Unlocking Frozen Credit Without a Pin

A safe containing your credit which you can imagine unlocking frozen credit without a pin.

The official title of this post is “Unlocking Frozen Credit Without a Pin,” but the unofficial title is “Unlocking frozen credit, the lost pin fiasco, and the three ring circus.”

Ever since the absurd Equifax hack, the Handy Millennial has been a little uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because while the public outrage was swift and loud, the consensus opinion has been, “freeze your credit and everything will be fine.”

Well, my dear reader, it may not really be fine. In fact, freezing your credit is a little bit like tying your shoe laces together so someone else doesn’t steal your shoes. It’s at best an imperfect solution and at worst yet another swindle pushed on the average person to make them feel safe. The trouble with that last statement is that while we don’t want people to be scared (never scared, always educated –  that’s the Handy Millennial motto!), we do want them to be vigilant.

But really, how vigilant can you be when you think you’ve frozen that sucker so deep no one can get to it?

The Biggest Problem with Credit Freezes is the PIN

Ok Handy Millennial, what is the problem? The biggest problem with credit freezes is the PIN. The personal identification number (PIN) issued to you is a big Big problem. Why, you may ask? Well, when was the last time that you kept anything forever? Go on, I’ll wait… Take you time… Okay, now this is getting a bit long so I will jump in and help you: NEVER! You see my dear reader, it’s simply not human to remember something like this – 2347862347823473265 – forever.

And by the way, even if you do happen to be careful and keep that pin forever you still might lose it. Why? Well because in order to keep something like this forever and secure you must put it on a piece of paper (yeah, not on a note in you iPhone or in a Document on your Desktop titled – My Equifax Pin). And if you do write the pin on a piece of paper, it better be acid-free paper with special ink otherwise this might happen:

What to do if you lost your Pin on a faded piece of paper?

That’s right! Ink actually fades if it’s not printed on acid-free paper and stored in just the perfect conditions. Check out the US Constitution in Washington DC for an example of a forever document, or closer to home, your receipt drawer for a receipt from last year.

So basically storing your pin forever is a lost cause. And because of this your average person will need to re-request that magical number. This is where we get into a bit of a pickle. Because you see my dear reader, it turns out that the process to re-obtain that PIN is not secure at all!

What to do if you lost your Pin

To see how insecure it actually is, let’s go through all three major credit reporting bureaus (yes I know there are 4, but trust me you’ll get the point) and see what they their procedures are for unlocking your frozen credit without your PIN!

Experian

We begin with Experian! While TransUnion and Equifax are moving towards offering an actual convenient solution for consumers to lock their credit, Experian is basically saying, “Nope! That’ll be $25 a month, thanks!” Apparently, like Janice in accounting, they just don’t give a fuck.

Janice dont give a fuck about unlocking frozen credit without a pin

 

So let’s say you lost your PIN, then you go to the Experian website and you find this:

this is what you do when unlocking frozen credit without a pin at Experian

Okay, my dear reader, let’s play a game – we’ll call this information roulette: what information requested by Experian might appear on your Equifax credit report.

  • Name?
  • Address?
  • Date of Birth?
  • Social Security Number?

Oh and look, you can provide an email to get the results faster!!! How convenient!

So essentially, the thieves took the keys to the kingdom, and the best we can do is ask them what color the key is! And t Experian is the company who has done no wrong and sees no point in launching new and free tools to the consumer.

TransUnion

Let’s move on to TransUnion. Coincidentally, probably one of the more responsible credit agencies. Why? Well they already have a free credit lock, and they have double blind processes for credit such as background checks for renters. In case you aren’t familiar, double blind means that neither side sees the sensitive information.

Anyway, back to recovering a lost pin and such. A quick Google search tells me that there is actually no easy to read and understand page from TransUnion on how to recover your pin. Right away, let’s take some demerit points. Seriously? In the age of the internet, not being able to find an answer should be a capital crime.

So then we resolve to looking on third party sites like aprfinder.com (no idea if this is a trustworthy site but I didn’t call TransUnion) which informs us that you:

  1. Call 1-888-909-8872
  2. You will be prompted to respond to identifying information from your credit history. Key word here is prompted. Meaning this is probably an automated system. And therefore probably will give you multiple choice questions.

Fun sample! Will Johnny lose all his money today or just some? A. Yup B. WTF is this? C. I’m not playing anymore D. No one cares and you’re screwed.

Let’s repeat our cutesy game – information roulette: which information could be used by the TransUnion during the automated phone that could also have been on your stolen Equifax report?

  • Personal Identification Information such as Name or Birthday?
  • Credit history?
  • Residence History?

At this point, you should be rolling your eyes because this is clearly ridiculous. Alternatively, you can hide in a bag and scowl at the world.

This is what to do if you lost your Pin and you dont want to call Equifax.

Equifax

This brings us to the last of the champions: Equifax. Master of the Universe! Keeper of our secrets! You must be protecting us well, right? Right?!

Okay, let’s give them some credit. They do have a section called: “What to do if I lose my security freeze PIN?” and also a helpful list of documents you need to prove your identity! Let’s check it out!

Let’s play Round 3 of our game!!! Which information requested by Equifax might be on the stolen Equifax report?

  • Social Security Number?
  • Driver License Number?
  • Address?
  • Birth Date?

Twist! Which of these documents does not have a Federal standard of security, thereby making it a big risk for falsification? (Don’t even tell me you didn’t think of that. How much CSI have you watched?)

  • State ID (Apparently some state IDs are nothing more than a laminated card with a picture glued to it.)
  • Birth Certificate?
  • Cell Phone Bill
  • Utility bill with correct address?
  • Valid Driver License?

Instead of commenting, I’ll let this nice gentleman tell you what to feel.

This is a mess! Can’t we use the free Lock services instead?

To be fair the solutions here are not easy. Ask yourself, how would you identify a person?… See, not obvious.

So maybe the solution is to use a free locking service, again by our favorite actors. So far TransUnion has one, and Equifax will be launching one by Jan 31, 2018. Not a bad solution because if the freeze is imperfect, the lock (just as imperfect) gives you better flexibility.

One big caveat. Freezes are guaranteed by law: if you freeze your credit you are not responsible for fraud! Locks are a contractual agreement between you and the credit agency. As I wrote in my post on Fraud in Security Accounts, that is a shaky stool to sit on.

Why we need new technology and some rules

So what can we do? The short answer right now is… nothing. The long answer is push for new regulations. You see my dear reader, life in a capitalist market-based society is determined by consequences. Right now, there are little consequences for the credit bureaus when your info gets stolen.

Little consequence means little action. If you want action and innovation here, you need to have a stick and a carrot.

Stick = legal financial liability,

What to do if you lost your Pin and you don't have a stick?

carrot = keep making $$$ off people who never even think about you.

What to do if you lost your Pin and you only have a carrot?

Once we create the right incentives and rules of the game, we need innovation. We need some really smart people to get together and come up with new and creative ways to tell us apart. Why? Because like it or not, you are part of the system and it’s in your best interest if it functions well and protects the actors within.

But it won’t happen to me!

“But wait! Mr. Handy Millennial, the odds that out of 140,000,000 files mine will be used to steal my identity are pretty small!”

You’re right.

“Okay, then I probably don’t have to worry because if I freeze my credit no one will try to hard to break into it.”

Umm…. not so fast.

While your credit report does not have your salary, assets and net worth, one can make some educated guesses as to whose identity might be more worth stealing. For example, would you steal an identity of someone that has 12 maxed out credit cards, a car loan and a mortgage? If you guessed NO, that would be the right answer.

On the other hand, would you work at stealing the identity of someone who has an $80,000 line of open credit but only uses $5000 monthly? Why sure, that might be a good one to work on!

You see my dear reader, the right answer here isn’t necessarily the easiest one, just the most profitable. And if there is anything the Equifax hack did, it provided a nice big database to explore for opportunity.

Last but certainly not least, the provided information is also often used to identify customers at other sensitive financial and societal institutions. This alone should make us all do a double take. Here is a non-exhaustive eye opening list:

  • Banks
  • Brokerages – ex. Fidelity and Vanguard
  • Employers
  • State License Centers

The hope is that these places link to some kind of superior verification system. Wanna bet?

Conclusion

The Handy Millennial would like to conclude this post by saying that nothing written within is intended to be an attack on the mentioned companies. The Handy Millennial does not think badly, wish ill will, or otherwise harbor any negative feelings. This is merely a discussion of the facts as observed by the Handy Millennial and his (perhaps not so gentle) opinions. But the Handy Millennial believes that we must clearly understand what is happening, the rules of the game and where the pitfalls lie. It is only after we have educated ourselves, thought deeply about our problems, and critiqued our own way of life that we can truly begin to learn and move forward.

And this, Moving Forward, is what this blog is and always will be about.

8 thoughts on “Unlocking Frozen Credit Without a Pin

    1. Hi DM. Great to see you again! I see what you did 🙂 I actually haven’t had this problem either. The thing is all the arguments here are circle logic. Every time I point this out to someone they just shrug and move on. So I thought I’d use HM as a platform to just show people how ridiculous the situation is.

  1. Well, here goes. I have no problem giving any of those companies the big fat middle finger!!! AHHHH! THAT feels better….

    Good summary – though a bit intense. I love the cat in the bag and can relate to that feeling. I guess if I had a pin like that I might consider getting it tattooed somewhere safe.

    1. Hi Cubert. Great to see you back! haha I love that comment. Fair point, I think that may have been a little intense :). I’ll keep that in mind for future posts. This situation is particularly frustrating because it involves so much circle logic.

  2. I could barely finish reading because my post-credit freeze PTSD kicked in! Let’s just say that I had the WORST experience with all of this and it went on for YEARS. To make a very long story short, my SSN was stolen from a mortgage lender and someone used it to open a BestBuy credit card account to purchase $7,000 of tech stuff. SO I filed a police report and used that report to Freeze my credit with all three agencies for “free.” But, trying to get the freezes temporarily lifted (even with my PIN) in order to get new credit was excruciating, because of the three agencies having different requirements, automated call centers, etc..etc..). I finally removed the freezes but some of the agencies kept a fraud alert on my filed, which was tied to an old phone number that was disconnected, and that also caused problems. I could go on but I won’t. I agree – it’s an awful system that is like a second crime to victims of identity theft. Ok, now I need a drink! Ha ha

    1. Hi CashflowKat! Thanks for stopping by here. This story is, well, the only word I can find – terrifying. It’s interesting that you know where the problem came from. That’s actually encouraging. How did you find this out? Did you have to pay back the $7,000? Its just unbelievable what you get signed up for just for living at this point. I’m glad that my knowledge is only observational so far, but I’m going to be knocking on some very big wood.

      1. Thankfully I did not have to pay anything to Best Buy! As for the source of the theft, it was actually my supposition due to the timing and location of the Best Buy purchases. Unfortunately, the local police do not do anything to investigate this type of crime. The just take the statement and generate the police report, knowing you can use the report to fight paying fraudulent bills and to provide to the credit rating agencies. The whole affair was pretty depressing because you are left to clean up the mess the best you can. Hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else reading this post!

        1. Hi CashflowKat! Thanks for coming back to respond! This does sound pretty depressing. I’m glad you didn’t have to pay anything for it. This makes me wonder if the credit protection services are worth it? At least maybe the free AAA?

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