This is an update on the rights consumers have regarding identity theft and what legislation has passed or is pending. Several states passed laws in just the last couple of weeks.
Security freezes: Things are changing fast here. As of today. residents of four states — California, Louisiana, Texas, Vermont — have the right to freeze access to their credit reports. To use this law, consumers generally must write — and often send a fee — to each of the three major credit bureaus, asking them to deny access to their credit reports. Without access to credit reports, lenders will not grant credit, and that stops identity thieves. (To unfreeze a credit report, consumers must use a personal identification number.)
Residents of additional states — Connecticut, New Jersey, Colorado, Maine, Illinois, Nevada and Washington — will have the ability to freeze credit reports within months, thanks to laws passed this year. Specific instructions on how to place a credit freeze on a California consumer's file can be found at www.privacy.ca.gov .
Fraud alerts: All U.S. citizens have the right to place a 90-day fraud alert on their credit file, requiring banks to take extra steps to verify their identity before issuing credit. This is no where close to a guarantee; you have no way of knowing which creditors will look at the alert and what they'll do if they see it.
Longer fraud alerts, lasting up to seven years, can be placed on files by identity theft victims who can provide the credit bureaus with a copy of a report from police or the state department of motor vehicles verifying the theft.
Credit reports: Federal law also provides the right to one free credit report each year. (Unfamiliar items on a consumer's credit report are often the first telltale sign of identity theft.) Anyone wanting a report, or wanting to know when they can receive one, can call (877) 322-8228 or go to annualcreditreport.com.
Pre-approved offers: Federal law allows consumers to opt out of pre-approved credit card offers. To opt out, call (888) 567-8688.
Notification: Fifteen states, including California, have laws on the books requiring companies to notify consumers when they lose track of their personal information, exposing them to identity theft, Smith said. The other states, which passed their laws this year, are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. California law requires disclosure of only electronic data breaches, not loss of paper records.
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