By Bob Katzen

The House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate legislation that would prohibit consumer reporting agencies, like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion from charging fees for freezing and unfreezing a person’s credit information. Under current law, companies can and have charged up to $5 per freeze or unfreeze. A freeze makes the report inaccessible until the consumer unfreezes it. Since banks and other lenders require access to the borrower’s credit report before giving a loan, this greatly reduces identity thieves from getting a loan or credit in another individual’s name.

The proposal gained momentum following the 2017 crisis when from May to July the personal information including names, social security numbers, addresses, driver’s licenses, and credit card numbers of 145 million Americans was stolen from Equifax’s systems. Equifax didn’t reveal the breach until September and consumers lost valuable time to act.

Other provisions prohibit businesses from obtaining a consumer’s credit report without obtaining written, verbal or electronic consent from the consumer; shorten the waiting period to implement a freeze; allow consumers to request a freeze by phone or electronically; require notice of any breach to be sent out immediately even if the scope of breach has not yet been determined; require credit monitoring services to be available for one year for some consumers affected by a breach and establishes additional protections for minors and incapacitated adults.

“Every year, thousands of Massachusetts residents become victims of credit fraud, costing them millions of dollars, collectively,” said Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), the sponsor of the original bill. “I filed legislation last year to make it easier to freeze consumer credit reports so that victims of fraud could more quickly regain control of their credit and their lives. After the Equifax breach, I worked with the attorney general and advocates to strengthen the bill with additional language offering further protections.”

“Massachusetts will become the fifth state to provide free credit freezes to all residents,” said Rep. Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), one of the bill’s sponsor. “[The bill] updates current laws to reflect the modernization of our world, with the addition of electronic and verbal communications procedures for consumers’ interactions with consumer reporting agencies.”

“Older adults are increasingly the target for identity theft, and one of the most effective ways to protect consumers is through a security freeze, which safeguards a person’s credit report,” said Michael Festa State Director of AARP Massachusetts. “Without access to this information, identity thieves would be unable to obtain credit in that person’s name, minimizing potential for fraud.”

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