Want to freeze your credit after Equifax failed to safeguard the personal data you didn’t ask them to collect in the first place? In Alabama, you’ll pay some of the highest fees in the country for the “privilege” of not having your identity stolen. Here’s a golden campaign opportunity for anyone planning to run in 2018. Alabama elected officials need to get serious about consumer protection.
In case you’ve been so transfixed by hurricane, fire, and earthquake coverage that you missed the big credit news, Equifax lost control of the personal data of roughly half the adult population of the entire country – 140+ million people. It’s everything, y’all: full social security number, driver’s license, places you’ve lived, mother’s maiden name, answers to security questions…. In short, they failed to protect the data that you would use to prove your identity if someone else tried to steal it.
Financial experts urge people NOT to wait until there’s a problem and advise putting a full “security freeze” on your credit reports. This means that nobody can access your personal credit data unless you specifically “unfreeze” it to allow the bank or car dealership to request your data during a small window of opportunity (24-36 hours). Here’s how it works:
- You contact the credit reporting companies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – and request a credit freeze.
- They tell you to fill out a form.
- They may charge you for the privilege of freezing your credit, charge you again if you unfreeze it, and charge you yet again if you cancel the freeze.
Nice work if you can get it, eh?
See the big company collect your personal data.
See the big company sell it without your permission so you can be inundated by credit card offers.
See the big company screw up and get hacked.
See the big company offer to sell you “credit monitoring” and profit when you want to lock down your data.
Talk about a no-lose business model….
Now, some states have actual consumer protection laws and attorneys general who don’t put up with this sort of crap. Alabama is not one of them.
If you live in New York State, North Carolina, or South Carolina, for example, and want to freeze your credit report, temporarily unfreeze it, then cancel the freeze, it will cost you… NOTHING. If you live in Alabama? Well, get out your credit card and prepare to use it. Unless, of course, identity thieves have run it up to the limit.
Here’s how we stack up on charges for Experian credit freeze fees compared to other Southeastern states:
These charges vary by state because there’s no overall federal law governing this. If you live in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, or even Georgia… congratulations!
But those of us in Alabama need to be asking some hard questions of our legislators and regulators. Yes, the amount to freeze, unfreeze, or cancel is small for most of us. $20 total for each event for a 2-earner household. No problem, right? Except that, for people earning minimum wage, even $20 is a big deal. It’s several hours work and an expense that you pay each time you apply for credit. Also, those small charges spread over millions of consumers add up to big bucks for the credit reporting companies. It’s money that drops straight to the bottom line.
These credit reporting companies make big bucks collecting and selling our personal data. They don’t ask our permission, and have a perfect business model. They make money selling our data to anyone with the money to buy it and make money from us when we want to protect our data from hackers and identity thieves.
At some point, ordinary consumers need a break. Alabama lawmakers could give us one. Why haven’t they?
UPDATE: an alert reader shared this link that explains the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert & discusses the pros and cons of both. Very helpful!