Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and 11 other Democratic senators introduced a bill this week that could give people the ability to freeze their credit for free. Warren also announced that she's sent letters to the country's three biggest credit reporting firms (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Government Accountability Office in an effort to kickstart an investigation into Equifax's monumental data breach that affected more than 140 million Americans.
The bill is co-sponsored by 11 Democrats. With a Republican-controlled Congress, they’ll face a steep uphill battle to get it passed.
Credit freezes are recommended if you think your identity, particularly your Social Security number, have leaked online. The FTC even suggests it. A freeze prevents the agencies from providing your credit history to potential creditors. This is supposed to prevent identity theft by not allowing you to get approved for new credit cards, mortgages, or loans. If you want to legitimately rent a new apartment or get a credit card, you can temporarily lift your freeze.
It's a relatively seamless process (assuming you can prove your identity) that involves either calling the three big credit reporting agencies or filling out online forms for each. Every state varies in how much they allow these companies to charge for a freeze. They're often free if you think you're a victim of identity theft. However, getting the freeze for free requires proving that you're a victim of identity theft, adding insult to injury. Simply saying you were caught up in the Equifax breach isn't sufficient. These agencies also charge whenever a freeze is lifted, even temporarily.
Although the credit firms likely justify their charges by saying it requires labor to freeze credit, Warren says that no one ever gave these agencies permission to possess this data in the first place. They collect it without consumers' knowledge.
Given that 143 million people were affected by Equifax's breach, there's going to be a massive uptick in the number of people who want to freeze their credit. Many of these people probably never thought about a credit freeze before this breach.
Obviously Americans aren't thrilled with this reality. So in response to the breach, Equifax announced this past week that it'll waive credit freeze fees through November 21st. After that point, people will have to pay. This policy doesn't affect temporary lifts. The other agencies haven't followed suit, either.
Equifax is also offering victims a free year of the company's own credit monitoring service, likely with the goal of charging them after those 12 months are up. So a year from now, Equifax could be profiting off its own data breach.