The recent Equifax data breach has many consumers worried about possible identity theft – around three million consumers in Massachusetts may have been affected, out of 143 million nationwide. Here are some steps you can take, and some steps your state legislators are taking, to protect your information.
What you can do:
Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to see consumer updates and determine if your personal information has been impacted using the “Potential Impact” link. If your information has been compromised, you can choose to enroll in one year for free of Equifax’s TrustedID Premier credit file monitoring program, which will alert you of any attempts to access your information or open accounts without your permission. Enrolling will not waive your right to take legal action. You can also call Equifax at 866-447-7559 to check if you have been affected by the breach or to ask other questions.
The Attorney General, who has announced intent to sue Equifax, has released a set of recommendations about how to protect yourself against identity theft, whether or not your information has been compromised by the Equifax breach.
First, you should consider placing a credit or security freeze on your files. This makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name, although it won’t make prevent someone from making charges to an existing account. If you want someone to be able to review your credit, you will have to lift the freeze. It is important to place a freeze at all three credit reporting agencies, because fraudulent accounts may be opened with companies that report to the other bureaus besides Equifax (Experian or TransUnion). There may be about a $5 fee per credit bureau for placing, lifting, or removing a freeze. This is one of the strongest precautions you can take against identity theft. The FTC has more information on credit freezes.
You can also check your credit reports for free at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. This will allow you to identify identity theft if there are any accounts or activity you don’t recognize. You can order a free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – once per year. You can then file a fraud alert with the credit bureau which puts them on notice that your information has been compromised.
The Attorney General also recommends you try to file your taxes early, so that someone who has stolen your social security number can’t file them first. Some scammers will also contact you saying they are from the IRS – don’t believe someone who says you’ll be arrested unless you pay your taxes, even if they have your full social security number.
If you do believe you are the victim of identity theft, visit the FTC’s website to develop and implement a recovery plan.
What the legislature is doing:
An Act removing fees for security freezes and disclosures of consumer credit reports, S.130 sponsored by Senator L’Italien and H.134 sponsored by Representative Benson, updates Massachusetts law regarding consumer reporting agency’s responsibilities to protect consumers from identity theft. The bills reduce the fees necessary for obtaining important information such as a credit report in the case of identity theft.
Currently, every consumer reporting agency is required to advise consumers of their rights with a written notice. You have a right to obtain a copy of your credit file for up to an $8 fee. S.130 and H.134 amend current law (Section 56 of Chapter 93) to say that you are exempt from this fee if you have been a victim of identity theft and you submit a valid police report relating to the theft.
H.134 also removes a portion of the existing law (Section 59 of Chapter 93) that says that national consumer reporting agencies can charge up to $500 for copies of consumer reports. Additionally, both bills state that a consumer reporting agency wouldn’t be able to charge a consumer for any disclosures or copies of consumer reports for consumers who are victims of identity theft if the victim had submitted to the consumer reporting agency a valid police report relating to the identity theft.
Finally, S.130 and H.134 amend current law (Section 62A of Chapter 93) to say that a consumer reporting agency cannot charge a fee to any consumer who elects to freeze, lift, or remove a security freeze from a consumer report.
These are important changes that could make detection and prevention of identity theft and fraud easier for consumers. Both of these bills are scheduled to be heard by the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure next week, on September 26, at 1:00 pm in room B-1 at the State House.
Senator Brownsberger’s Office