Comprehensive measure calls for prompt breach notification, records disposal and credit freezes to help Massachusetts consumers protect personal information, fight fraud
BOSTON – August 3, 2007 – Responding to one of the fastest growing threats facing Massachusetts consumers today, Governor Deval Patrick has signed into law comprehensive identity theft prevention legislation requiring businesses and governments to notify consumers when their data is lost or stolen and sets standards for the disposal of records containing personal information.
The new law also allows consumers to secure credit freezes to prevent new accounts from being fraudulently created in their name. Governor Patrick made this announcement today on his podcast: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=podcastlanding&L=1&L0=Home&f=Home_more&sid=Agov3#top. In the podcast, the Governor praised the efforts of the Attorney General, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, and other partners in the Legislature for the successful passage of this bill.
“The consequences of identity theft can be devastating and far-reaching for victims,” Governor Patrick said. “This law recognizes the new risks facing consumers today and puts a number of critical safeguards in place to help the people of Massachusetts protect their credit and their good names.”
The new law requires businesses and government agencies to promptly notify affected consumers if their personal information, including social security and license numbers, have been lost or stolen. It also enables consumers to freeze access to their credit reports to prevent identity thieves from establishing credit in their names and caps the fees to place, lift or remove the freeze at five dollars. “Consumers should have a set of tools at their disposal when their personal information becomes compromised,” said Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Director Daniel C. Crane. “Assuring them that they will be contacted if and when a breach occurs and granting them access to credit freezes will give them more control and help them mitigate the impact of identity theft and fraud.”
Under the new law, the Office of Consumer Affairs and the Division of Public Records will set regulations for how businesses and government agencies must protect consumers’ information to prevent data breaches. The law also requires documents containing personal information to be burned, pulverized or shredded. An additional provision allows identity theft victims to obtain a copy of their police report from any law enforcement office regardless of where the theft occurred. Consumers need police reports to qualify for a free credit freeze.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft affects 10 million Americans annually and costs individuals and businesses $52 billion a year. A number of high-profile cases across the country and here in Massachusetts have made headlines throughout the year. Framingham retailer TJX Cos. recently disclosed to customers that thieves had gained access to more than 45 million credit- and debit-card numbers from its computers.