Time for a freeze


Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 11:06 p.m.
Consumers are entitled to protect themselves against credit card fraud and misuse of their credit reports.
If thieves have the right information, they can easily open a credit card account in the name of another - your name included.
The stolen personal information is commonly used to open an account at a store that issues instant credit and sells popular items ranging from electronic equipment to furniture.
The bill shows up on your credit report.
A 2003 Federal Trade Commission study found that only 17 percent of credit card fraud victims found out about the crime committed against them in the first week. More than 25 percent didn't learn of it until six months after it happened - making correcting the record that much more difficult.
The FTC report also noted that more than 3.25 million Americans have been targets of credit fraud.
Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, wants Florida to be like 12 other states: Under her bill (HB 37), consumers would be able to "freeze" their credit report so it could not be added to without their knowledge. Unless the consumer specifically authorized it, the report could not be released to a third party.
So someone trying to establish instant credit on that account wouldn't be able to do so.
If the account holder wanted an additional credit card to take advantage of a store promotion, the freeze could be lifted by paying a $10 fee to the credit-reporting agencies.
Last November, Adams presented her bill to the House Agriculture Committee. "The question," she said, "is do we just sit back and not allow consumers an extra tool to protect themselves, or do we move forward?"
It seemed to be a question with a no-brainer answer, but committee members basically told Adams they'd get back to her with an answer.
Lobbyists for retail stores objected because big stores could be prevented from issuing instant credit to customers. A news article noted that none of the legislators on the committee spoke in support of the bill; many of them asked questions about the bill's effect on businesses - but no one seemed to care about the consumer.
At the time, the main issue appeared to be making the state law compatible with similar legislation being considered by the U.S. Senate. Those issues were resolved, and a committee substitute was offered this month.
Adams' legislative assistant said this week that the committee substitute "probably turned out to be a little stronger than what we had originally." Committee members approved it unanimously.
Under current laws, consumers must first suspect that someone is trying to use their credit report before an alert, good for 90 days, can be placed on the account telling merchants or other lenders that someone might be trying to illegally access the account.
The AARP supports Adams' bill because consumers don't have to be victimized before they can take action to protect their accounts. AARP also noted that consumers can decide for themselves when to freeze their credit and when that freeze could be lifted.
As Adams said, legislators have a chance to provide consumers with an extra tool to protect themselves. If consumers don't want any more credit than they already have, it's a decision they should make - and businesses should honor.

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