If you were one of the 145 million Americans whose info was stolen in the Equifax breach, you should be worried about keeping your financial accounts safe. Columnist Kim Komando shows you how.
Kim Komando, special for USA TODAY
Congress may soon end the fees credit-reporting companies charge customers to freeze their credit reports to protect themselves from fraud.
It’s a consumer safety measure in response to the massive Equifax data breach of 2017, when hackers stole personal information from about 148 million Americans.
Currently, the cost of placing a freeze on your information depends on your state. Some allow people to do it for free. Otherwise, the Federal Trade Commission states, the fees could be about $10.
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While senators of both parties support the measure, consumer rights organization U.S. PIRG argues the bill doesn’t go far enough. The bill, a U.S. PIRG statement on the matter said, allows other avenues for consumer reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to charge people for placing a freeze on their information.
The fee language is tucked into a wide-ranging economic and consumer protection bill introduced in November by U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. The proposal is sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats and is likely to be debated this week.
Placing a freeze on your credit information prohibits a reporting agency from handing out your information to people who request it. This, the bill states, is designed to prevent loans and lines of credit from being taken out in a person’s name without them knowing. But it also could interfere when a person tries to open a new loan or take out a mortgage.
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The bill states a consumer reporting agency, once verifying the person with proper identification, must freeze and unfreeze a person’s credit report without a fee. The agency has one to three days to institute the freeze — and an hour to unfreeze — if the request is made by telephone or electronically.
The bill states third parties who request a credit report of a person with a frozen credit report can treat it as incomplete. The bill also requires people be provided with a summary of their rights to get a credit security freeze. The agencies also must set up a Web page that allows a person to request a security freeze online.
U.S. PIRG, which touts itself as an “independent voice for consumers,” said the bill would allow for customers to be charged for temporary lifts when applying for credit.
“It also does not require passwords or PINs for removing freezes,” the statement said. “This could make it easier for identity thieves to remove freezes on your credit reports and apply for credit in your name.”
TransUnion and Experian both welcomed the bill bringing uniformity to the fees.
“Upon enactment, there will be one national standard for all three credit bureaus, making it easier for consumers to understand their rights,” an Experian statement said.
However, TransUnion said the law wouldn’t be necessary because the company already offers freezes at no cost. The company also warned a freeze doesn’t stop all fraud.
Equifax, when reached for comment, said it would waive freeze fees until the end of June, when normal fees would resume.
Also included in the broader bill, which is named the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, are proposals for free fraud alerts for consumers and no-charge credit monitoring for active-duty service members. The bill also proposes giving private student loan borrowers a one-time deal to erase negative reporting.
Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter @SeanRossman
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