The US state of Oregon has become the latest to pass legislation to control identity theft.
The Oregon Consumer Identity Theft Protection Act went into effect 1 October. It allows Oregonians to put a security freeze on credit reports to block thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in their names.
The legislation also requires businesses that store consumer data to safeguard personal information, including Social Security numbers, and notify consumers when their personal information has been lost or otherwise compromised.
"ID theft is still unfortunately all too common," Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said. "Nationally, there were about 8.5 million victims last year, and it's been as high as 11 million."
Laura Etherton, an advocate for the Oregon Public Interest Research Group, said that the law will give consumers “a new tool to fight identity theft.”
"Victims of identity theft spend thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to restore their good names," she said.
Allowing consumers to freeze credit reports stops what Etherton called "unfettered access to credit reports, which makes it easy for thieves to use personal information to open fraudulent credit accounts."
Victims of this technique often don't discover that their identities have been stolen for months or years, according to Givens.
“[Victims] are generally not aware right away because the perpetrators use a different address for receiving billing statements," she said.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that thieves steal more than $10,000 in each incident of new account fraud.
A security freeze protects a credit report with a pass code, which consumers use to grant access to their reports, and prohibits the opening of new accounts. The freeze is free for victims of identity theft, but Oregon law allows the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) to charge other consumers $10 to place and lift the freeze to apply for credit.
While she didn't know the exact number of states with security freeze laws, Givens said that "the majority of states have them, and it may be that Oregonians contacted their legislators saying that they want a law offering the same type of protection the majority of people in the US already have."