Beginning Monday, Jan. 1, Illinois consumers will have access to a new tool to stop identity thieves from opening new credit in their names.
The new law will allow all Illinois residents to place a “security freeze” on their credit reports. A security freeze prohibits the credit bureaus from releasing a credit report without the consumer’s permission, making it much harder for imposters to obtain a credit card or open a credit line in the consumer’s name.
“A security freeze puts control of a consumer’s credit report where it belongs—in the hands of the consumer,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “Until now, only victims of identity theft could place a freeze on their credit reports.”
To take advantage of this new law and place a security freeze, consumers must make a written request to each of the three major credit bureaus—TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Once the freeze is in place, only the consumer can authorize access to his or her credit report, using a personal identification number provided by the bureaus to lift the freeze temporarily.
Madigan and consumer advocates believe this tool will reduce the incidence of identity theft in Illinois, which in 2005 ranked 10th in the nation for identity theft complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
“Most companies won’t extend credit without first being able to see a credit report,” said Brian Imus of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a leading proponent of the new law. “Blocking access to that vital piece of information means that even if a thief has your name and Social Security number, he won’t be able to open new credit accounts.”
Credit bureaus have up to three days to “thaw” a freeze once a consumer authorizes them to do so. Although a freeze may limit a consumer’s access to instant credit, most delays can be avoided by simply planning ahead.
For example, if consumers know they will be shopping for credit on a Saturday or Sunday, they can call the bureaus during the week to have the freeze temporarily lifted for the weekend. Consumers also can authorize their credit reports to be released to a specific store or creditor, such as an automobile dealership.
The cost for most Illinois consumers to place, temporarily lift, or permanently remove the freeze is $10 for each transaction at each credit bureau. There is no cost for victims of identity theft. Persons 65 and older can place or remove a freeze for free, but they may have to pay a $10 fee to lift it temporarily.
“The security freeze gives seniors the power of choice,” said Donna Ginther of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), whose organization helped draft the legislation. “By opting for a security freeze, seniors can choose who gets to see their credit information and when.”
The security freeze law, P.A. 94-0799, was sponsored in the General Assembly by Sen. John Cullerton and Rep. Marlow Colvin.
On a related note, Madigan also announced her plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session to establish in her office an Identity Theft and Privacy Protection Unit. The unit, which Madigan described as an outgrowth of her office’s year-old Identity Theft Hotline and Identity Theft Complaint Unit, will be dedicated to promoting and protecting the privacy rights of Illinois consumers. Unit staff will assist victims of identity theft, educate the public on privacy issues, coordinate with local law enforcement on identity theft investigations, and advise businesses and governmental agencies on how best to safeguard the personal information that they collect.
For more information on how to request and use a security freeze, Madigan urged consumers to visit her office’s Web site at http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/hotline.html. Consumers also can contact Attorney General Madigan’s Identity Theft Hotline at 1-866-999-5630, TTY 1-877-844-5461.
Source: Illinois Attorney General’s Office
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