Consumers clamor for free credit freezes in wake of Equifax breach

As momentum builds to drop fees, best thing to do may be get your credit report, wait

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePrint this page

Vic­tims of the Equifax data hack, please sit tight. I’d hate to see peo­ple pay­ing mon­ey for the wrong thing. That’s already hap­pen­ing to peo­ple like, John, in Texas, who end­ed up regret­ting his pur­chase of a $19.95 cred­it mon­i­tor­ing subscription.

Also, I think even­tu­al­ly the right thing is going to hap­pen and con­sumers will be able to freeze their cred­it reports—for free. There is, final­ly, momen­tum in that direction.

Bob Sul­li­van, jour­nal­ist and one of the found­ing mem­bers of

If you are sure you don’t need new cred­it, it should be easy to shut down your cred­it file so nobody else can get new cred­it in your name, either. The idea is a decade or more in the mak­ing and real­ly, it’s hard to under­stand why any­one would object to it.

Relat­ed arti­cle: 3 things you should be doing in the wake of the Equifax hack

OK, folks who sign you up for a retail store cred­it card at check­out do stand to lose some­thing. But real­ly, it’s a good idea to put a small speed bump between you and new cred­it. And it seems deeply unfair to make con­sumers pay for this.

I’ll admit that hav­ing the gov­ern­ment force a com­pa­ny to cre­ate soft­ware that does some­thing makes me a lit­tle squea­mish. But then these com­pa­nies are mak­ing mon­ey off con­sumers who nev­er real­ly offered their con­sent in the first place.

Flur­ry of bills introduced

Now, there are bills float­ing around Con­gress to force cred­it bureaus to offer free freezes. Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., intro­duced the Free Cred­it Freeze Act.

Giv­en the fre­quen­cy of these megabreach­es, it is sim­ply unac­cept­able for the cred­it agen­cies to con­tin­ue to charge hard­work­ing Amer­i­cans who want to pro­tect their cred­it and their iden­ti­ty from fraud­sters. The Free Cred­it Freeze Act gives pow­er back to con­sumers by requir­ing cred­it report­ing agen­cies to pro­vide cred­it freezes to con­sumers at no cost,’ Wyden said.

Soon after, Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., intro­duced the Free­dom From Equifax Exploita­tion Act, or “FREE” Act. It would accom­plish much the same thing.

These might sound like par­ti­san efforts by a minor­i­ty par­ty (i.e., dead on arrival), but the idea could be so pop­u­lar that the effort “may gain sur­pris­ing bipar­ti­san sup­port,” the Amer­i­can Banker said Friday.

Some states looked ahead

Freezes already are free in sev­en states—soon to be eight—where state leg­is­la­tures had the fore­sight to make laws with that strong lev­el of con­sumer pro­tec­tion, accord­ing to the Pub­lic Inter­est Research Group. Illi­nois and Mass­a­chu­setts are con­sid­er­ing such legislation.

Con­gress should lead and make cred­it freezes free for every­one in the coun­try and pass the FREE Act imme­di­ate­ly,” said Mike Litt at U.S. PIRG. “It is out­ra­geous that the cred­it bureaus charge us fees to pre­vent iden­ti­ty theft when we didn’t even give them per­mis­sion to col­lect our infor­ma­tion in the first place.”

The Iden­ti­ty Theft Resource Cen­ter, a non­prof­it that helps folks recov­er from ID theft, has joined the fray, call­ing for free cred­it freezes for all Amer­i­cans. On Mon­day, the agency announced a cam­paign; it’s push­ing a peti­tion and a #FreeFromAll3 hash­tag on Twitter.

Cred­it freezes are an impor­tant tool in the fight against iden­ti­ty theft. While cred­it freezes are not right for every­one, the issue of cost should not fac­tor into a consumer’s deci­sion on whether or not to use one” says Eva Velasquez, CEO and pres­i­dent of the Iden­ti­ty Theft Resource Cen­ter. “It is our hope that the cred­it report­ing agen­cies will con­sid­er this and allow con­sumers to pro­tect their iden­ti­ty, no mat­ter their finan­cial situation.”

Freezes may spur new hacks

Freezes aren’t per­fect, of course. There’s a huge prob­lem for con­sumers who for­get the “thaw” pro­ce­dure. We’ve learned that PIN codes might not be all that hard to guess. I’m sure, if mil­lions of peo­ple real­ly do insti­tute freezes, that hack­ers will start trad­ing in stolen PINs. We’ve seen this already with two-fac­tor authentication.

Cell phone hack­ing has soared since banks start­ed requir­ing that con­sumers enter a code from a text mes­sage dur­ing logins. But we can’t let per­fect be the ene­my of the good. Cred­it freezes can be a real­ly impor­tant tool for pro­tec­tion against ID theft, and they work bet­ter than most paid prod­ucts. I know plen­ty of con­sumers who have their files frozen, and I don’t know a sin­gle one who has com­plained about the freeze fail­ing. (I do know con­sumers who have trou­ble unlock­ing their files.)

Con­gress should strong­ly con­sid­er giv­ing all con­sumers the right to freeze their cred­it files. It will help restore some of the con­fi­dence lost in the Equifax hack­ing incident.

In the mean­time, it’s a good idea to get a (tru­ly) free copy of your cred­it report from If you get a free score from your cred­it card com­pa­ny, pay close atten­tion to it, look­ing for unex­pect­ed drops. But oth­er­wise, don’t feel the need to rush and sign up for any­thing. Wait to see how this shakes out.

More sto­ries relat­ed to the Equifax breach:
Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty experts out­line the wider rip­ples from Equifax breach
Con­sumers must demand answers on Equifax data breach
As threats mul­ti­ply, cyber insur­ance and tech secu­ri­ty indus­tries start to merge


Posted in Featured Story