Pioneer Editorial : New tools for consumers for ID theft
Among the slew of new laws taking effect on Tuesday, as passed by the 2006 session of the Legislature, is one which should give Minnesotans new ammunition in the war against identity theft.
The new law will allow consumers to take more control over their credit by limiting access to their credit information by paying a small fee to have it frozen. One of the biggest uses of one's identity is in using credit cards to make bogus purchases. If credit information is frozen, then a potential identity thief will not be able to take out a loan or obtain a credit card in a consumer's name.
The law allows the consumer to temporarily lift the freeze if they want to make a purchase that requires a new line of credit, also with a small fee. Victims of identity theft, however, can have the fee waived.
Minnesota joins 24 other states in allowing consumers to place a freeze on their credit reports, which is considered the gold standard in protection from identity theft. Even if a consumer's personal information is at risk, the credit freeze will prevent thieves from running up charges.
To place a freeze, consumers must contact each of the three major credit-reporting agencies --Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- and follow their directions in putting the freeze in place. They will assign a personal identification number to allow the consumer to lift the freeze for an employer background check or to apply for a loan. The charge is $5 to place or temporarily lift the freeze, with it taking up to three days to lift a freeze.
Whether or not the new law is used, it's still a good idea for consumers to monitor their credit to check for suspicious activity. Consumers are allowed one free credit report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus, which can be accessed through www.annualcreditreport.com or calling toll-free 1-877-322-8228.
The law also prevents creditors from offering credit to someone under age 18 without a written request from a parent or guardian, and mandates that credit card companies which receive a completed mailed application with an address different from the mailed solicitation to verify that address.
In another identity theft prevention method, another state law taking effect on Tuesday makes it a crime to knowingly sell or attempt to sell a telephone record of state residents without their consent. The law covers records of calls dialed or received.
These and other laws have become necessary in a high-tech economy in which information is as valuable as currency. It means a new genre of consumer laws, and we're glad that Minnesota considers anti-identity theft laws a legislative priority.