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Bills in Florida Legislature would eliminate fees to freeze your credit

Two Tampa-area legislators are proposing bills that would eliminate the $10 fee credit reporting agencies charge to freeze your credit.

The bills, sponsored by Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would make it free to place or remove a security freeze on an existing credit report. Only two other states prohibit such "freeze fees."

"It's going to pass bipartisan, I'm sure," Harrison said. "This is one of those types of bills that will pass unanimously."

The bill passed unanimously in one House committee Wednesday.

Such fees are considered an "insult to injury" after you've had your identity  stolen. Typically, the first step after such a breach is to ask Equifax, TransUnion or Experian to freeze your credit, so that thieves can't take out a credit card or other credit in your name.

But those companies can charge Floridians $10 to place a freeze or remove it. Other states' fees generally range from $2 to $10.

When more than 100 million Americans had their personal information stolen after Equifax was breached last year, consumers were outraged to find that they would have to pay Equifax up to $10 for the company to freeze their credit. The company eventually waived the fees temporarily.

"You're victimized once having your identity stolen, and then you have to pay to clean up the mess that a criminal made in your life," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said at a press conference in support of the bills Wednesday.

Florida's Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis, called it "unacceptable."

He said identity theft could happen to anyone.

"It happened to me recently," he said. "I had a credit card breach. I had to jump through the hurdles of the credit card companies to let them know I was getting spending alerts."

He said Florida had the second highest per-capita rate of complaints over identity theft issues in the country, and Miami, Naples and Tallahassee were among the top 10 metro areas for the complaints.