This article appeared originally in the January 2011 Levitt Letter.
In last month’s column, I reported that a “police state stewardess” from “Lost Liberty [American] Airlines” fingered my 20-year-old son David and me for interrogation. (See the story on p. 13 of the Levitt Letter at www.levitt.com/newsletters/2010-12.pdf.)
I had coughed up personal data including my driver’s license info and social security number. The TSA “storm troopers” not asking David for his SSN worried me that I had just been targeted for identity theft.
After substantial research, I have concluded that placing a fraud alert with one of the three national credit bureaus will be sufficient protection. When I notify one, they must alert the other two. Since each credit alert lasts 90 days, I will rotate from one bureau to the next, asking each for a free annual credit report at the same time. I will also decline whatever else they try to sell, particularly identity theft protection and my credit score.1
For years I’ve been a devoted customer of LifeLock. Now I’m going to cancel the service and seek a refund. Accord- ing to the expert opinions I’ve read, identity theft is no longer very costly or time consuming to remedy.2 In June 2008, Bruce Schneier of Wired magazine calculated that the supposed protection is actually negligible in the real world and worth merely $8 per year rather than the customary $120+ fee.3 And he reached that conclusion even before LifeLock quit filing fraud alertsfor its clients.4
It is noteworthy that most identity theft involves unauthorized credit card use. It’s not a big deal, and the cardholder is not liable in instances involving fraud. New account fraud presents more of a hassle, but it is much less common and police departments have become more adept at aiding resolution.
For a nominal fee, a credit/security freeze lasts until it is suspended (for an additional fee) or canceled. Considering that free seven-year fraud alerts are available to victims of identity theft, credit freezes are probably too cumbersome for most.
To simplify the quarterly task of requesting a fraud alert, I will create an undated form letter and address labels. Then I’ll just have to add a signature and postage. This way, my family of five will save hundreds of dollars per year while maintaining better protection than we can buy. The Equifax and Experian links below enable you to enroll online (super fast)!
The following sources will enable you to verify my findings:
Note: this anti-LifeLock website offers a $37 Identity Theft Deterrent kit I decided not to buy.
2 “Money for Nothing—Don’t fall victim to the identity-theft protection scam” http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2007-07-19/news/money-for-nothing/
3 “The Pros and Cons of LifeLock” http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2008/06/securitymatters_0612
4 “LifeLock’s Fraud-Alert Service Banned Forever in Settlement with Experian” http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2009/10/lifelocks_fraud-alert_service.php
In less than five minutes, you can initiate fraud alerts with any of these three bureaus for free.
Identity theft protection companies can no longer perform this service on your behalf. Yet it was reportedly the backbone of their protection.
Fraud Victim Assistance Division • P.O. Box 6790 • Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
P.O. Box 740241 • Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Online form: https://www.alerts.equifax.com/AutoFraud_Online/jsp/fraudAlert.jsp
P.O. Box 9532 • Allen, TX 75013
Online form: https://www.experian.com/consumer/cac/FCRegistration.do?alertType=INITIAL_ALERT