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(Boston) In a stunning decision, the Legislature’s Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee rejected a key Identity Theft protection bill (An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports, SB 130 & HB 134) which would have enabled consumers to safeguard their financial information by allowing them to “freeze” their credit files for free, among other protections.
In the wake of the recent Equifax debacle, in which the behemoth credit bureau revealed one of the biggest security breaches in history, jeopardizing 3 million Massachusetts residents and 143 million Americans nationwide, this bill was nothing less than imperative to pass.
“I am shocked,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director. “This fall, more than 3 million Massachusetts consumers’ were put at risk for identity theft when Equifax’s shoddy practices allowed consumers’ personal financial information, including social security numbers to be stolen.”
“Failing to pass this bill is like Christmas in February for the credit bureau industry, and an empty stocking for consumers,” continued Cummings. “I certainly hope they can correct this mistake by the end of the session.”
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. While some of the fees are waived if you are a victim of identity theft and have a police report, it is too onerous and more importantly too late for consumers to protect themselves. The bill would have allowed consumers to freeze and unfreeze (thaw) their credit reports at all credit bureaus for free. Maine, Indiana, and North and South Carolina already have passed laws allowing all consumers to freeze and thaw their credit reports for free, and there are credit freeze bills pending in many states as a result of the recent security breach by Equifax.
The bill, filed by Senator Barbara L’Italien (Andover) and Representative Jen Benson (Lunenburg) and supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, AG Maura Healey, AARP among many others, included additional consumer protections including requiring better encryption, prior authorization for anyone seeking a credit report, and free credit monitoring service for at least 5 years when consumers’ personal information is stolen.
The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee is chaired by Representative Tacky Chan (Quincy) and Senator Barbara L’Italien (Andover). The Committee failed to take action on the bill by the Legislative deadline.
Last year over $16 billion was stolen from 15 million Americans as a result of identity theft – a 16% jump from the year before. 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. And we all pay for the theft in higher interest rates and fees.
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