bill to protect consumers from new account ID theft. Senator Barbara L’Italien and Representative Jennifer Benson filed An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports, SB 130 & HB 134, allows consumers to “freeze”, or “thaw” their credit reports for free. It prevents new account ID theft as creditors will not open accounts without checking on consumers’ credit reports. It currently costs $5 in MA to freeze or thaw your credit report, the fees are waived if you are a victim of ID and have a police report.
Equifax should alert all affected people to the benefits of credit freezes and offer them to all Americans for free of charge with all three major national credit bureaus. For people who don’t want credit freezes, Equifax should offer free credit monitoring for an unlimited amount of time.
Due to huge marketing pushes by credit monitoring services that only alert consumers to fraud after the fact, most Americans are not aware that they can actually prevent id thieves from opening new credit accounts in their names in the first place by placing freezes on their credit accounts at all three national credit bureaus. Credit freezes help prevent new account identity theft because they keep potential creditors from seeing consumer credit history, without which new accounts are typically not opened.
When a credit bureau such as Equifax loses data, it is much more troubling than when a merchant is hacked. When a credit bureau tasked with acting as a gatekeeper to financial and employment success loses the keys to identity theft, that's very scary. How does one of the three major national credits bureaus lose this data? When did they discover this? And how are they going to respond?
Equifax should be held fully accountable by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the legislature should pass the credit freeze bill making it easier for consumers to protect themselves from ID theft.
People can see if they've been affected by the breach here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com
Regardless of whether you've been affected, Equifax is offering one year of credit monitoring for all three national credit bureaus. They should offer credit monitoring indefinitely, not just one year. The stolen info does not have a shelf life.
Furthermore, credit monitoring falls short - only credit freezes actually prevent new account id theft. Equifax is offering that but calling it a "credit report lock." But they are only offering it for Equifax reports, which means people are still left vulnerable if new accounts are opened in their names using reports from the other two bureaus Equifax should offer freezes or "locks" for reports at all three bureaus.
Equifax's response falls far short of protecting consumers they've put in harm's way.
More information about placing credit freezes is available at http://uspirg.org/reports/usf/why-you-should-get-security-freezes-your-information-stolen
MASSPIRG Education Fund is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations that stand up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web at masspirgedfund.org.
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