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Starting today, $9 will freeze credit reports

POSTED: August 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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A new law goes into effect today that will allow Georgia consumers to protect themselves from the ever-growing concern of identity theft.

Consumers can call credit reporting agencies and ask them to freeze their credit files, meaning the agencies may not release the file until a consumer approves it and provides a password.

"This is a huge step forward in protecting consumers," said Bruce McClary, a certified credit counselor and media relations coordinator for ClearPoint Financial Solutions.

The major sponsor of the bill was Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, who represents part of Hall County. Benton said he and other legislators began working on the bill three years ago.

"We just thought it would be useful to all consumers," Benton said. "You were seeing every day people’s credit identity that had been compromised."

It costs $3 to freeze a file with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

To make a credit file available, or thaw it, consumers need only to call the agency and it will be available within 15 minutes. It will also cost $3 to thaw a file.

Though many other states already have credit freeze laws, Georgia’s is unique.

"Georgia is the first state in the country to have such a quick turnaround," said Will Phillips, the associate state director for AARP Georgia.

Benton said having credit information available so quickly was important for businesses.

"The 15-minute turnaround was a big clincher there," Benton said.

Georgia ranks seventh in the nation for identity theft, according to AARP Georgia, which is training people to reach out to communities and educate them about the new freeze law and identity theft.

"We have to get out there and tell folks this tool is available," Phillips said.

McClary said people who do not keep an eye on their credit information are more susceptible to identity theft.

He said there are a few things to keep in mind that could help prevent people from stealing credit information.

McClary suggested watching waiters and bartenders at restaurants when paying with a credit card. People who take your credit card where you can’t see it could steal your information.

He also said to keep your credit card out of sight whenever possible. Having a credit card out in the open while waiting in line could give people around you the opportunity to steal the credit card number.

If you do not plan on using a credit card, leave it at home. That way if your wallet or purse is stolen, your credit will not be compromised, McClary said.

He said the new credit freeze law is one more way to protect credit information.

"If you can take advantage of it and you can do it, absolutely it’s a good idea. It can do nothing but help you." McClary said.

An AARP representative will be at the Cornelia Library at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 to talk to the public about the credit freeze law.

To freeze your credit file, send a letter with identifying information, including: full name, current and former addresses, Social Security number, date of birth, photocopy of identification, proof of residence and payment by check, money order or credit card to credit reporting agencies.

"The credit freeze is not going to do you any good if you don’t use it," Benton said.



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