Is your identity safer with LifeLock?

It doesn't really dismantle sites that sell stolen IDs

Consumer Reports Money Adviser: June 2013
LifeLock's TV ad says it's "there" for you if it finds your data's for sale.

A recent LifeLock TV commercial appears to take viewers inside one of the “secret black-market websites around the world that sell stolen identities.” There, a man with a thick Russian accent is auctioning off an ID-theft victim’s driver’s license and Social Security card to a menacing-looking crowd.

“LifeLock monitors thousands of these sites, 24 hours a day,” the voice-over says, “and if we discover any of our members’ data for sale, LifeLock is there.” The company’s tiny mascot robot stealthily rappels from a skylight and, with an electric screwdriver built into its arm, dismantles the auction screen.

The real deal

After watching the ad you might conclude that LifeLock somehow intervenes to shut down sites that sell identities. In fact, when LifeLock discovers its members’ data for sale, the only thing it says it will do is “notify you,” according to the 5,808 words in its terms and conditions of service, a legal document that supersedes any advertising claims. LifeLock told us that it also monitors Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, peer-to-peer sources, hidden or anonymous Web services, botnets, and other shady information-traders. It will also suggest steps you should take if your ID is compromised, and try to stop phony credit applications from proceeding. But the company also admitted, “We do not interfere with law enforcement’s enforcement of laws by disrupting criminal operations.”

For its services LifeLock charges $110 to $275 a year.

The bottom line

Protect yourself for less. Monitor your financial statements and credit reports for suspicious activity that can lead to identity theft. If your credit cards are lost or stolen, you don’t need LifeLock to notify your financial institutions to cancel and replace them. If your Social Security number is out there, we suggest that you put a security freeze on your credit reports at the big three credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. That will prevent creditors from accessing your file if a crook tries to open a new account in your name. Without access, creditors are likely to deny a credit application. If you’re not yet a victim of identity theft, you might have to pay $3 to $20 (depending on where you live) to freeze your accounts at each bureau. When you apply for new credit, insurance, or utility service, there might be similar fees to remove the freeze.

But there is usually no charge if you’re already a victim of ID theft. Credit bureaus consider credit- and debit-card theft as identity theft, so it should be easier for you to get free freezes. You generally must provide a police report to prove your claim, so make sure you file one right after your credit or debit card or wallet is stolen. Ditto if your home has been burglarized; your computer, cell phone, or other device has been lost or stolen; you receive notification that your personal data has been breached; or you discover unauthorized transactions in your bank or investment accounts. 

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