Today the House tackles the long-overdue problem of identity theft. On Monday (May 7, 2007) the Consumer Protection Committee passed a comprehensive identity theft protection bill. As a Consumer Advocate with MASSPIRG, I applaud the leadership of both House and Senate Chairmen, Michael Rodrigues and Michael Morrissey, and the members of the committee for moving forward a strong bill. Many lawmakers have worked on this legislation, including Senator Jarrett Barrios, and Representatives William Straus and Michael Costello.
This bill will reduce identity theft by establishing the following provisions:
· Breach Notification-requires commercial entities and government agencies to notify affected consumers if enough of their personal information to commit identity theft has been acquired by an unauthorized person or for an unauthorized purpose.
· Credit Report Security Freeze-enables consumers to “lock” their credit report, preventing would be ID thieves from taking out credit in their name.
· Disposal of Personal Information-sets minimum standard for disposing data that contains enough personal information about a consumer that it could be used to commit identity theft.
· Police Reports-allows victims of ID theft to get a copy of their police report from any law enforcement office, even if crime did not occur in that jurisdiction (in a different city or state). Victims need a copy of their police report to clean up the financial mess resulting from identity theft and to qualify for a free security freeze.
While the bill includes strong language in some of these sections, is should be improved in the following ways to better protect consumers in Massachusetts from identity theft.
1 Eliminate the $10 fees per credit bureau to place and lift the security freeze. Indiana recently passed a law making the freeze free, New Jersey has it free to place and only $5 to lift, and numerous states only charge $5 to both lift and place.
2 Make the lifting of the security freeze occur fast-within 15 minutes-so consumers with a security freeze can take advantage of credit offers. Several states including New Jersey, New York, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, New Mexico, Montana, Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota and Delaware already require this.
3 Tighten up the definition of the “security freeze” to include a consumers credit score. Credit scores are information derived from a credit report and are not necessarily a part of the report. In some instances, often dealing with instant credit at retail stores, the credit score alone is used to issue credit.