Georgia ranks among the top ten states in identity theft crimes, and in August 2008 established a law, which allows consumers to make a credit freeze to prevent identity theft or fraud or halt identity theft or fraud crimes. Since, about 15% of identity theft cases involve new account fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission, monitoring new accounts is essential in preventing identity theft. This law also placed a limit on the price credit reporting agencies can charge Georgia residents for this service at $3.00. The bill was first introduced by state Rep. Rob Teilhet in early 2006.
While 40 other states have some form of credit freeze laws on the books, Georgia’s new law is unique in many ways. Many states offer this service but at $10.00 a pop and some are as high as $15.00 each. “It is so low-cost,” said Georgia Watch spokeswoman Allison Lang. To request the service, Georgia residents were advised to send a letter to each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (their addresses are provided for your reference at the end of this article).
However, credit freezes in George are not a breeze: Consumers are asked to do the following: Send $3.00 to each credit agency; Send each letter by certified mail; Include name, address, date of birth, Social Security number; A copy of a government issued i.d. card such as a driver’s license or military i.d.; A copy of a utility bill or bank or insurance statement. This list is very specific and alternatives are not accepted. According to the new Georgia identity theft prevention law, you may obtain a credit freeze for free if you are older than are older than 65 or you are a victim of identity theft and can provide a copy of a police report.
One other unique feature of Georgia’s new law is the opportunity to obtain an online temporary “thaw” that would allow consumers to apply for credit on immediately, or a permanent thaw (credit freeze removal) should take only 15 minutes to become effective. Consumers will be given a PIN, personal identification number that can be used online or over the phone. “Georgia is the first state to roll out the 15-minute thaw,” said Lang. Several other states are following Georgia’s lead and offering a version of the thaw starting in September, 2008.
Clark Howard, radio talk show host and a board member of the consumer watchdog group Georgia Watch, has called the measure “the best credit freeze law in the United States.”
President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia, Kelvin Collins, says the law provides big benefits for residents. “There really is no way to completely prevent identity theft, but being able to freeze your credit sure reduces the risk,” he said. Collins admits that the credit freeze is easier to use for some than others. It may be cumbersome for young consumers who are shopping or a home or car but he adds, “If you’re older and you’ve got a home and you’ve got a car, then it’s a huge plus.”