Florida lawmakers kill credit-freeze fee after Equifax breach

The Florida House voted unanimously to eliminate a $10 fee for state residents to put a freeze on their credit reports in the wake of the Equifax data breach, sending the legislation to the governor.

“Today’s unanimous vote comes in the midst of National Consumer Protection Week and I’m proud Floridians will be able to more easily protect themselves from fraud,” state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis  said Wednesday.

Four other states had banned the fee before the session started, and at least two cabinet members associated with consumer agencies pushed for Florida to join that group.

“Protecting consumers’ hard-earned money from criminals is a top priority, and this legislation that removes the fee to freeze credit reports makes it easier for consumers to protect themselves from fraud,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

Last fall Equifax acknowledged a data breach that exposed the personal data of more than 145 million U.S. consumers, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and more.  Equifax emerged as the most complained-about company in the state in 2017,  in gripes to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Bills SB 1302 and HB 953 make it easier to freeze and unfreeze credit without a fee.

In recent years the region including West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami has ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally in identify theft complaints per capita.

Industry officials had expressed concerns about killing the fee.

“We in general oppose the removal of all fees from credit freezes,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents credit reporting agencies. “This is a process that costs the credit reporting agencies money. They have to have call centers and staff to do that.”

Despite moves at the state level, some consumer advocates criticized Congress for a lack of action.

Congress is considering three bills that would let credit bureaus “off the hook,” said Mike Litt, consumer campaign director with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “For all this talk about action after the Equifax breach, Congress hasn’t done anything in six months but is now moving to make things worse.”

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, is a notice placed in your credit report at your request that prohibits a reporting agency from releasing information in it. Agencies cannot release a credit report, credit score or other information to most third parties without the express authorization of the consumer.

This does not eliminate all fraud but makes it harder for a crook to open new credit in your name. Drawback: You may have to unfreeze your credit to buy things.

How can I tell if my data was exposed by the Equifax hack?

Enter your information in the “Am I impacted?” section here:

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

How can I place a freeze on my credit?

You must request the freeze with major credit reporting agencies such as:

Equifax 1-866-493-9788

Experian 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

Innovis 1-800-540-2505

Is there a fee?

Bills heading to the governor would end the fee as of July 1. Florida law allows a credit reporting agency to assess up to a $10 fee to place, temporarily lift or permanently remove a security freeze.

The fee can be waived if you are age 65 or older or have been a victim of identity theft and have documentation stating such from a law enforcement agency.

Find out where latest skimmers were detected in Palm Beach County

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it found two gasoline pump skimmers within the last week in Palm Beach County. They were both discovered in West Palm Beach at:

  • 7-Eleven Inc., 3035 N Military Trail, West Palm Beach
  • Texaco/Sunshine #37, 2274 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach

The skimmers were found as part of a statewide sweep of gasoline stations in popular spring break destinations. In our area, inspectors probed pumps at 51 service stations, finding the two skimmers in that search.

Getting gas at the Shell station at 5980 Okeechobee Blvd in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 13, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Getting gas at the Shell station at 5980 Okeechobee Blvd in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 13, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Across Florida, state officials said they inspected 500 gasoline stations in the targeted markets, yielding a total of eight skimmers.

The state estimates that for each skimmer undetected, as many as 100 consumers can have their credit card information stolen — leading to an average of $1,000 worth of fraudulent transactions.

“From Okaloosa County to Miami-Dade County, these skimmers are being placed on gas pumps and stealing from unsuspecting residents and visitors,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “We will continue to crackdown on these devices – and the criminals responsible for them.”

Since early 2015, the department said it has detected more than 430 skimmers across the Sunshine State. The areas inspected in this sweep, the number of facilities inspected and numbers of skimmers found are as follows:

  • Panama City Beach/ Panhandle –77 facilities, 0 skimmers found
  • Orlando area – 128 facilities, 0 skimmers found
  • Clearwater / St. Pete Beach – 66 facilities, 4 skimmers found
  • One Stop, Giant BP #109, 6151 4th St N, St. Petersburg
  • One Food of Pinellas Inc. #23, 901 4th St N, St. Petersburg
  • Quick Mart of Largo, 1990 West BAY Dr., Largo (2 skimmers)
  • Ft. Myers Beach – 36 facilities, 0 skimmers found
  • Daytona Beach/ Cocoa Beach/ Flagler Beach/ New Smyrna Beach – 75 facilities, 1 skimmer found
  • Sunoco Food Mart, 5625 N Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach
  • West Palm Beach – 51 facilities, 2 skimmers found
  • Mobil/7-Eleven Inc., 3035 N Military Trail, West Palm Beach
  • Texaco/Sunshine #37, 2274 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
  • Ft. Lauderdale – 25 facilities, 1 skimmer found
  • Valero, 1 N Federal Hwy, Pompano Beach
  • Miami – 21 facilities, 0 skimmers found

 

State officials issued these steps they say consumers should follow to protect themselves:

  • Pay in cash inside the store to ensure the credit card information stays safe.
  • Check to make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is closed and has not been tampered with. Many stations are now putting a piece of security tape over the cabinet to ensure it has not been opened by unauthorized individuals.
  • Use a gas pump closer to the front of the store. Thieves often place skimmers at the gas pumps farther away from the store so they are not noticed as quickly.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection, and the money is not deducted immediately from an account.
  • If using a debit card at the pump, choose to run it as a credit card instead of a debit card. That way, the PIN number is safe.
  • Monitor bank accounts regularly to spot any unauthorized charges.
  • Consumers who suspect their credit card number has been compromised should report it immediately to authorities and their credit card company.

 

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.