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When the ball drops on Dec 31st, Maryland consumers will gain a new tool to stop identity theft. Thanks to a new state law, Marylanders will have the ability to place a security freeze on their credit reports to block thieves from opening fraudulent new credit accounts in the victim’s name.
“Victims of identity theft spend thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to restore their good names,” said Johanna Neumann, Maryland PIRG policy advocate. “Thanks to tireless advocacy by advocates and victims, Maryland consumers now have an effective tool to fight identity theft.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Maryland ranks 11th in the nation for identity theft. Fueling this trend is the unfettered access to credit reports, which makes it easy for thieves to use personal information to open fraudulent credit accounts. Many victims find out months or years later that a thief has opened a new credit card, signed up for a new cell phone plan, or opened a new account in the victim’s name. The Federal Trade Commission estimates a thief absconds with more $10,000 through each incidence of new account fraud.
“Security freezes give Maryland consumers more control over who has access to their credit reports,” said Neumann. “By placing a security freeze, consumers can block thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in their name.”
A security freeze protects a credit report with a passcode, similar to an ATM PIN, which the consumer uses to grant access to the report. A freeze doesn’t interfere with existing accounts; it only blocks unauthorized new accounts. The freeze is free for victims of identity theft, but Maryland law allows the Credit Reporting Agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) to charge other consumers a maximum of $5 to place the freeze, and each time consumers want to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for credit.
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