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Senate Passes Important Consumer Protection Bill
Establishes Free and Convenient Consumer Credit Freeze
(Boston) The Massachusetts Senate, with a bipartisan, unanimous vote of 38 -0, passed a key identity theft protection bill An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports, SB 2455 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 is sponsored by Senator Barbara L’Italien (Andover) and Representative Jennifer Benson (Lunenburg). “Senator Barbara L’Italien led the effort to pass the bill in the Senate. Her leadership, along with that of the full senate, should be commended.”
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.
Currently, the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian - charge Massachusetts consumers $5 to freeze their credit reports and an additional $5 every time they want to thaw, or lift, the freeze. When it becomes law, this bill will allow consumers to freeze and thaw their credit reports at all credit bureaus for free, and to do it through a one- stop-shop location making it more convenient for consumers.
Thirteen states have passed laws allowing all consumers to freeze and thaw their credit reports for free, nine of them were signed into law this year, (WA, AZ, FL, IA, MI, NE, OR, UT, and SD) joining NC, IN, ME, SC. Bills in IL and GA are awaiting final action.
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 heads to a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate bills.
The Senate bill includes:
- Free and Convenient 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. The bill also requires the credit reporting agencies to put in place a simple, one-stop shop location for freezing your credit reports at all three bureaus at the same time.
- Protected Adults: This bill establishes the right for others to act on behalf of protected adults to freeze and thaw their credit reports for free.
- Consent: Any company 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.
- Credit monitoring: If the breach occurs at a consumer reporting agency – like Equifax – the bill requires that the credit reporting agencies provide five years of free credit monitoring to affected consumers. Stolen data does not go away and poses an identity theft risk for many years.
- 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.
Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG with Senator Barbara L'Italien, (Andover) who led effort to pass the bill in the Senate, calling for passage of the bill.
Athel Rogers, Photographer
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