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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 06, 2007
Attorney General McKenna, Advocates Band Together to Support Legislation to Prevent Identity Theft

New AARP Survey Shows Overwhelming Public Support for Credit Report Security Freeze

OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna joined legislators and leaders from AARP and the Washington Credit Union League today in encouraging the state Legislature to give all Washington residents the opportunity to freeze access to their credit reports. They believe a preventative security freeze bill is needed to help individuals protect themselves from potential identity theft and financial destruction.

“Credit freeze legislation is necessary to help Washington residents protect themselves from the snowballing threat of identity theft,” McKenna said. “Now, more than ever, is the time to arm consumers with a crucial defense tool – the ability to block unauthorized access to their credit reports. The Attorney General’s Office, AARP and the Washington Credit Union League are encouraged to see so much support this session.”

A recent AARP survey found that the vast majority of Washington state consumers (85 percent) support security freeze legislation, and 79 percent of respondents would sign up to place a freeze on their credit reports if that service were available to them. 

"The question the legislature must answer is, ‘Whose credit is it anyway?’” said AARP Advocacy Director Lauren Moughon.  “AARP believes the power over one’s credit belongs in the hands of the consumer, not the credit bureaus or identity thieves.”

Washington Credit Union League President/CEO John Annaloro said, “A credit freeze is a vital tool that empowers consumers to protect themselves from identity theft. We support this legislation because credit union members deserve the right to take precaution and make choices about their own credit.”

McKenna spotlighted three bills that have been introduced, demonstrating bi-partisan support for the issue. HB 1544HB 1755 and SB 5826 each provide for a preventative freeze but include slightly different provisions concerning fees, effective dates and access to reports.

“Identity theft continues to be a problem in Washington,” said  Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, who sponsored SB 5826. “As we learn more about the issue, we have the opportunity to fine-tune existing law to better protect consumers.”

“The Legislature needs to take the necessary steps to protect consumers from identity theft,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who co-sponsored SB 5826.  “The ability for consumers to freeze their own credit should be an important next step in our ongoing effort to erect a protective barrier between consumers and ID thieves who try to prey on them, especially our senior citizens.”

"Our current law is good, but it only allows people to freeze their credit after they've been victimized," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, another co-sponsor of SB 5826. "This bill gives people the chance to protect themselves so they don't become victims if they lose their credit cards and ID."

Senate Bill 5826 is scheduled for hearing on February 14.  The House Insurance, Financial Services and Consumer Protection Committee reviewed HB 1544 and HB 1755 in a hearing today.

Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, who sponsored HB 1544, said, “This bill will empower people to protect their credit before it's damaged. As one constituent told me, being able to freeze your credit only after you've become a victim is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. We can prevent these crimes, rather than just waiting for it to happen and responding after the fact.”

"Identity theft is a multifaceted problem that can include several criminal elements. That's why it is important that lawmakers address all aspects of this growing problem," said Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, another sponsor of HB 1544. "Unfortunately we're seeing an alarming trend of repeated victimization of certain people – including seniors. House Bill 1544 gives individuals the option of freezing their credit to protect their personal information and combat identity theft. I believe this is a vital tool and an important step in the right direction."

McKenna said he is willing to work with bill sponsors to help reach a consensus in the Legislature and that the committee’s attention to this issue is especially timely, as this is National Consumer Protection Week.

“The Legislature should approve a law this session that expands the availability of a credit freeze to all Washington consumers. It should provide an easy ‘thaw’ mechanism to give consumers the option to allow temporary, restricted access to their credit files for the purpose of buying a car, obtaining a mortgage, or applying for a new credit card,” he said.

"Common-sense ideas take forever to make it through the process," said Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, a strong supporter of credit freeze legislation. In 2005, Roach sponsored freeze legislation that died in committee. Last year, he sponsored an omnibus bill with a credit freeze provision that also did not pass. "This year, we have a very good ground swell of constituent support. Everybody wants this because it's a simple, common-sense approach. I think it's a recipe for success and we will pass a bill this session."

Unlike a fraud alert, which places a statement on your credit report, a security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors. A freeze can prevent identity theft since most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer's credit history first.

Eighteen of 23 states that have enacted security freeze laws allow proactive requests to be made by consumers regardless of circumstances. Washington’s existing statute, RCW 19.182.170, allows only identity theft victims and people whose information was stolen in a data breach to request a freeze. The state’s current law, which went into effect last year, requires consumers to submit a police report and send their request via certified mail.

“Under our current law, a pickpocket could snatch your wallet, a scam artist could trick you into providing personal information over the phone or computer, your home could be broken into and personal documents could be taken – but you have to wait until further damage is done before you can block access to your credit report,” McKenna said. “It’s like having a law that says you can’t put a deadbolt on your door until your house has been burglarized.

McKenna said the current law isn’t ideal for data breach victims, either. Trying to obtain the necessary documentation to request a freeze was a hurdle during the Veterans’ Affairs data breach which affected as many as 575,000 veterans living in Washington state, as well as some active-duty military.

A full copy of AARP’s February 2007 report, “Whose Credit is it Anyway?” is available on AARP’s website at http://www.aarp.org/research/credit-debt/credit/wa_freeze_2007.html

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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432, bb: (206) 437-2654

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