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.

Thousands of older Floridians turn to ‘rogue’ consumer agency

Problems with home-finance deals including reverse mortgages, threats from collectors on debt including health charges, and mistakes on credit reports rank among the top complaints from consumers 62 and older to a federal agency taking heat in Congress, a new report out today says.

Florida’s older residents have filed more than 8,400 complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, second only to almost 11,000 from California seniors, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a group that advocates for consumer protections.

The CFPB, created in 2011, has taken controversial action against companies including a record $100 million fine against bank Wells Fargo for ginning up phony accounts and fees. That has angered some big industry players who say the Obama-era agency has gone too far. They want a Republican-led Congress to clip its wings.

Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling has called it “this rogue agency, the Orwellian-named CFPB.”

Legislation that has passed the House and awaits Senate consideration would roll back the powers, funding and independence of the agency and weaken efforts to help older folks, groups like U.S. PIRG argue.

“The Consumer Bureau has already taken numerous major enforcement actions against financial firms targeting older consumers,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. PIRG. “Gutting the CFPB makes it easier for financial scammers to move against older consumers, threatening their homes and retirement savings.”

Mortgages account for 31 percent of complaints by seniors, his group’s study said. Other leading categories: credit reporting  and debt collection, both 17 percent.

One older consumer told the agency, “I received a false statement saying that my recently deceased husband owed a third party some debt. My husband owed no one anything.”

To file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, visit  consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call (855) 411-2372.