August 16, 2022

Bucks: Companies Offer Free Versions of Identity Theft Services


The recent spate of computer hacking and security breaches has heightened interest in credit and identity-theft monitoring services. Two companies, TrustedID and Debix, have started offering free versions of their surveillance systems.

We here at Bucks typically advocate creating your own free monitoring system.

You can, for instance, periodically obtain your free credit reports from the big three credit bureaus (one from a different bureau every four months, through and check them for suspicious activity. Or, as Ron Lieber discussed in a recent column, you can use the “security freeze” option.

But the idea of a service that is free and automatic piqued our interest. Debix and TrustedID claim to hunt down potential fraud by scanning online sites where fraudsters may be hawking your personal information. (A hat-tip to Edgar Dworsky at ConsumerWorld for alerting us to the free services).

Austin, Texas-based Debix is the provider of AllClearID, a service being offered by Sony to customers whose personal information was compromised in the breach of its PlayStation network. The Sony victims are getting service’s  “plus” version, which the company offers through corporate clients and includes insurance to cover financial losses.

But AllClear ID also offers a free version to the general public. It includes Internet surveillance, notification if suspicious activity is found and help with repairing your identity if information is stolen. To sign up, you enter your name, e-mail address and date of birth on its Web site.

Bo Holland, Debix’s chief executive, says he considers the most valuable feature of the free version to be the identity repair service. If someone successfully steals your identity — by obtaining personal information, like your Social Security number or date of birth — and opens bank accounts or credit cards in your name, the damage can take great effort to repair. Most people don’t know where to begin. “We can do it in a matter of weeks,” says Mr. Holland.

The Internet surveillance, he says, is done electronically; software scans online information in chat rooms where identities are bought and sold. The system also can monitor “peer to peer” file sharing networks, he said, which often act as “vacuums” sucking up vulnerable personal information from personal computers.

To sign up, you enter your name, e-mail address and date of birth at AllClearID’s Web site. The service doesn’t ask you to enter credit card numbers, because the company’s research shows consumers are often uncomfortable doing so, Mr. Holland said. But typically, he said, when identity information is found online, it is a collection of information like names, birth dates, e-mail addresses and Social Security numbers, which may also have credit card information attached.

AllClearID could boost its match rate by requesting more specific information from customers, like credit card numbers, but opts not to, he said in a follow-up e-mail. “We get pretty good results with our low data collection approach.”

TrustedID has also started offering a free version of their surveillance system.TrustedIDTrustedID has also started offering a free version of their surveillance system.

The free product from TrustedID, based in Redwood City, Calif., is called IDSafe. It includes monitoring of the Internet and “black market” Web sites for up to three credit cards and your Social Security number, along with e-mail notification of any suspicious activity.(The company’s premium version costs $14.99 a month, or $125 a year, and includes extras like protection for multiple family members, telephone notification of potential problems and protection for financial losses.)

Lyn Chitow Oakes, chief marketing officer for TrustedID, says it also uses electronic systems to monitor the Internet for possible misuse of personal information and credit card numbers (you provide the numbers you want tracked when you register). In addition, she said, company representatives may gain invitation to private chat rooms, where stolen data is hawked, so they can monitor conversations as passive participants.

“The information is monitored and matched against the information the customer provides us,” she said. If a flagged credit card or Social Security number is found, “We alert the consumer immediately,” initially by e-mail and, eventually, by phone if the consumer doesn’t respond.

IDSafe also provides a free credit score from TransUnion each year, but it isn’t the actual FICO score that a lender would obtain if you applied for a loan. “It gives you a pretty good idea of where your score would be,” Ms. Chitow Oakes said.

Do you subscribe to a credit or identity monitoring service? Has it alerted you to any problems?

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 7, 2011

An earlier version of this post referred incorrectly to the AllClearID service provided to Sony customers who were affected by recent security breaches. They are receiving the “plus” service, which does not include scanning of files at the three major credit bureaus.

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