In Canada, there are two credit monitoring and reporting agencies: Equifax and Transunion.
In my early 20s, I would check my credit score very infrequently.
It wasn’t that necessary because I was still in school, and my parents had to co-sign for everything anyway, but I was still curious to check out any errors on my report. Also, the credit score for both of the agencies is only available online – you can’t get it with the free report in the mail.
Identity theft is a real concern so both Equifax and Transunion have strict security when you are registering your online profile.
The problem with Equifax is that their security system is setup to fool you. You usually have to answer at least 3 questions correctly and they look something like this:
In 2001 you took out a personal loan for $2,500 at which of the following banks:
- National Bank of Canada
- None of the Above
Let’s say this was a question you had to answer today. How likely are you to answer this question correctly? Do you remember what was going on 15 years ago? Maybe they mean that line of credit or credit card you briefly had at TD, or no maybe it was short-term loan I took out to make an RRSP contribution in 2001…
I spoke to someone who recently did this and they told me all of the answers to their questions were “None of the Above”.
Equifax is basically setting you up to fail by asking old, obscure questions that may or may not apply to you.
This is exactly what happened to me.
I answered the security questions, to the best of my ability, but Equifax wouldn’t let me through. And they couldn’t tell me which ones I got wrong either.
Security protocol, of course.
So, I decided it wasn’t a big deal and I let it go. I didn’t really need to see my credit report and credit score. And the one on Transunion was clean, so that was good enough for now.
A year or two later, I decided that it was important to be aware of what both credit agencies had on file, because different banks use different agencies, so I decided to call them up and finally figure out what I had to do to prove to them I am me, and have my online account unlocked and registered. Here’s how the conversation went down:
Beau: Hi, I’m calling because a while back I got locked out of your website for not being able to answer the security questions. Just wondering what I need to do to prove my identity – mail a copy of my ID?
Equifax: I understand your situation, but due to our security protocols we are unable to unlock your account.
Beau: I don’t understand, there must be a way to manually prove to you that I am me. I just got confused by the security questions. This must happen a lot, no?
Equifax: We can’t really discuss that. All I can tell you is that you are no longer allowed to access your credit report or score online.
Beau: Ok, so for how long am I going to be locked out?
Equifax: There is no expiry for the lock out.
Beau: Wait, so you’re saying I am locked out for my entire life? Like I am banned for life from the Equifax website?
Beau: Well this is obviously unacceptable. I have never been banned for life from anything, and this makes no sense.
Equifax: I’m sorry but this is how our security is setup, have a nice day.
After that call, I was a bit shaken up.
Banned for life?
I don’t think so.
I decided to go straight to the top and email the Chief Privacy Officer at Equifax. This was a clear violation of my rights to my own information. They have my profile online, and a credit score that they are saying I can never see for the rest of my life?
My subsequent email to Equifax was very clear about how their system was unreasonable and how they can’t possible ban someone for life for not being able to answer confusing questions. What they were doing wasn’t right and I was prepared to take my issue as far as I possibly could over the course of my ENTIRE LIFE. What did I have to lose, right?
I received a surprising response from the CPO: she apologized, unlocked my account and gave me a free credit report and score.
While she couldn’t divulge exactly what questions I answered incorrectly, due to her need to protect the security system, she acknowledged that there should be a way to prove your identity outside of these security questions.
She also confessed that her customer service agent should not have confirmed that I was banned for life.
Unfortunately, the customer service agent had no other instructions provided and the only conclusion to be reached was that I could never access the website again forever. This would be fixed going forward.
I tell this story because investing wisely is not just about putting your money in the right place, but it’s also about investing time to make sure your financial situation is not compromised. And also investing time to fight back when something just isn’t right.
Banned for life? No way.
Paying high fees on your investments? That shouldn’t sit right with you either.
You can do something about it and if your bank or financial advisor are standing in your way, you go above their heads and stand up for yourself until you are heard.
People like to tell you that one voice can’t change things, but they are wrong. If that one voice is speaking the truth to the right person, things can change for the better.
They may be small changes, but it takes time to get things right. It’s your choice. You can just sit back and accept that you have to follow the rules that don’t make sense, or you can choose to do whatever is in your power to make things better, for yourself and everyone else.