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Closing a door to identity thieves

A number on a credit card

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Believe it or not, there's a fairly standard set of things that identity thieves do once they've make off with your good name, and the numbers that go along with it.

One of them, usually the first, is to open credit accounts -- charge cards, revolving accounts at stores, all of that. Consumers lucky enough to catch the theft early naturally want to stop that. And barring the three big credit reporting bureaus from releasing their information is one way -- no background, no new credit account.

It's traditionally been awfully hard for consumers to do that. Consumer groups and the credit bureaus themselves have been feuding for some time over when and how consumers can freeze their histories.

But now there's a break in that battle. Marketplace's Steve Tripoli has the story.


STEVE TRIPOLI: TransUnion, one of the Big Three, now says it will allow people in all 50 states to freeze their histories. Starting October 15, they'll have to make a written request... Gail Hillebrand of Consumers' Union likes having consumers get that right.

GAIL HILLEBRAND: This means every consumer in the country will be able to lock up access to their TransUnion credit report and credit score, and make their own decisions about who gets to see it for opening new credit.

But she says TransUnion should also allow people to do this by phone or over the Web. And she says the $10 fee for a freeze is too high. Hillebrand calls this a good step, but says consumers won't be fully protected.

HILLEBRAND: The most important thing that's missing is that the other two credit report agencies need to step up to the plate, and match and exceed this offer.

That would be Equifax and Experian.

HILLEBRAND: From the consumer's point of view, to lock up your file at TransUnion if you can't lock it up at Equifax and Experian is like locking the front door and leaving the back door and the window open.

Thirty-five states let consumers freeze their credit reports. Now TransUnion's taking it national. Today, David Rubinger of Equifax had this response.

DAVID RUBINGER: We plan to extend this capability to the 15 other states, and we will be disclosing exactly how we're going to do that in the very near future.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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