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Credit freezes and fraud alerts are often used by consumers to help prevent identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account information, to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can take many forms and can leave your finances in disarray.

To help protect against identity theft, consumers often will place fraud alerts or security/credit freezes on their credit reports. The cost for placing a freeze on your report depends on where you live.

Until September 21st that is.

In Massachusetts, unless you have been a victim of identity theft, and you provide the credit reporting agency with a valid police report, a credit reporting agency can charge you up to $5 each to place, lift or remove a security freeze. A federal law that was recently passed will allow consumers to place and remove a credit/security freeze for free starting September 21, 2018.

A security freeze prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing any information from a consumers’ credit report without written authorization. This can help keep thieves from opening up accounts or requesting loans in your name.

The law additionally will allow consumers in every state to place a free credit freeze for a child under the age of 16. Child identity theft can be dangerous and damaging long-term. Children can be easy targets as they typically have clean credit histories, if they have any history at all. This gives the thief a blank slate to open bank accounts, get loans, register a vehicle, buy a property, etc. And because children (and their parents) don’t often consider the need to check the child’s credit report, thieves could steal a minor’s identity for years without getting caught.

The new law also increases the length of a fraud alert from 90 days to one year. Fraud alerts requires businesses to verify your identity before issuing credit. Victims of identity theft will also be allowed to keep the fraud alert on their reports for up to seven years. Unlike with credit freezes, a fee was never required to place a fraud alert and that will not change.

The law also requires credit reporting agencies, within a year, to offer free electronic credit monitoring to all active duty military. Military personnel are often at high risk of identity theft since their duty requires them to travel, often oversees, and they cannot monitor their accounts as regularly as non-military individuals.

If you suspect that personal information of yours might have been compromised, it is smart to place either a freeze or alert on your credit file. For more information on preventing identity theft and what to do if you think your identity has been compromised, visit our website: https://www.mass.gov/identity-theft-data-privacy-and-cyber-security .

Consumers can also contact the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion for more information on each of their credit reporting assistance processes.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws and Arbitration Program, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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