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This Could Create a Very Big Chill

New Jersey is set to wow all comers at the industry?s biggest show of the yearConsumer advocates praise it, credit agencies oppose it and a bipartisan group of lawmakers support a measure heading to the state Senate that would let people freeze their credit reports. It would bar banks, credit card companies and others from checking credit histories without consumer consent.
The provision is part of a wide-ranging Identity Theft Protection Act (A4001) that cleared the Senate Commerce Committee with strong backing last month. The broad measure introduces a series of anti-Identity theft initiatives (see sidebar) that include allowing consumers to freeze their credit reports simply by contacting one of the hundreds of consumer reporting agencies.
Consumers who do so would receive a password that could later be used to remove the restriction. While there would be no charge for requesting a freeze, lifting it would cost $5. Consumers? existing credit card issuers, insurance providers and lenders would be able to review their credit histories while the freeze was in effect.
The measure aims to keep ID thieves from applying for credit cards in the name of persons whose identities have been stolen, or from making purchases that require credit checks. ?The freeze goes a long way to making it as easy to protect your identity as it is for a thief to shop with it,? says Abigail Caplovitz, legislative advocate for New Jersey Public Interest Group, which estimates that some 200,000 New Jerseyans were victims of identity theft last year.
But ?freezing is a serious step,? says Scot Mackey, lobbyist with MBI-GluckShaw, which represents credit reporting agencies. ?Many people don?t realize how many times they use their credit scores. Your bank, your insurer, the agency that will rent you your summer home?when your credit is frozen, such transactions are delayed until the freeze is lifted.?
The bill would inconvenience department stores and other retail outlets that offer instant approval of credit cards as well. Such approvals would be delayed until the freeze was lifted. Even something as simple as purchasing a wireless phone could be delayed by the freeze.
Under the bill, reporting agencies would initially have three days following a consumer?s request to turn credit on or off. The legislation directs the state consumer affairs division to create guidelines for imposing and lifting freezes in no more than 15 minutes. New Jersey would be the first state to have the 15-minute requirement. Eight other states, including California, Texas and Vermont, have enacted credit freezes and many more have proposed legislation.
?This security freeze sets the national standard for empowering consumers to prevent identity theft,? says Caplovitz. ?The freezes enacted elsewhere are not easy to use.? ?If it takes three days to lift the freeze,? she adds, ?nobody will use it.?
But lobbyist Mackey says the very ease of imposing a freeze could be a drawback. ?The question is, ?Are we meeting the goal of the bill, which is to protect credit and prevent ID theft??? he asks. ?I don?t know if we want people to get on the Internet and freeze or unfreeze their credit, because that method is open to anyone who can hack in.?
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