Several years back I wrote about why freezing your US credit reports might be a good idea when you live overseas. With data breach a normal occurrence these days, freezing your US credit reports can make you sleep better at night, knowing no one can take out a loan in your name even with stolen identity.
This is until credit freeze potentially makes your life difficult. It’s why I’ve changed my mind about always recommending placing security freeze on your credit. I’ll share more of my story in a bit.
Before that, a few things have changed. In fact, a federal law was passed to make freezing your credit file easier since my last article. Now it’s free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file with all three credit bureaus.
Each bureau – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – also established dedicated online platform to allow you to freeze, unfreeze, and set temporary unfreezing period on your credit report whenever you want.
You’d think that makes freezing credit file the default option, right? That is what I did, then I got burned.
Here’s what happened. I had placed security freeze on my report since late 2018. Due to the new federal law mentioned above, I was able to set up the freeze easily online. It also happens that I was in the US at the time so receiving my PIN in the post was not an issue.
I even was able to temporarily unfreeze TransUnion for a few days in 2019 for an identity verification transaction. Everything seemed to work as designed.
Fast forward to 2020. A couple of weeks ago I realized that I needed to unfreeze my Experian report for another identity verification access. This time it’s for my business’s annual registration. The state in which my business is registered overhauled its online system and canceled all the existing user accounts. In order for me to make any changes to my business registration or pay the fee online, I had to get a new user account. The new system uses Experian database for that.
When I went to unfreeze my Experian credit file online, I got the error message saying they cannot lift the freeze at this time and please request by mail.
I guess it wouldn’t have been so huge an issue if there were a time limit in completing annual registration. This error message initiated a chain of events.
It took me two days to get a customer service person on the phone to send me an instruction on how to prove my identity without the Experian verification. Of course, being overseas I was not able to provide the proof required. Even if I could, I’d need to send snail mail from overseas.
Eventually I was able to solve my most immediate problem without registering an online account myself. However, I still have not been able to set up my user account with the state government, which has nothing to do with my personal financial accounts! This experience makes me rethink whether freezing my credit is worth the headache, should credit bureau verification become more a norm for initiating any online account registration or transaction.
(I did try unfreezing my Experian credit report again after I wrote the above, two weeks after my initial try, and this time it miraculously worked. Nevertheless, it does not inspire confidence that I don’t know whether I can reliability unfreeze my report easily every time.)
Trying to access our US credit report from a foreign IP address automatically makes the query look suspicious. My guess is that in order for these requests to work successfully, a VPN connection to the US is more likely than not required going forward. However, VPN service is identifiable so there is still risk of being blocked by certain protocols.
So what’s the alternative? Perhaps keeping the credit files unlocked but monitoring it regularly is the way to go. That comes with its own cost from using a credit monitoring and identity theft prevention service. For those who still keep most of their financial ties in the US, paying extra to make online account management easier might be worth it.
As for me, since I was able to unlock the Experian report eventually, I’m going to continue the freeze for now. Let’s hope that having control over our credit report online from overseas will only become easier, not harder.