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.

Equifax tops Florida gripes. Knives are out for credit-freeze fee

Florida officials are pushing to eliminate a $10 fee to freeze a credit report after hacked credit reporting agency Equifax emerged as the most complained-about company in the state in 2017,  in beefs to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

RELATED: Advice to freeze your own credit aims at hot problem in Florida

This 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.

In the wake of that episode, state officials including Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are pushing legislation to eliminate the $10 fee to freeze credit reports. Such freezes can make it more difficult for fraudsters to establish new credit in a victim’s name.

Indiana, South Carolina, Maine and North Carolina “do not charge this fee and we want to add Florida to that list this year,” Patronis said last week.

Florida law allows credit reporting agencies to charge a fee of up to $10 to freeze credit reports, he noted, “and data breach victims are required to submit paperwork to prove their identity is in jeopardy to avoid paying the fee. No one should have to jump through hoops to get a fee waived.”

Bills including SB 1302 and HB 953 aim to make it so.

Equifax did not respond to a request for comment, but the head of an industry trade group raised concerns.

“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.”

A security freeze placed on your credit file will block most lenders from seeing your credit history, as Consumer Reports has described it. That does not eliminate all fraud but makes it harder for a bad guy to get credit in your name, making a freeze “the single most effective way to protect against fraud,” the publication figured.

But it has drawbacks. Unless you are prepared to do a lot of unfreezing and refreezing on the fly, it also shuts out companies you may want to see your report to get a used car or a new smartphone, buy insurance or get approved as tenant.

Another option is a fraud alert, a notice placed on your credit report warning prospective lenders that you are a victim of or concerned about identity theft. That means they should take “reasonable extra steps to verify your identity,” according to Consumer Reports.

The terminology can get confusing, as there are also a variety of “credit monitoring” services companies offer, sometimes with monthly fees.

In any case, credit reporting and repair companies represented the top category of CFPB complaints from Florida, according to lendedu.com, which calls itself a marketplace for finance products including student loans, personal loans and credit cards. The next biggest categories were debt collection and mortgages.

Creighton said complaint numbers should be kept in perspective, because sometimes consumers are unhappy with other parties involved in the process, not necessarily or exclusively credit reporting  agencies like EquifaxExperian and TransUnion.  These can include lenders who deny credit or charge more. Or they can include outside “credit repair” firms that may offer to improve credit scores by challenging adverse information in a consumer’s report, not always with lasting success if the smudges have a legitimate basis.

Meanwhile the CFPB itself, created by financial reform laws enacted during the administration of former President Barack Obama, faces an uncertain future under President Donald Trump.

The bureau oversees rules for banks and other financial companies. It has produced $12 billion for 29 million consumers in refunds and canceled debts.

Big companies have complained the agency goes too far, has too much independent power and hurts the economy.  U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has called it “a rogue agency.” Trump has named his budget director Mick Mulvaney as its acting director. Uncertainty extends to the continued public availability of its complaint database.

“For quite possibly the last time ever (because of rumors of President Trump’s shutting it down), LendEDU has downloaded and analyzed every consumer complaint that was filed with the CFPB in 2017,” lendedu.com said.

Florida 2017 complaints to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Total Complaints: 21,905
Top Company: Equifax Inc. (2,716 complaints)
By Category
Credit Reporting/Repair Services: 8,701
Debt Collection: 4,819
Mortgage: 2,600
Credit Card/Prepaid Card: 1,850
Bank Deposit or Checking/Savings Account: 1,790
Student Loans: 1,074
Source: lendedu.com

Equifax data breach: Are you affected? Find out here

Are you among the 143 million people, or 44 percent of the U.S. population, whose personal information was stolen in a massive data breach at credit reporting agency Equifax?

You can find out in seconds at a company website here.

“The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling,” said Mike Litt, consumer advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft.”

Especially if you are among those affected, Litt recommended putting a credit “freeze” on all three major credit bureaus. That does not prevent all fraud but it makes it harder for someone to open new credit in your name, though you may have to unfreeze to establish new credit such as a car loan. Another option is a credit monitoring service, which Equifax is offering free for a limited time.

New York’s attorney general has raised questions about whether accepting the credit monitoring means customers give up their rights to join a class-action lawsuit and must take arbitration instead. Company officials said arbitration applies only to monitoring services, not the data breach, according to published reports.

Equifax is facing at least 23 lawsuits over the breach by consumers seeking class-action status, USA Today reported.

 

 

Data safe this season? Credit report firms lead agency gripe list

You might like to think credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the folks who are supposed to protect and keep your consumer data straight this holiday shopping season. But they lead all companies in the latest quarterly complaint list released Tuesday from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, outpacing banks led by Citibank.

Complaints from Florida increased 14 percent for June through August 2016, compared to same quarter a year earlier, ranking it among the top 20 states with the biggest increases in gripes.

credit reportCredit reporting firms compile information on more than 220 million U.S. consumers that can play a critical role in determining if people get favorable terms when they apply for loans and charge cards, apartments or even jobs or insurance. Some complaints are to be expected, but problems that consumers face in challenging or clearing up mistakes have proved persistent.

As The Palm Beach Post reported, the annual cost of ID theft has been tallied near $25 billion, more than burglary, vehicle and other forms of property theft combined.

Florida led the nation in identity theft complaints in 2015 to another federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission. The region including Miami and West Palm Beach topped the nation in reported identify theft per capita in 2014 and remained in the top three last year.

The Consumer Data Industry Association, whose members include big credit reporting companies, had no immediate comment.

Most Complaints by Company
1. Equifax
2. Experian
3. TransUnion
4. Citibank
5. Bank of America
6. Wells Fargo
7. JPMorgan Chase
8. Capital One
9. Ocwen
10. Navient Solutions Inc.

Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, June-Aug. 2016