OLYMPIA – Credit freezes are hot with consumer advocates concerned about identity theft and privacy protections. Starting this week, Washington residents have even more control over their credit files thanks to changes that are also helping more retailers warm up to the law.
As of Sept.1, 2008, Washington consumers who want to open new credit, apply for a mortgage or take out an insurance policy have an easy way to provide temporary access to their frozen credit reports. A law requested by Attorney General McKenna and unanimously approved last year by the Legislature provides consumers with the ability to instantly “thaw” their credit files, instead of waiting up to three days.
“The new 15-minute ‘thaw’ in our credit freeze law is as convenient as the defrost feature on your microwave,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Your credit files are ready when you want them to be.”
Another cool feature this month: free freezes for all seniors age 65 and older who request them.
“Nothing puts the chill on identity theft like a credit freeze,” McKenna said.
A security freeze prevents the major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) from sharing your credit history with potential creditors or insurance companies. A freeze can help prevent an identity thief from opening a new credit account in your name since most businesses will not extend credit without first pulling a consumer’s credit report.
Because consumers, too, are prevented from opening new credit while a freeze is in place, some businesses have been critical of freezes. McKenna believes that’s changing thanks to the addition of the new quick-thaw mechanism.
At the time McKenna introduced the legislation, only identity theft and data breach victims could request a credit freeze in Washington. Another key component of the law extended this right to any consumer effective Sept. 1. Serendipitously, the credit-reporting agencies adopted similar regulations. As a result, consumers have been able to freeze their credit files since fall 2007.
More information about obtaining a credit freeze is available on the Attorney General’s Web site at www.atg.wa.gov/credit-freeze-fraud-alert.
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