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Lifelock Shows Identity Theft Services Not Foolproof

Lifelock, one of a legion of identity theft protection service companies, made a name for itself by plastering its CEO Todd Davis’ social security number all over company advertisements.

Such boldness has come back to haunt the business, however. As a penalty for inflating guarantees that Lifelock could prevent identity theft from ever happening, the company has agreed to a $12 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Fortunately, not all identify theft protection services are created equal, and some do work harder and more comprehensively than others to safeguard their clients’ finances and reputations.

A mixed bag

The FTC and other security experts have accused Lifelock of not doing enough to protect its customers’ identities.

Lifelock is "a marketing company rather than a service company,” said John Sileo, an identity theft speaker and expert on the subject.

The company should be commended for raising “awareness of identity theft a great deal, and that’s the hardest thing,” but little else, Sileo told TechNewsDaily.

The Lifelock settlement is a clear demonstration of what security experts have long maintained: that no identify theft protection service can completely guard their clients’ identities, and that claims to the contrary understate just how vulnerable we are in a digitally interconnected world.

"There is nothing you can do or you can purchase that is a 100 percent guarantee against identity theft," Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, told the New York Times. Mardigan announced the Lifelock settlement yesterday along with Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz.

According to the FTC, several hundred Lifelock customers were victims of identity theft, and that as part of the settlement the company has agreed to do more to protect its clients.

Lifelock’s Davis himself has learned that an identity is a hard thing to keep safe given enough attempts to steal it: Using Davis’ publicized and often-targeted social security number, a Texas man managed to secure a $500 payday loan, the New York Times reports.

The wheat from the chaff

While it may be impossible to completely guard against identity theft, some services do a better job of it than others.

Sileo pointed out that the fraud-monitoring services offered by many banks typically do little beyond tracking credit scores and money matters directly related to the financial institution themselves.

The services offered by Lifelock in exchange for a $10 monthly membership fee were “things you can do for yourself in 10 minutes," Sileo said, such as setting up fraud alerts, checking credit reports and opting out of junk mail.

The best identity protection services go further and will often attempt gather the same information that the top-notch marketing companies are purchasing.

“They are buying information from credit bureaus and data warehousing companies and are [using] it to monitor anomalies that suggest your identify has been stolen,” Sileo said. "There are a lot of locked-up databases that you can purchase as a corporation.”

Who should watch your back?

Sileo said he worries that people may get jaded and avoid all identify-theft protection services because of the Lifelock settlement.

That would be a mistake, Sileo said, because there are some services that do stand out for being particularly watchful and comprehensive.

Sileo said his favorite identity theft protection service is CSIdentity, which perhaps unsurprisingly he has an endorsement agreement with. But there are two other companies that he is not affiliated with and which he recommended: ID Watchdog and Debix.

“None of these services can claim they stop identify theft,” Sileo stressed. “At best they minimize the damage."

Adam Hadhazy
Adam Hadhazy is a contributing writer for Live Science and Space.com. He often writes about physics, psychology, animal behavior and story topics in general that explore the blurring line between today's science fiction and tomorrow's science fact. Adam has a Master of Arts degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. When not squeezing in reruns of Star Trek, Adam likes hurling a Frisbee or dining on spicy food. You can check out more of his work at www.adamhadhazy.com.