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MA Legislature Passes Important Consumer Protection Bill
Preventing Identity Theft
(Boston) The Massachusetts Legislature, with bipartisan, unanimous votes of 151-0 in the House and 38-0 in the Senate, passed a key identity theft protection bill An Act Relative to Consumer Protection from Security Breaches, HB 4806 which, if signed into law, will enable consumers to safeguard their personal financial information by allowing them to “freeze” and “thaw” their credit files for free, among other protections.
“This bill will offer all Massachusetts residents much needed, long-overdue, common sense consumer protection against identity theft and the sloppy dangerous practices by the big three credit reporting agencies,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s legislative director. The bill was sponsored by Senator Barbara L’Italien (Andover) and Representative Jennifer Benson (Lunenburg). MASSPIRG praised the work of the sponsors and the six members of the conference committee; Representatives Tacky Chan (Quincy), Daniel Hunt (Dorchester), Randy Hunt (Sandwich) and Senators Barbara L’Italien (Andover), John Kennan (Quincy), Ryan Fattman (Webster).
The problem of identity theft, and in particular the lack of security and protections for consumers who are harmed by sloppy practices by the credit bureaus, hit the front pages in the fall. The behemoth credit bureau, Equifax, which keeps sensitive personal financial information on everyone, revealed a massive security breach jeopardizing the security of three million Massachusetts residents’ and 143 million Americans nationwide. Months after the disclosed the breach, it was revealed that not only did Equifax wait months before alerting the public and authorities about the breach, they failed to disclose that license numbers and tax IDs, in addition to social security numbers, birthdates and other information were also stolen.
The three major credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – had been charging Massachusetts consumers $5 to freeze their credit reports and an additional $5 every time they want to thaw or lift the freeze.
Last year over $16 billion dollars was stolen from 15 million Americans as a result of identity theft – a 16% jump from the prior year. While consumers are not individually liable for the fraudulent charges, they spend endless time, effort, and frustration in clearing up their credit reports and restoring their good names after they have been victimized. All consumers pay for the cost of identity theft through higher interest rates and fees.
The bill now must be signed by Governor Baker.
Key Provisions in the Act Relative to Consumer Protection from Security Breaches:
1. Free Credit Freeze: The bill would allow consumers to freeze and thaw their files at any time, for free. Unlike credit monitoring (which alerts you after potential identity theft has already occurred), a credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new fraudulent account in your name.
2. Consent: Companies or individuals seeking to obtain or use a consumer’s credit report will need the consent of the consumer and must disclose the reason for seeking access to the information.
3. Credit monitoring: If the breach occurs at a consumer reporting agency – like Equifax – the bill requires that the credit reporting agencies provide 3.5 years of free credit monitoring to affected consumers. For other entities that suffer a breach they must offer consumers 1.5 years of free credit monitoring. Stolen data does not go away and poses an identity theft risk for many years.
4. Prohibits binding arbitration clause in credit monitoring products: No one should have to give up their rights to sue for redress just to receive credit monitoring as a result of a breach. Credit reporting agencies are different than other businesses – consumers do not choose to be a customer of credit reporting agencies and they cannot choose to leave a credit reporting agency when they are treated unfairly or put at risk of identity theft. This is a common-sense consumer protection.
5. Addition Consumer Information: The new law would improve notices and consumer information. For example, before credit reporting agencies sell consumers paid products to freeze credit accounts, they must disclose that consumers are entitled to free freezes and how to place them. The bill also includes more and timely notices of breaches, and provides more information to consumers on their rights.
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