By Kelli B. Grant
Question: In 2009, I found out that I was a victim of identity theft where two people, one in Florida and another in Texas, used my identity to buy goods and services. I sent the police report and a written letter to the three credit bureaus requesting a credit freeze. Experian did freeze my account, but Equifax and TransUnion did not. I called them but they just wanted to sell me their products to monitor my accounts. Please advise.
– Maria Gomes, Arlington, Va.
Answer: A credit freeze prevents potential creditors from pulling your report, and it’s a smart move for victims of identity theft – if a lender can’t check your credit report, it won’t open a credit card or line of credit for someone pretending to be you. (If the real you needs a new loan, you’ll have a code that will allow you to temporarily unlock the report.) But as you found, asking for a freeze doesn’t always mean you’ll get one, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at credit-monitoring site SmartCredit.com.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, most states will let you freeze your credit for free – but everyone else has to pay a fee of up to $20, depending on the state, to place a freeze, temporarily lift it, or remove it. To prove you’re eligible for a free freeze, you must provide proof of the crime, in the form of a police report. If you don’t have it, the credit bureaus will try to offer you the same protection, for a price.
In Virginia, where you live, freezes have been free since July 2008 for victims who provide a police report. You said you sent one to the bureaus, so we checked with Equifax and TransUnion on your behalf to figure out what went wrong. Chalk it up to missing mail. “We just never got a copy of the police report,” says a TransUnion spokesman. That explains why your freeze didn’t go through, and why you got the up-sell. Both bureaus quickly implemented a freeze as you requested.
But there’s another lesson to be taken from the snafu. As with other important transactions, keep copies of any required documents so that you can resend them as needed, says Leonard Bennett, a lawyer in Newport News, Va., who specializes in consumer protection issues.
For more help, read advocacy group Consumer Action’s how-to guide on obtaining a credit freeze.