New Credit Report Freeze Law Helps Prevent Against Identity Theft

BALTIMORE (January 4, 2008) - Maryland consumers now have another line of defense in the fight against identity theft. Beginning January 1st, consumers in Maryland are now able to "freeze" their credit reports, effectively stopping identity thieves before they can cause any damage. The Maryland Security Freeze Law allows consumers to freeze their credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies: Transunion, Experian and Equifax.

"Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. and unfortunately, Marylanders are not immune," said Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. "The ability to freeze their credit report gives consumers in Maryland a new weapon to protect themselves from identity thieves."

Identity theft occurs frequently through fraudulent credit accounts, or even utility and phone accounts. Identity thieves are able to steal personal information such as name, address, social security number, and use that information to open accounts in a consumer's name. Often, identity thieves will use their own address and consumers are unaware of the crime until they check their credit report.

When a consumer places a credit freeze, the credit report is blocked. Most retailers and financial institutions will not grant credit without first checking the credit report; once it is frozen, a thief will be unable to open new lines of credit in the consumer's name. A frozen credit report can only be accessed by the consumer or businesses with which the consumer has an existing relationship.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing consumers to place a freeze on their credit reports. Recently, the three Credit Reporting Agencies opened the service to all consumers in the U.S. The Maryland Freeze Law allows victims of identity theft to "freeze" their credit reports for free, and prohibits the Credit Reporting Agencies from charging more than $5 for all other consumers in the state.

The new law also requires that the credit reporting companies allow consumers to place and lift the freeze over the Internet, once they have a secure web page established. A review of all three company websites on Jan. 4 revealed that none currently provide this ability. Consumers are also advised not to confuse the ability to freeze their report under this new law with commercial credit monitoring products. These products offer various credit report access and "security" tools for a recurring monthly charge.

Consumers may take advantage of this law by sending a certified letter to each of the three credit reporting agencies, along with a $5 fee for each agency. Once the freeze is in place, the consumer will receive a Personal Identification Number (PIN) from the credit reporting agencies. Using the PIN, the consumer may be able to temporarily lift or completely remove the freeze. The agencies may charge an additional $5 fee for removing or temporarily "thawing" the freeze. A thaw may take up to three days until effective.

Previous victims of identity theft who have filed a police report may receive this service for free. They simply need to send a letter to each of the three agencies explaining they have been victims, as well as a copy of the police report.

Send your freeze requests via certified mail to:

Equifax Security Freeze
P.O, Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348

Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

Fraud Victim Assistance Department

P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

Source: Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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