ATLANTA - Georgia consumers worried about falling victim to identity theft could freeze information on their credit under legislation the House passed Wednesday.
But before approving the bill overwhelmingly, lawmakers substantially reduced the fee the three national credit reporting agencies could charge for the service, over the objections of the measure's sponsor.
The bill would allow consumers to order a credit freeze from any or all three of the reporting companies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion - and give them three business days to put the order through.
The agencies then would be given seven additional business days to investigate the order and determine whether the consumer is legitimate.
At that point, the company would send the consumer a personal identification number that would let them temporarily lift the freeze in as little as 15 minutes.
Lifting the freeze would allow a consumer attempting to buy a car or appliance on credit to expose their credit information to the seller, said Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, the bill's sponsor.
Consumers either could lift the freeze for the few minutes it might take to process a purchase they've already decided on or for a longer period if they wished to shop around, he said.
"This is your credit," he said. "You're allowed to decide how long to thaw the freeze."
The version of the bill passed by the House Banks and Banking Committee would have allowed the reporting companies to charge a fee of up to $10 per transaction.
But Reps. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, and Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, Gov. Sonny Perdue's House floor leader, led a move to reduce the fee to $3.
An expert on the credit industry testified during a hearing on the bill last fall that it costs the companies less than $1 to process each freeze transaction.
Rep. Rob Teilhet, D-Smyrna, said keeping the fee at $10 would have meant consumers would pay $30 per transaction to freeze their credit information with all three companies, or $60 for a husband and wife.
"You're getting into hundreds of dollars a year for a married couple that wants to protect themselves," he said.
After Benton's amendment was approved 110-57, the bill itself sailed through the House 167-2. It now goes to the Senate.
Following Wednesday's vote, the statewide consumer group Georgia Watch praised lawmakers for reducing the fee.
"A lower fee for credit freezes will make this crime prevention tool more accessible for more consumers," said Allison Wall, the organization's executive director. "Higher utilization of credit freezes benefits everyone, including Georgia businesses, because it reduces new account fraud and fraudulent charges."