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Finovate Fall focus: Products to reduce consumer fraud

Consumer Reports News: September 20, 2011 05:28 PM

Finovate, a trade show that focuses on new digital innovations in the financial sphere, offered a look at several products aimed at fraud detection and prevention at its fall conference in New York City. Here are two that caught my eye:

BillGuard appears to offer a very powerful tool for consumers to detect and avoid fraudulent credit-card charges. BillGuard scours consumer complaints about merchants' hidden charges, billing errors, misleading subscriptions, scams and fraud that are published on complaint boards, consumer-protection sites and other online sources. It then flags questionable charges by those merchants on your credit-card bill and gives you the opportunity to verify whether the transactions are good or bad. Your responses are then added to the company's database to better identify bad eggs in the future. "With every new user and click, the system gets better and better," notes Yaron Samid, BillGuard Founder and CEO.

BillGuard also builds profiles of merchants based on their record of fraud complaints, and shows you a "merchant transaction reliability" score as well as comments from other customers. The company is developing a badge for merchants to display on their sites indicating how safe their site is to use based on BillGuard's data. Samid says the site, launched three months ago, has found and validated bad charges in 20 percent of credit-card transactions and saved consumers $350,000. Currently it's free for consumers to join., an identity-protection product, isn't new, but now that it's been purchased by the credit-report giant Experian, you can expect to see it marketed much more heavily. The service combs the Web for mentions of your name, phone number, e-mail, Social Security number and other identifiers of your choosing. Then it alerts you to any serious breaches—say, someone accessing your information to apply for a credit card—and lists all the places it finds your information: Web sites, social networking sites, and calling lists, for instance. MyID also provides links to third-party sites that can help you reduce your vulnerability to marketing messages, including automatically stopping telemarketing calls; stopping online pop-ups and ads in your in-box; and cutting out third-party ad-tracking. Hue Rhodes, vice-president of development, noted its particular attraction for parents seeking to ensure their kids' online privacy.

I have a couple of reservations about this. For one, it's $10 a month, $100 a year for a consumer who subscribes directly (some banks may offer this to their customers at a different price point). But some, if not all, of the services it offers, such as opting out of telemarketing solicitations and online ads are available free.

I also think I'd go mad sifting through all the mentions of my name that myID dredged up. In the Finovate demo today, myID identified 94 instances of a person's name showing up on Web sites, Facebook pages, and other records. But Rhodes says the software is intended to get smarter the more it's used; the more times you click "not me" to let myID know about a reference that doesn't apply to you, the fewer references you'll get the next time around.

Tobie Stanger

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