Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Tuesday aimed at saving residents from having to pay a fee to freeze their credit reports. It comes following last year's Equifax data breach that affected 148 million Americans.
Experts advise consumers to freeze their credit if they think their information is at risk. Freezing credit means an identity thief will be unable to open a new line of credit in your name, unless they can unfreeze it. Creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account.
To freeze your credit, the credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian -- require Washington residents to pay a fee of $10 each. But if you want to open a new line of credit to buy a car, open a new bank account, or take out a mortgage, you also have to pay to unfreeze those accounts. Add it all up, and it's $60 each time you need to freeze and unfreeze.
Since consumers' credit is monitored by these companies whether they like it or not, they have no choice but to pay the fee to freeze their credit.
"Consumers whose sensitive financial data has been exposed through no fault of their own shouldn't have to pay to protect their credit ratings," said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, in a statement. He was the sponsor of the bill.
The bill is set to go into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which was last Thursday. That would make the effective date June 6.
Congress is considering a similar measure.
While a freeze can protect you from someone opening new accounts in your name, the Federal Trade Commission says it does not prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements.