Recently, an I've Been Mugged reader wrote asking:
"I went to annualcreditreport.com to acquire my [free credit] report. I then get told i have a security freeze on my file that i DID NOT put in place?!?! What does this mean? Does this mean someone is stealing my identity?"
First, this reader went to the right place to get her free credit reports: annualcreditreport.com. When using the website, it is important to complete the online forms accurately.
Second, the credit reporting agencies do make mistakes. This is one reason why it is important for consumers to periodically check the accuracy of their credit reports. Mistakes happen because many people have the same name and/or share the same birth date. In 2004, I had a credit report agency list me as deceased when it erroneously co-mingled in my credit report data from both me and from my deceased father. So, while I have not heard before of the problem this reader described, I wouldn't be surprised if a credit reporting agency made a mistake and placed a freeze/lock on the wrong person's credit report.
What this reader must do next requires an understanding of how security freezes work. Identity-theft victims place a security freeze on their credit reports so criminals cannot obtain new credit (e.g., loans, mortgages, etc.) in their name without their consent.
I first suggested that this reader learn more by browsing the Security Freeze section of the Experian website. Perhaps a parent or relative placed a freeze/lock on their credit reports while the reader was a minor. Some parents have proactively signed up for credit monitoring services with coverage for their children due to the increase in identity theft affecting children.
The TransUnion and Equifax websites each have sections that explain the security freeze feature. Perhaps, the reader can use the instructions for "What do I do if I lose my PIN?" to get a new PIN to remove the freeze/lock on their credit reports.
I also suggested that the reader try to determine if a freeze/lock is on all 3 of their credit reports at Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. I suggested this because of the way a security freeze works: a consumer pays to place (or remove) a freeze/lock on their credit report at each credit reporting agency. The reader may find that the freeze/lock is only on one or two credit reports -- and not on all three. That might decrease the amount of work, time, and fees to remove any freezes/locks on their credit reports.
The fees vary by state, so where this reader lives is important. Each credit reporting agency website includes those state-specific instructions.
This reader might think back as to whether she used a credit monitoring service previously. Perhaps the reader paid for that service to place a freeze/lock on her credit report(s).
I also suggested that she contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). The ITRC has resources for consumers, and may have already encountered other consumers with the same situation.
What do you think? Do you have any suggestions for this reader?