By Mike Festa, State Director, AARP Massachusetts
Consumers are now two steps closer to having meaningful protections from identity theft.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives recently passed An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports (H.B. 4241 and S.B. 2304), and the Senate has now referred the bill to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, awaiting recommendation.
On behalf of 800,000 AARP members in Massachusetts, we praise our legislators for their support of this important bill, and urge the Senate to take final action to pass the bill and send it on to the governor for his signature.
One of the key provisions of these bills will prevent a consumer reporting agency from charging a fee when consumers elect to place, suspend or remove a security freeze from their credit report, giving the residents of Massachusetts the power to control access to their credit report without cost.
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. Without access to this information, identity thieves would be unable to obtain credit in that person’s name, minimizing potential for fraud. These bills will go a long way in reducing the threat of identity theft for consumers.
With more access to credit due to their longer careers and higher incomes, older adults are the most common targets of identity theft nationwide. Individuals age 50-59 filed more than 7,200 complaints of identity theft in Massachusetts alone in 2016, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Credit reporting firm Equifax revealed in 2017 that hackers stole financial and consumer data on at least 143 million customers in the U.S., including at least 3 million residents of the commonwealth. It’s quite possible that the personal information — including birth date, Social Security number, driver’s license number and address — of many of us in this room has fallen into the hands of criminals. And just this week, Equifax indicated an additional 2.4 million Americans were affected by the breach.
A security freeze allows an individual to voluntarily restrict access to their credit report so that new lines of credit cannot be opened. Enacting such a freeze can make it more difficult for criminals to steal an identity and open up new credit accounts or loans in someone else’s name. A credit report security freeze does not affect a person’s credit score, and can be removed at any time. Currently, firms like Equifax can charge consumers whenever they freeze or unfreeze their credit report, and consumers trying to protect their identities would have to pay each of the three credit agencies every time they freeze or unfreeze their credit.
We thank Representatives Tackey Chan (D- Quincy), Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), and Senator L’Italien (D-Andover) for their leadership and urge final passage of this bill in the Senate. We strongly encourage AARP Massachusetts advocates to call their Massachusetts State Senator at 617-722-2000 to offer support for this bill.
This system of charging consumers just to protect themselves from criminals has to end. Consumers in Massachusetts shouldn’t have to pay to control access to their credit reports. AARP Massachusetts hopes the Senate will act swiftly to advance H.B. 4241 and S.B. 2304.
We look forward to working with all interested parties to ensure the final legislation protects all Massachusetts consumers.