If your house was looted after the cleaning service accidentally left it unlocked, you wouldn’t let the cleaning service bill you for filling out a police report.
Similarly, credit bureaus shouldn’t be allowed to bill people who request that their personal credit information not be disclosed. Tens of thousands of nervous Americans are requesting such credit report freezes only because one of the credit bureaus, Equifax, accidentally allowed hackers to rip off the personal information of 143 million Americans.
A bipartisan bill in the Illinois Legislature that could come up for a vote in this fall’s veto session would force the nation’s three big credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to allow people to freeze or unfreeze their credit reports for free. That small but sensible step already is the law in seven states. On Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan today joined with 37 other attorneys general to urge credit reporting agencies Experian and TransUnion to immediately stop charging fees for credit freezes without waiting for government to act.
At the moment, if you want to freeze your credit report, it’ll cost you $10 at each of the three big credit bureaus, although Equifax is doing so for free until next month. If later you then wanted to “thaw” your credit report — perhaps to take out a car loan — it would cost you another $30.
So let’s review: Equifax fails to keep your most private credit information private, leading you to request that your credit information be frozen, which creates a steady stream of new money — your money — for Equifax and the other credit bureaus.
Sweet deal, huh?
In the Equifax breach, cybercriminals made off with names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in many cases, driver’s license and credit card numbers. For the average person, this is no small matter. When hackers get their hands on such personal information, they can use it to open bogus store accounts in your name and run up huge debts.
Straightening out such a mess and restoring your credit can be a nightmare that drags on for years. Freezing your credit prevents a financial institution from checking your credit score, which means fraudulent applications probably will be rejected before the damage is done.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a financial company warned Equifax a year ago that its cybersecurity had holes that hackers could sneak through. Then, even after Equifax knew its security had been breached, it waited months to tell the public.
The giant company might have hopped to it more quickly if their money — rather than your privacy — had been on the line.
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