Bill Gives Massachusetts Citizens More Power to Monitor Credit and Protect Personal Information

BOSTON – State Senator Barbara L’Italien and State Representative Jennifer Benson, along with support from Attorney General Maura Healey, today announced an updated bill to protect consumers whose personal information and credit data is compromised because of a security breach at a credit reporting agency.

Filed in January and updated as a response to the recent Equifax breach, the bill (S130/H134) will help consumers by eliminating fees and establishing a one-stop shop for placing credit freezes, mandating encryption of personal information in credit reports, and requiring that companies obtain consent before accessing or using consumer credit reports and credit scores. The new legislation allows Massachusetts consumers to freeze and unfreeze their credit for free, instead of having to pay a fine. If passed, the legislation will take effect immediately.

“With the Equifax breach we learned how easy it is for our personal information to be compromised, and the urgency of ensuring additional protection for consumers and our credit and financial information,” said State Senator Barbara L’Italien, Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “I am proud to stand today in collaboration with Attorney General Healey and Chairwoman Benson to introduce enhanced consumer protections for all residents of our Commonwealth.”

“I welcome the Attorney General’s support of this important legislation,” said Representative Benson, Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. “I filed this bill to protect victims of identity theft, and in collaboration with the Attorney General and Chairwoman L’Italien, we’ve made the language even stronger to provide further consumer protections.”

“For too long, protecting consumers has been an afterthought for Equifax and other credit reporting agencies,” said AG Healey, who brought the nation’s first enforcement action against Equifax for its failure to protect the personal information of nearly three million Massachusetts residents. “This bill will give Massachusetts residents control over their personal data and help fix a system that needed reform long before the Equifax breach. I am proud to join with Senator L’Italien and Representative Benson as Massachusetts leads the charge for our country’s consumers.”

“For far too long, consumers have had too little control over their own personal information that is stored and sold by credit reporting agencies,” said Chi Chi Wu, National Consumer Law Center staff attorney​. ​ “I commend Attorney General Maura Healey for introducing this updated bill​, which​ gives consumers a say in whether a business can access their credit report or score. The bill​ ​also responds to the Equifax data breach by making credit freezes free of charge.”

“AARP Massachusetts believes that consumers should not have to pay to freeze their credit, and urges Massachusetts lawmakers to enact this legislation to give residents of Massachusetts the power to control access to their credit report without cost,” said Mike Festa, state director, AARP Massachusetts.

The updated legislation helps consumers in Massachusetts in a number of ways:

  1. Consent: Any company seeking to obtain or use a consumer’s credit report or credit score will need the written consent of the consumer and must disclose the reason for seeking access to the information.
  2. Credit Freeze: The bill would allow consumers to place and lift a credit freeze on their files at any time, for free. Unlike credit monitoring (which alerts you after potential identity theft has already occurred), a credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.The new legislation will require the credit reporting agencies to put in place a simple, one-stop shop for freezing and unfreezing your credit reports.
  3. Credit reports: The bill will require each credit reporting agency to provide extra access to free credit reports to consumers impacted by a breach. Under federal law, consumers only get access to one free credit report per year, but under the new legislation, affected consumers will be entitled to no less than three free copies from each agency after a data breach.
  4. Credit monitoring: If the breach occurs at a consumer reporting agency – like Equifax – the bill requires it to provide five years of free credit monitoring to affected consumers.
  5. Encryption: The bill will require that all agencies encrypt personal information contained in consumer credit reports to enhance the security, confidentiality and integrity of personal information.

According to Equifax, the breach reported earlier this month potentially compromised the personal information of 143 million consumers nationwide, including nearly three million Massachusetts consumers.

Equifax is a consumer reporting agency that businesses rely on to make decisions about the credit worthiness of consumers, therefore affecting whether consumers can buy a house, acquire a loan, lease a vehicle, or even get a job. Consumers have little to no control over the information about them that Equifax acquires.

Senator L’Italien chaired the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure hearing Tuesday that heard testimony on this legislation.