New Law Helps Prevent Identity Theft
North Carolina consumers now have better access to tools to fight identity theft thanks to a new law that took effect last month.
Under the new law, North Carolinians can guard against identity theft by freezing their credit reports online for free. Seniors and victims of identity theft can also freeze their credit by telephone or mail for free, Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
The law also requires paid credit monitoring services to tell consumers how they can check their credit report for free, beefs up security breach reporting requirements, allows removal of personal financial information from local government Web sites, and protects crime victims from debts caused by criminals.
"Identity thieves are hard at work trying to cash in on your good name," said Cooper, who pushed for the new law. "Freezing your credit and checking your credit reports are easy and effective ways you can protect your identity."
North Carolinians can request free security freezes by visiting the three major credit bureaus' secure Web sites and providing identifying information such as Social Security number, address and date of birth. Links to the credit bureaus' Web sites are available at www.ncdoj.gov, along with detailed information about how to sign up for security freezes and how to lift one when you need to take out credit. Consumers can lift their security freezes online for free as well.
Consumers who don't have access to the Internet can request and lift security freezes by mail or telephone for $3 per bureau. Freezes by mail or telephone are free to victims of identity theft and consumers over age 62. Previously, consumers who had not been the victim of identity theft had to pay a $10 fee per credit bureau to establish or lift a security freeze.
"We're making security freezes simpler and cheaper so that more North Carolinians can use this important tool to guard their credit," said Sen. Josh Stein, sponsor of the new law.
Placing security freezes on your credit prevents an identity thief from opening new accounts or taking out credit cards and loans in your name. Once a security freeze is in place, the credit bureau won't release information from your credit file until or unless you lift the freeze.
The new law also makes North Carolina the first state in the nation to require credit monitoring services to tell consumers how they can get credit reports for free.
Consumers can get a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Free credit reports are available online at www.annualcredit-report.com or by calling toll-free (877) 322-8228.
"If you respond to one of those clever TV ads for paid credit monitoring, they now have to tell you how you can really check your credit for free," Cooper said. "Take advantage of free credit reports to keep an eye on your credit and spot suspicious activity that could be the first sign of ID theft."
Under the new law, businesses and state and local government agencies must now report all security breaches to the attorney general's office, not just those that impact 1,000 people or more. Nearly 1.7 million North Carolina consumers have had their personal information compromised due to 329 reported security breaches since 2005.
The law also authorizes registers of deeds and clerks of court to remove consumers' Social Security numbers from their Web sites. Social Security numbers are required on many court documents and property records, and removing them from easy access on the Internet can help prevent the information from being misused by criminals.
In addition, the new law prohibits creditors from reporting victims' debts caused by criminals to national credit bureaus. Creditors cannot report a debt associated with services performed for a victim to any of the credit reporting agencies while the victim's application for compensation under the Crime Victims' Compensation Act is pending.
Help for victims and information about how to protect yourself from identity theft are available at www.ncdoj.gov.
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