Tennesseans can now take steps to protect themselves from identity theft with a few clicks of a computer mouse.
The state's Credit Security Act, enacted last year, required that the nation's three major credit reporting agencies allow Tennessee consumers to "freeze" access to their information at a cost of no more than $7.50 apiece. But it took a lot of time and effort. Consumers had to request forms from the agencies, fill them out, copy several forms of identification and send all of that by certified mail with their checks.
Not anymore. The law gave the credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and Trans Union—a deadline of Jan. 31, 2009, to create electronic methods for consumers requesting a freeze. So now a consumer can sit down at a computer, pull up the reporting agencies' web sites and complete the entire process online.
The law, championed by AARP, was one of several across the country that led to a voluntary decision by the credit bureaus to provide inexpensive credit security freezes. The hope is that if your credit files are frozen, someone who fraudulently gets your name and Social Security number can't gain credit in your name.
"Too many of the victims of identity theft are age 50 and older, but consumers of all ages need tools like these ‘credit security freezes' to protect themselves and I'm pleased to see that the process is now more user-friendly," said Rebecca Kelly, AARP Tennessee state director.
When a person is ready to make a major purchase or apply for credit, he or she can lift the freeze temporarily for free, and typically within minutes. All he or she must do is provide the PIN (personal identification number) given when the freeze was enacted. Consumers need to keep those PINs safe because replacing them costs $5. A freeze can be permanently lifted for $5.
All of the fees can be waived for victims of identity theft.
"I think this is a very important consumer protection measure. ID theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. I'm glad AARP brought it forward and I was honored to be a part of its passage into law," said House Democratic Leader Gary Odom of Nashville, who sponsored the legislation in 2007 along with then-Sen. Raymond Finney, a Maryville Republican.
Consumers can get more information about security freezes and other ways to protect their money at www.aarp.org/tn. To request a security freeze, contact the agencies:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian Security Freeze
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
To learn more about Tennessee's Credit Security Act, read the statute.