You probably think that you are safe when you enable a credit freeze. In fact, it is a smart thing to do proactively to prevent fraud and can help limit some of the damage if you are ever a victim of identity theft. Freezing your credit is usually free for victims, and the Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers do this in order to protect themselves. What if it doesn’t work, though?
This was the case with a man named Chuck. Chuck contacted the Consumerist, and explained how his mother, who was a victim of identity theft, setup a credit freeze based on the recommendation of the FTC. However, TransUnion, one of the three major credit bureaus, allowed the person who stole his mother’s identity to lift the freeze! How could this possibly happen? Well, it’s easier than you might think.
You see, these companies give people who freeze their credit a PIN, which can be used to lift it when necessary. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that someone will remember their PIN, so there are other methods to access the account. For example, in the case of TransUnion, you have to answer a number of personal questions, such as “Which of the following streets have you lived on?” or “Which of the following is a phone number you have had in the past?” The problem? Any good identity thief will know this information, too.
This is rare, of course, but it definitely happens, and Chuck’s mother is the perfect example.
TransUnion claims that there is another layer of protection that they offer to consumers who cannot remember their PIN. They send an email confirmation to the user, which means that they would expect to hear from the consumer if they did not ask for their account to be unfrozen or for a new PIN.
This sounds great, except that not everyone checks their email all hours of the day, and many people have more than one email account. Because of this, it might be several days before they know that their account has been compromised. By that point, the damage has been done.
TransUnion has apologized for the situation with Chuck’s mother, and even released a statement that they, as a company, always do their best to not only provide the most protection possible, but also ensure that consumers can access their information.
It’s also interesting to note that TransUnion was asked what consumers can do to prevent this type of issue from occurring. The answer? Contact the FTC. Remember, this is exactly how Chuck’s mother got into this situation in the first place – by following the advice given by the FTC.
The FTC was also contacted, but they had no comment about this situation. Instead, they urged any consumer with questions to contact them at IdentityTheft.gov or 877-382-4357.
Security is all about layers of protection. And when one layer fails, another is in place to secure you. The more layers you have, the more secure you’ll be. Which is why I often recommend credit report monitoring, investing identity theft protection, AND getting a credit freeze. The more layers of protection that you have in place, the better.