Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the country, and it has left millions of victims in this nation with damaged credit. You usually don’t learn you are a victim until the credit card company calls you to ask why you aren’t making payments on a credit card you know you never opened-- with wild expense charges.
Chances are you know someone who was a victim. I know at my work, a place of 30 people, a co-worker found out that she was victimized. It was a frightening experience.
The sad thing is, the answer is so simple it is equally frightening: Allow consumers to put a freeze on their credit until they “un-freeze” it. While its frozen, lenders are prohibited from reviewing your credit report unless you give your permission. This stops identity theft cold, because lenders won’t give out a credit card without running a credit report. This guarantees that a criminal cannot open an account in your name.
So why hasn’t Florida joined the other states that have passed this legislation? The argument against it has come from, not surprisingly, the credit-reporting agencies who sell credit reports, and the credit card industry. The real reason is money. However, the argument that’s actually used is one or all of the following:
- Identity theft is blown out of proportion
- Credit alerts are sufficient (even though they are often ignored by creditors), and
- Consumer might miss out on a “low” mortgage rate or a one-time credit card offer, since it can take up to 1-3 days for a credit to unfreeze.
All of these are foolish arguments. The most appalling is the last one: shouldn’t it be up to me to decide if I want to miss out on such “great offers” in order to keep my identity secure? I can’t trust the credit agencies to do it for me—they have already shown they have real problems keeping personal information secure. The reality is that information on you and me is out there now, in several databases and all around the ether that is the Internet. All someone needs is a Social Security number and some basic information, and they can open an account in your name. A credit freeze, however, can stop them. (And it is very likely that if credit freezes become a reality here and are widely used, the time to unfreeze will greatly diminish).
Although this should get bipartisan support, I can understand why some republican legislators would be leery—after all, they get a lot of money from that industry. In fact, it was conservatives who passed a bill for the credit card industry that made it next to impossible to declare bankruptcy due to credit card debt for any reason- even if it is due to emergency medical expenses and the guy has no insurance (defeated Democrat amendment), or economic distress caused by a suddenly ill or disabled family member, (yet another defeated Democrat amendment), or if the bankruptcy was caused by an exorbitant rate of interest targeted to an armed forces member, (yet still another defeated Democrat amendment), or..… you get the point.
But even with a republican-dominated legislature here in Florida, if a candidate truly gets behind this issue and makes some noise, I can guarantee there will be great momentum—for the issue and that person’s candidacy. After all, despite our political affiliations, we are ALL consumers. This will motivate people to the polls who might otherwise stay home. This is a win-win issue. Credit freezing is something that helps everyone, has a very weak case against it, and has every potential for gathering broad support.
And it is an issue that, if passed, I can finally shut up about.