Consumer protection enhancements proposed

Members of the Judiciary Committee heard testimony Jan. 28 on a bill that would strengthen consumer protection laws.

LB835, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, would make changes to several consumer protection statutes including the Credit Report Protection Act, the Consumer Protection Act, the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Financial Data Protection and Consumer Notification of Data Security Breach Act.

Mello said the bill would bring them up to date to address modern threats to consumer safety.

“Our consumer protection laws are out of date, some of which haven’t been updated since 1974,” he said.

Currently, if a minor has no credit file established, a consumer reporting agency can deny a request for a security freeze. LB835 would amend the Credit Report Protection Act to require the agency to create a credit file for the minor upon receiving a security freeze request.

Abigail Stempson, chief of the state attorney general’s public protection bureau and consumer protection division, spoke in favor of the bill. She said over 10 percent of minors have had their Social Security numbers stolen.

“[Identity theft] affects a minor’s ability to obtain student loans, buy a car or even get a job,” she said. “This gives the attorney general a strong tool with which to hold these scammers accountable.”

Proposed changes to the Financial Data Protection and Consumer Notification of Data Security Breach Act include requiring any entity that suffers a data breach to notify customers if personal information—including email addresses or user names in combination with a password or security question—is acquired by an unauthorized party. It also would require the entity to notify the attorney general’s office.

Ken Smith, a staff attorney at Nebraska Appleseed, also supported LB835. He said that consumer protection provisions are especially important for low-income individuals and families.

“[The bill] would implement changes that would benefit many Nebraskans, including children and low-income families,” Smith said. “Identity theft can result in loss of utility services, improper child support garnishment or difficulty obtaining a bank account.”

The attorney general’s office would be permitted to share documentary material obtained through a Civil Investigative Demand with other law enforcement agencies under the Consumer Protection Act. It also would increase from $25,000 to $500,000 the maximum civil penalty for antitrust violations, including restraint of trade and monopolization.

Finally, the bill would add two additional deceptive trade practices under the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act: a person representing that goods do not contain ingredients or characteristics that the goods actually contain and a person employing any deception or fraud while soliciting funds or assets for a charitable purpose.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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