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February 25, 2008

Lifelock.com, Credit Freeze, etc.

If you have a blog, some other online presence or even show up in civic meetings once in a while, you have an online presence. Whether you want it or not. Our identities and images are being divulged by Google, Flickr, etc. I'm always thinking about the ultimate backfire of the web, identity theft. The two words give me a chill.

The other day, I heard an advertisement exploiting this fear. The CEO of Lifelock [1] advertises his social security number because his company's service is so good. The company seems to simply do a few things on your behalf that any of us could do for free, but they do it diligently and on schedule. They put fraud alerts on your accounts on your behalf [9] with the big 3 credit agencies [6-8], send you free annual credit reports and fight on your behalf if these efforts fail.

The most unbiased consumer site I use hasn't said a word about it yet [2]. A quick perusal of Technorati [3] pulled up a lot of useless posts but one especially interesting note [4]. Lifelock costs $110 per year, every year. Kind of pricey after a while.

Alternatives? In the Mouse Print piece below, one of the commenters mentions a "credit freeze." [5] Basically, a credit freeze seems to accomplish everything that the Lifelock system promises. You lock down your credit with the 3 big agencies in writing [6-8] for $10 each. One time. However, if you apply for a credit card or loan of any kind, you need to lift the freeze (by phone, with a couple days notice) for a period of time you specify and it costs $10 to lift it (for any short duration you specify) and it stays locked for at least 7 years. Sounds pricey, but if your life's stable, got enough credit cards, why keep the port open? Judging from my junk mail, credit companies, mortgage brokers, and whoever else is running in and out of my credit account routinely.

I'm going to spend more time on both LifeLock.com and ConsumerReports.org (ConsumerReports.org is paid content, but many of their identity theft articles are free). The links below are a lot of reading, but worth it. The time spent on the phone trying to regain your identity would be a lot more - and a bit more expensive. I'll keep updating this post with my conclusions.

Update
I called Lifelock today to ask a question. I was put in touch with a salesperson who spoke so robotically, after a full couple minutes of monotonous rambling, I interrupted impatiently and asked if I was talking to a robot? She stopped speaking for a second and I told her all I wanted to know was do they do anything more than if I put my own freeze on my credit? She just said "no." She didn't even say much more than that. I also asked about the status of the Experian trial and I was put on hold. After a few minutes I hung up - I suspect I was put on indefinite hold.

So, my only question with a credit freeze is: Will it interfere with my normal credit card usage? I'm going to go through with it and see. Cheap experiment. I'm fairly certain I'll skip the Lifelock. It seems like a good service, but placing a fraud alert on your credit every 90 days just because you're afraid of identity theft isn't in the spirit of the law and sounds dubious. Should be an interesting lawsuit.

Links
1. Lifelock
2. Consumer Reports
3. Technorati (lifelock) - keep an eye on this search.
4. Lifelock post on Mouse Print.org.
5. Consumer's Union details on state by state credit freeze rules.
6. Transunion
7. Experian
8. Equifax
9. Experian sues Lifelock for questionable advertising practices.

3 comments:

(Auntie) Denise said...

Hi - I have a lot of experience in this area. I had my car broken into about 8 years ago and I was going to have my taxes done the next day, so everything was stolen - my ss number was over everything. I put a fraud alert on my credit for 3 years - which at that time was the norm and it ended up staying on until I took it off 5 years later. The only thing it interfered with for me was getting a new cell phone. I hope that helps.

Dave said...

A fraud alert is slightly different than a freeze. A credit freeze is allowed even if you're just afraid of identity theft whereas a fraud alert can only be placed by an individual if they can document (police report) the fact they have been a victim of identity theft. A credit freeze is also more secure.

That's the crux of the lawsuit of Experian v. Lifelock. Lifelock makes you attest to the fact that you were a victim of id theft even without documentation, ie, you're just afraid you may be a victim.

Anonymous said...

It is very useful post to read, however, it is fact that what ever you do, bring innovation in these financial statements (paperless or virtual) etc, still there is a chance that your information might be stolen, because there are smart asses in identity thieves. So I think we should prepare ourselves, and protect some how; like lifelock. If you want to read more about the identity theft in North America, please visit. http://www.identitytheftprotectionlock.com/. I thought to share it with you.