The big three credit agencies – Equifax, Experian, TransUnion — have figured out that they can make money on the problems that they create for us. We are trying to fight back with legislation.
I am embarrassed to confess that I personally fell victim to one of their common tricks.
After Equifax lost personal data on millions of consumers last fall, my wife and I decided to freeze our credit so that no one could take out loans using our identities. Get consumer information on how to freeze your credit here.
To freeze our credit, we had to visit the websites of each of the big three and, ironically, to pay a fee. Legislation to prohibit freeze fees is moving through the legislature – currently, we limit the maximum fee to $5.
Here’s the trick: Since so many states have limited or prohibited the charging of fees for a freeze, the big three have come up with a whole lot of other ways to charge consumers.
In our case, about six months after we froze our credit, we realized that there were current charges from Experian on our credit card bill. Going back through our bills, we realized that Experian had not only charged us for the freeze but continued to charge us $21.95 per month.
I got on the phone with Experian to ask about the charges and waited almost an hour listening to their pitches for additional services. While I was waiting, hacked around the Experian website looking for some explanation of the charges – I could not find any.
It dawned on me that it is also nearly impossible to find any reference to a credit freeze on the Experian site (unless you google directly to the freeze page). What they do offer is a credit “lock” for which they charge a fee. In the bold type, the “lock” costs $4.99, but in the fine print it is a monthly charge. See consumer reports to understand the subtle difference and why, apart from the fact that a freeze is cheaper, you actually want a freeze.
Continuing to wait on hold, I finally found a web page explaining the $21.95 charge captioned “BEWARE OF EXPERIAN CREDIT SCORE CHECK SCAM!”. Apparently, we had clicked to view our credit reports and signed up for a monthly charge buried in the fine print.
When I finally got someone on the phone and asked for my money back, they would only give one month of the charge back, so we are out over $100 for absolutely nothing in return. Experian acknowledged that we had never logged in to access the additional credit information that they were supposedly providing us.
The person on the other end of the line was pleasant enough. She acknowledged that 30% of the calls she gets are along the same lines as my own.
As embarrassed and disappointed as I was, it was fortunate that I had the experience when I did, because it helped me understand a common problem. Yesterday, I was able to add language into our credit freeze legislation to require that the agencies disclose the availability of a free credit freeze whenever they offer anything like a “lock”.
A consumer reporting agency shall not offer a paid product which seeks to protect a consumer from a security breach or restrict access to information about a consumer unless it has notified the consumer of the availability of a security freeze at no charge and how to obtain a security freeze
On the floor of the Senate, while we were debating the freeze legislation, I received an email from Experian with the title “Good news, William: You can get CreditLock for just $4.99”. Hopefully we’ll put some boundaries on that soon.
More about the freeze bill in this press release from the Senate:
SENATE PASSES CREDIT PROTECTION BILL TO PROTECT CONSUMERS IN THE WAKE OF EQUIFAX BREACH
Bill creates stronger protections against identity theft and data breaches for all consumers in the Commonwealth
BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a bill designed to protect the personal information of consumers in the case of data breaches, like the one seen at Equifax, and provide free credit freezes for all consumers.
The bill, S.2455, An Act relative to consumer protection from security breaches, was sponsored by State Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover), senate chair of the consumer protection committee, and crafted in collaboration with Representative Jennifer Benson (the House sponsor of the bill), Attorney General Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), and AARP Massachusetts.
The bill helps all consumers protect their sensitive information before, during, and after a security breach in several ways: providing for free credit freezes for all consumers and creating an online “one stop shop” portal so that consumers can freeze & unfreeze their credit at all 3 main bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) in one place; providing 5 years of free credit monitoring for consumers whose information was part of a credit reporting agency data breach, and empowering consumers to know when and why their consumer reports are being pulled by requiring that any company attempting to pull a consumer’s report must first obtain consent.
“We all have been affected by the Equifax breach and it feels like a massive betrayal. Millions of Americans don’t know who might now have access to their personal information and what they might do with it. Equifax must accept responsibility and compensate consumers for its lack of security, and all credit reporting agencies and companies must take swift action to prevent future breaches,” said bill sponsor and Senate Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Barbara L’Italien. “Today we took the next step toward action to fix this situation. I’m so proud of our collaboration on a bill that sends out a clear message that Massachusetts is serious when it comes to protecting consumers, especially seniors, low-income residents, and other vulnerable populations who are hit the hardest by situations like these.”
The legislation allows increased oversight from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which recently filed a lawsuit against Equifax. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation will create a process requiring companies to certify that they maintain a consumer information security program as required by existing Massachusetts law.
“Equifax allowed the theft of our personal financial information, and then hid the breach from the public,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This bill would require companies like Equifax to pay for credit monitoring and makes it much easier for people to protect themselves from identify theft. I’m proud to partner with Sen. L’Italien and Rep. Benson to get this bill passed.”
“Credit reporting agencies should be working for the American consumer. But recent data breaches and security leaks have demonstrated a repeated failure in due diligence,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “This bill gives individuals more control over their personal data, and will provide essential consumer protections for Massachusetts residents. This legislation will serve as a model for other states, and I commend Senator L’Italien for her leadership on this issue.”
“Consumers deserve to have the peace of mind that their data will not be compromised,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill makes it easier for consumers to protect their own personal information and offers resources in the case of future data breaches, while also holding consumer reporting agencies responsible for credit security.”
“I’m proud to have worked with Chairman Chan and all of the House cosponsors to pass a credit freeze bill in the House last February,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “I filed this legislation with Senator L’Italien, and then we worked together with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen it following the Equifax breach. Now that the Senate has passed their bill, I look forward to the conference committee producing a strong compromise bill that will protect consumers of credit in Massachusetts.”
Representative Benson’s similar legislation has already passed in the House.
Update, July 26, 2018
An Act relative to consumer protection from security breaches has been reported out of conference committee, enacted by both houses, and laid before the governor. Language has been included which says that “A consumer reporting agency shall not knowingly offer a paid product to prevent unauthorized access or restrict access to a consumer’s credit unless at the time of transaction the consumer reporting agency: (i) notifies the consumer of the availability of obtaining a security freeze without charge and (ii) provides information to the consumer on how to obtain a security freeze.” This will have the effect of preventing you from being required to pay a charge to get a security freeze in the future.
–Aja Watkins, Legislative Aide for Senator Brownsberger
I’m sorry that happened to you and I shall look more carefully at my credit card bills because I had the same thing happen to me and I did something- and now I don’t know if it was a freaze or a lock. I hate fine print villains. Anything to make a buck. Thanks for the head’s up and the legislation sounds great.
I really appreciate your stepping on this matter. Meaningful legislation from Washington is nowhere to be found as far as I can see. We are all virtually forced into depending on the big three if want to get a credit card, take out a loan, or even get a job sometimes. Their laxity need to be addressed.
This is a question on a slightly different note. In two separate and completely unrelated instances I was a victim of identity theft and a close relative was a victim. In both cases, by tracing the unauthorized charges which were in the thousands, the perpetrators were identified by the credit card companies. My credit card was appropriately cleared of the charges but I had to be vigilant. In both cases there appeared to be no record of any prosecution. Are credit card companies required to report those who are caught in identity theft? If these criminals are not brought to justice the crime will continue.
Good question. I don’t believe that they have to prosecute and I don’t know whether they generally do. Will try to get more information on this.
Nice work William! Something good came from something bad. Sad that it takes the personal experience of a State Senator to change something like the Experian scam. Imagine not paying them and having your credit score severely damaged. Every purchase you make online should be clear to consumers with multiple clear explanations of what they are doing to you and your credit card.
There are so many consumer traps everyday that could be easily regulated that unfairly steal
people’s time and money. Why is most of Boston still stuck with the horrible monopoly of Comcast?
They blatantly screw consumers daily in most of the City of Boston and thanks to our local legislators Comcast operates without any competition.
Comcast has NO competition
No please. It must be stronger and more costly to end this practice.
$100.00 fine for every bill in which someone tries to make someone pay, for a contract you did not agree to. And, a Government DO NOT PAY list on computer
From this to cable, or alrm renewals for service calls, to balance billing, or medical surprise billing, there is an entire collection industry out there imputing people into contracts they are not a member of. Hospitals are intentionally structuring invoices to evade consumer laws and impute people into contracts without their consent
Tis completely destroys computer protection.
So $100.00 fine for contract a consumer did not enter unto and a Do Not Pay website, just like do not call list.
In my opinion, when you want to freeze BECAUSE of some BREACH THEY are responsible for, the freeze should be FREE for at least one year with absolutely no additional costs, period. No fine print costs, no additional alternative goodies they offer for a cost should be allowed to in any way be packaged with the free freeze. And yes the freeze button should be PROMINENTLY displayed on their web site. You should not have to Google to find it!!
Please make sure the size of the print and location of the disclosure are part of the notice requirement. Don’t know if there is a federal pre-emption issue about what credit agencies must do.
Good points. It’s a mixed state/federal system for this stuff.
Ive had a supervisor use my information when obtaining services in their home. I literally had to take the company to court before they would remove the unauthorized debt from my account. I am still fighting the credit bureau and the company to remove their unauthorized hard inquiry despite having the company accept my proof that they had messed up. Additionally I had learned that this particular business has many court cases
Thank you so very much Will, and so sorry it happened to you. Speaking of credit matters, our credit card no. somehow was stolen last week by someone in the Bronx (we never go to NY) who used it for Uber rides and got away with it. They caught the person finally after he/she tried to spend $38 at a restaurant we never go to (McDonald’s). But I don’t know that they got into any trouble–just turned down the card and didn’t get the meals. Someone told us people can scan your credit card as you walk by them on the street. We have chips now too which we thought were safer. We’re still wondering how our no. got stolen but I guess there are many other ways still to do that.
Thanks for sharing your experience. If they can cheat a savvy consumer like you, they can cheat almost anyone. Thankfully, you’re in a position to do something about this abuse through legislation. Keep up the great work!
I found this site to be very helpful(and I froze my credit by snail mail:>).
You should then receive something from each credit company written verification that your account has been frozen. Just remember you will need to unfreeze if you want a loan or something. This site has great information. Legislation on Credit Cards and Credit Companies is definitely needed.
One other good practice is to have a text sent to your phone on every CC charge. You can quickly look at it and see if this was a charge you intended or not(or someone else is using). This is only good for your actual cards and not identity theft(unfortunately). I would like to be emailed or texted every time my ss#/identity was being used for any account/loan. This would help solve or at least quickly be notified of any attempt on identity theft. I used one of the Identity theft services but it was not very good and did not give me emails when credits were being taken out until about 1-2 weeks later(too late IMO). When I got a new car loan I did not see it come up for 2 weeks.
Good tip — just added this to my credit card account.
At Concord community court, in Constable vs. Emerson Hospital, the following was read into the ratio decendae or judicial opinion re: balance billing, and surprise billing.
1) to allow Emerson Hospital to bill medical insurers on behalf of medical providers to place all medical procedures at the Hospital into network, and to take a billing fee sufficient to reverse any losses at the hospital
2) to obtain a medical permission to treat letter from 3rd party vendors with patient consent
3) to wotk with the IRS to allow medical providers to achieve independent contractot status to get them the 20 per cent invome tax benefit just passed in the new legislation so they have more money
4) to position hospital, medical, and pharm for a future basis for furure health social care credit package
5) to assit physiciNs and consumers and insurance companies in getting people paid
6) to not be an enabler, fas ilitator, or to provide a situs or presence for illegal billing practices, defined aswithout patient and medical consent, and to provide an office to assist Insurance companies with a stable resource to work with a bewildering amount offake, illegal, or other non lawful bills, especially which are not legal debts.
6) to provide a necessary taxcredit for the processing of these illegalities as not a contemplated business. expense.
Hospitals can growto a profit, our people can be paidfor promptly and in network by making appropriate procedure codes, and patients can control what is. spent in a scenario they have paid for.
We need these changes in krder to positionthis iindustry for successful outcomes in a vety competitive world.
We are working on the balance billing issue separately.
this i terrific.
How about requiring a price list and explanation of services for credit and banking services in plain language on their website and on the contracts. Also require that you can not click through a contract, but actually have to open the contract, have an accurate summary of all costs of service at the top on an annual basis, and you need to scroll through the contract to the bottom, offered an email or a print of the contract before acceptance. Finally require that a customer must positively accept a change in prices or services by the same method if they make a change to the accepted service they currently are providing a customer, like a price change. Sunlight on what they are up to could go a long way to stopping evil and deceptive practices. They are famous for this.
That would help.
Keep fighting the fight!
When did deception become an acceptable means of doing business in this country?
It isn’t hard, expensive or too much of a burden to be transparent and ethical.
On the MassTaxConnect website (part of Mass DOR), before you pay a bill you have to re-enter the amount of the payment to confirm you understand the charges. It is an extra step, but it avoids confusion and I like it.
I also subscribe to a recurring monthly service that makes transferring data from a spreadsheet into my accounting software much easier. I get an email every month warning me that I am going to be charged in a few days. It gives me time to cancel if I am done with the service. Again, I like the transparency and honesty.
Thanks Will for being alert and continuously striving to protect your constituents!
Thanks for sharing this, Will. Sorry you got caught. So much for “Good News”
Good doesn’t even rhyme with “Fake.”
I thought the top management of Experian resigned, because of the hack of our credit information. It seems that their bad behavior is continuing under new management
I was aware this was a self-created crisis/opportunity by Equifax last fall, and refused to take their “help”. My opinion is that what they did is not only shameful and wrong, I believe it is also criminal.
Hope they get investigated for culpability, but what we really need is for these parasites to be prohibited from having so much power over us.
Sorry to learn of your bad experience, but happy that you’re trying to get a legislative fix. I believe it’s sorely needed.
This information Senator is much appreciated. I always thought that these credit agencies were there to help, but apparently not. Sounds like Experian is there to help itself.
Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront and amending our credit freeze legislation.
This information Senator is much appreciated. I always thought that these credit agencies were there to help, but apparently not. Sounds like Experian is there to help itself.
Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront.
These types of fees are like whack-a-mole. As soon as one gets enough bad publicity and firms are forced to remove it, they stick another one enough different and get another year or two of returns.
“Resort” fees at hotels are another great example. They are growing larger by the year, can’t be bypassed by customers but also don’t have to be included in the price quoted for a room on travel search engines (other than in the small print), and increasingly have nothing to do with anything resort-like.
It takes lawyers either inside the firm or outside to come up with the arcane, yet diabolical, language that they they know is structured to confuse and mislead.
I’d like to see every one of these contracts have associated meta-data with it that lists the individual attorneys who drafted it, and the firm they are with.
Right now, the attorneys can hide behind anonymity no matter how problematic the terms they introduce. But if they knew that their actions would follow them for their entire career, their incentives would shift more towards transparency and fairness then how much can they help their client get away with.
Whackamole is right.
Why isn’t the Attorney General Healy prosecuting Experian for fraud?
I haven’t brought this to her. I think this is in a gray area and that is why legislation is needed.
Thank you for keeping constituents apprised of these increasingly confusing
issues. And for taking action to protect us!
As much as I am against mandatory minimum jail terms for non-violent crimes. The highest person in the corporation of Authority Having Jurisdiction should be responsible for and subject to small criminal non financial punishment. Like a mandatory 10 days in jail. You cannot fine them enough, it is a business expense. But the CEO or Chairman sharing a cell with a dope peddler will change minds quickly.
Hi, Will –
Thanks for letting us know!
This is on a tangent, but consumers collectively reward institutions with big bucks because of small charges – say, $5 – on their bills. (Very easy to overlook if included in a multi-charge statement such as a bank’s or a credit card’s.) The thing is, who wants to spend the time – or in many cases, is able to spend the time – to straighten out a $5 charge? (Not to mention the aggravation of the wait times on the phone!)
Just yesterday, I got a fraudulent Paypal charge for $3.52. Since I hate the process of paying them, I called them about it. I explained that (1) I never charge to them – because I hate dealing with them and their high charges, my account is set up to normally bill Amex rather than Paypal (2) It said it was an Angie’s List charge. I buy nothing from them. Nor did I join them using Paypal. Seems like a no-brsiner, right? They are referring it to Fraud (not unusual) – and will take 60 to 90 days to let me know! (This contrasts with Amex, which often reverses the charges during the phone call, taking my word for example that I did not authorize a renewal.
By the way, I didn’t authorize a renewal of Amazon Prime, and they just did it w/o telling me – and I can’t find out how to cancel. Now they’re raising the charge substantially, and I still need to find out how to cancel it. This will undoubtedly take hours.
I have a credit card and when I was actually late – by an hour — they required me to request a waiver of the late fee in writing. This same card charges a $5 fee each month – with a .50 cent interest fee for that month, even though the whole thing is paid before the end of the month. This is just plain illegal. (And sometimes they don’t charge it.) I have argued with them many times – no budging, even though they can see they don’t even always charge it. I plan to contact the CFPB – haven’t yet because of the time involved. I don’t need the card. So why do I keep it? Only because it’s my oldest, and therefore very useful for the credit score.
Okay – thanks for the chance to sound off.
So many small charges now — they add up!
I am sorry you had this experience, but it really points out how much we need consumer protections. I have not put a freeze on accounts precisely because It is so confusing to do so.
Another racket is automatic renewal, as Martha mentions below. All companies should be required to send a renewal notice. It is not always easy to remember what you’ve subscribed to, or where online to go to cancel (ever tried to cancel a magazine subscription lately?).
Thank you for adding protective language to the bill!
Thanks for this info. Sorry this happened to you, but it is fortuitous that you are in a position to try to rectify this scam. Hope these credit info “services” get reined in more securely, so these indignities don’t continue to happen to people who have already been victimized once.
My “free” credit freeze cost $5
Yes, our information was ‘lost’ by Equifax and it was a nightmare to negotiate. Twice we had to mail additional and numerous documents to Equifax and the waits on the phone were ridiculous and exhausting.
It is our information that they have garnered together and we are left vulnerable and then can’t easily reach them or have erroneous information corrected in an efficient manner.
Hearing? When, if so I would like to be there.
Hearings are done already.
The so called financial services sector is a near equivalent to organized crime. Especially the credit bureaus. They need as much oversight as possible. They seem to have forgotten how to make money honestly.
We never consented for these companies to collect all of our most sensitive information yet it becomes our problem to clean up when they screw up, they’re just a bunch of parasites.
Will – I love your description of the problem: “The three big credit agencies … have figured out that they can make money on the problems that they create for us.” I have worked with a lot of corporations. I can well imagine some clever types in these agencies saying, yes, we have a problem but we can turn any problem into profit, and away they go. At a national level, the Trump administration is working very hard to cut regulations on business. But we know corporations have immense power. The only equivalent opposing power is government. If government at the national level won’t protect consumers, you need to do it a state level.
Will: Sorry to learn this happened to you. Thank you for the information.
We all need to be more vigilant!
That’s for sharing that experience Will and for working to prevent this type of misleading recurring charges. It is so so easy to miss monthly charges on your credit account – especially if it is an account used by several family members
Can we do anything about the scam calls ? I got one from a New York number saying to call another number for an irs issue and an arrest warrant coming, I didn’t call the number because sometimes you can be charged just by calling that number they give you to call. Is there a way to report these scams, a lot of people especially elderly fall prey to these scams. Is there a number we can call to report the phones numbers they are calling us from or the numbers they are telling us to call ?
The calls are really hard to control — they come in from so many place, many out-of-country.
But check this remedy out.
From my viewpoint, as a regular consumer, these credit reporting agencies are not my friends. They are obviously in business to report on consumers to the banks, other lending agencies, and now landlords, employers, etc, etc. Once something gets on your record, even if inaccurate or false, you have to spend a lot of time and effort to attempt to get it removed or corrected, not just with one reporting agency, but with each of them. And it may still remain on your record. Considering that their customers are the lenders, not us, there should be more protection of the consumer. Even better would be a truly independent agency which compiles this information and has very tight controls on who can see the information, thus putting the credit bureaus out of business. People can be refused business because of a poor credit report when they weren’t even asking for credit!
Thanks, Will. Do you ask the credit card company to reverse the charges?
I’m going to let it go at this stage — my own case, that is — but that would be a decent strategy.
I probably did just miss the fine print, so I’m not sure how my paying credit card agency would come down.
Thank you for sharing this information.
When is this legislation finally going to be passed? Why is it taking so long for Massachusetts to pass this common-sense law prohibiting the credit bureaus from screwing over Massachusetts residents?
I want to apply for Google Store Financing to buy a new phone, but I can’t, because the company that handles the financing won’t tell me which credit bureau they’re going to use to check my credit report (which I froze because of the Equifax hack), so I don’t know which bureau to unfreeze, and I don’t want to have to pay to unfreeze all of them because that’ll eat up pretty much all the money I expect to save by using the Google Store Financing.
If this law were in effect I could unfreeze all three reports for free, and I wouldn’t care that Synchrony is being obnoxious.
So what’s the story? How long is it going to be before I no longer have to pay a fee to the credit bureaus to unfreeze my own credit report?
The negotiators who are reconciling the house and senate bills are actively working on it and I am hopeful that they will complete our job soon.
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