Florida lawmakers kill credit-freeze in response to Equifax breach

Updated March 08, 2018
Equifax Corporate Headquarters in Atlanta . (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

The Florida House voted unanimously Wednesday to eliminate a $10 fee for state residents to put a freeze on their credit reports in the wake of the Equifax data breach, sending the legislation to Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida law previously allowed a credit reporting agency to assess up to a $10 fee to place, temporarily lift or permanently remove a security freeze. The bill (HB 953) passed Wednesday would prohibit a credit reporting agency from charging a fee for any of those three actions, meaning Floridians would be able to free and unfreeze credit reports effective July 1.

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Under the current law, the fee also can be waived for people 65 or older or who have been a victim of identity theft and have documentation stating such from a law enforcement agency.

“Today’s unanimous vote comes in the midst of National Consumer Protection Week and I’m proud Floridians will be able to more easily protect themselves from fraud,” state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said Wednesday.

Four other states had banned the fee before the session started, and at least two cabinet members associated with consumer agencies pushed for Florida to join that group.

Last fall Equifax acknowledged a data breach that exposed the personal data of more than 145 million U.S. consumers, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and more. Equifax emerged as the most complained-about company in the state in 2017, in gripes to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In recent years the region including West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami has ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally in identify theft complaints per capita.

Industry officials had expressed concerns about killing the fee.

“We in general oppose the removal of all fees from credit freezes,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents credit reporting agencies. “This is a process that costs the credit reporting agencies money. They have to have call centers and staff to do that.”

Despite moves at the state level, some consumer advocates criticized Congress for a lack of action.

Congress is considering three bills that would let credit bureaus “off the hook,” said Mike Litt, consumer campaign director with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “For all this talk about action after the Equifax breach, Congress hasn’t done anything in six months but is now moving to make things worse.”