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AUSTIN—Beginning June 1, consumers living in Texas and other southern states will have the right to order a free copy of their credit report thanks to a new federal law, known as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, or FACTA, adopted by Congress in 2003. By requiring credit reporting bureaus to provide free credit reports annually upon request, the new law enables consumers to more readily monitor if they are victims of identity theft or if their credit reports contain errors. The Texas Legislature is also close to giving final approval to a suite of new protections that will help prevent identity theft and give its victims new rights.
Starting June 1, consumers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas will be entitled to one free copy of their credit report annually from each of the nationwide credit bureaus. The major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These southern states are the third group in a delayed roll-out to obtain this right. On September 1, consumers in the eastern states will be the last region that will be eligible.
Consumers will be able to request their free credit reports by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com; calling 877-322-8228, or writing Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Tips for consumers are also available at www.texpirg.org.
“This is a hard won consumer victory and consumers should take full advantage of free credit reports,” said TexPIRG Advocate Luke Metzger. “When left to their own devices, credit bureaus will too often get consumers’ reports wrong,” explained Metzger who released new research in 2004 that showed 1 in 4 reports will contain serious errors. “Consumers need to make sure the bureaus get it right,” concluded Metzger.
“It’s easier than ever for criminals to get data that they can use to defraud consumers, especially older consumers,” said Gus Cardenas, AARP Texas State President. “AARP is pleased that Congress and the Texas Legislature are creating tougher safeguards to protect consumers’ privacy and stop identity theft before it happens.”
Research found that consumers should look for common mistakes such as:
- Inaccurate demographic information such as incorrect names or addresses;\
- Accounts that are incorrectly listed as open, delinquent or in collections;
- Accounts that do not belong to you, in good standing or not;
- Bankruptcies, tax liens or other judgments that do not belong to you;
Other provisions of the new law, FACTA, are already in effect nationwide, including the right to place fraud alerts on your credit report and to obtain information from businesses where you do not have an account but an identity thief used your name fraudulently.
To help consumers take advantage of this new right, TexPIRG has posted information on their websites about how to review your credit report and what to do if you find errors or evidence of identity theft.
The Texas Legislature is also close to giving final approval to a package of laws to help prevent identity theft and give its victims new rights. “The recent string of information breaches at ChoicePoint and other companies has underscored the vulnerability of our personal information,” said Metzger. “The Legislature has adopted strong new measures that say when a company messes up, they have to own up and notify their customers.”
- SB 122 (Hinojosa) would require businesses to notify customers when hackers have breached security and accessed confidential records. It would also give victims the right to obtain a police report and a court-ordered factual declaration of innocence (critical for victims to be able to clear their names)
- HB 1855 (Giddings) would require companies to clear electronic records containing false information about a consumer and includes an amendment by Sen. Ellis that give all Texans the right to place a “freeze” on their credit reports – blocking access to any potential creditors unless the consumer decides to unlock the files by contacting the credit bureaus and providing a security code.
- HB 955 (Solomons) is a broad financial services bill that includes an amendment by Sen. West that would limit certain companies from requesting a consumer’s Social Security number.
- HB 698 (McCall) would require businesses to properly destroy or disposed records containing sensitive information
- HB 628 (Giddings) helps protect victims of identity theft from debt collectors
TexPIRG is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization with 9000 members and e-activists across the state and offices in Austin and Houston.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our website, www.aarp.org. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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