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Do-It-Yourself Identity Theft Protection

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Identity TheftLast Friday I discussed the CEO of LifeLock’s appearance on the Today Show and how many of the services they offer are things you can do yourself. So, rather than leave it all vague, here’s what you can do for a do it yourself solution.

AnnualCreditReport.com

Through AnnualCreditReport.com, you can request a copy of your credit report from each bureau once a year. I generally like to stagger it every 4 months so you can keep up to date absolutely free. For example, get your Experian in January, then your TransUnion in May, then your Equifax in September, then Experian again the following January.

OptOutPrescreen.com

Visit OptOutPrescreen.com and sign up. This will significantly reduce the amount of junk mail, including credit card offers, you will receive. One of the biggest ways for your identity to be stolen is by stealing your mail and applying for all those “pre-approved” credit card offers out there. By reducing the number of mailings you get, you close off this leak.

Opt Out Of Internal Marketing Lists

One loophole in the OptOutPrescreen system is that companies with an existing relationship are still permitted to contact you – which makes sense. However, that means that if you have a Discover card, Discover will send you those convenience checks. If you have a Citi card, they’ll send you convenience checks.

I called up Citi and asked them how I could stop receiving those convenience checks. As it turns out, Citi has a central ‘Citibank Marketing List’ and you just have to ask to be removed from that. It takes 30 days to take effect but that will stop those mailings from appearing. Simply ask to do the same at all your financial institutions and they should be able to take you off. Scratch another headache off the list (you shouldn’t be using those checks anyway, so it’s a total waste of paper too).

Use a Post Office Box

If you have an unsecured mailbox, you might want to invest in renting a Post Office Box from the USPS or any other secured mailboxes facility. One of the easiest ways for thieves to steal your identity is by stealing junk mail from your mailbox. The post office has a handy tool that tells you pricing and availability. I have their smallest size PO Box and pay a mere $5 a month for it.

Free Credit Score Monitoring

Credit Karma lets you check your TransUnion credit score for free, so I use it to check my score each month. Any large unexpected changes, up or down, could be an indication of something strange going on. When you pull your score, Credit Karma will track it based on previous pulls and give you a “guess” on what may have cause changes. For example, my score recently went up because the length of my credit history increased. It’s a free service and a legitimate credit score from one of the three bureaus (though it’s not a FICO score), so any changes could mean a change on your TransUnion credit report.

Fraud Alert

Anyone can call up each of the credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax) and ask that they put a fraud alert on your account. This is a notation on your account that tells the creditor requesting your report to do additional due diligence. These are absolutely free but expire after 90 days, so remember to call back (set it on your calendar). The creditor is not required to do any additional verification, but they don’t want to get screwed so it’s better than nothing.

Freeze Your Credit

If the fraud alert isn’t hardcore enough for you, you can also put a total freeze on your account. Freezing and unfreezing generally costs in the $10 range, though it varies with your state.A credit freeze will stop the credit bureau from releasing your report without your consent. There are a few loopholes though, so it’s not 100% bulletproof. In certain circumstances, an existing creditor can still request your report so who knows. Perhaps if a scammer gets the stars aligned (or the creditor doesn’t care), they can still bust through this.

Here is what you need to do to place a freeze:

Defending Yourself

To be honest, defending yourself requires time and that’s really the only thing companies like LifeLock can offer that you can’t get on your own. You can lay the groundwork but it’s a numbers game, if your number gets called then you have to deal with the estimated 25 hours worth of work required to fix things. One great resources it the Identity Theft Resource Center, staffed with volunteers to help you resolve your identity theft issues.

So, is $10 a month worth them dealing with the headache? That’s up to you.

Update: Sounds like LifeLock’s protection only applies to their own screw-ups… so it’s not even an insurance! You’re paying $10 a month for something you can do yourself.

(Photo: JJ & Special K)

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9 Responses to “Do-It-Yourself Identity Theft Protection”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t believe that LifeLock is actually required to pay for the cost of fixing any damage done due to identity theft in most situations. The guarantee LifeLock offers only covers damages that result from a defect in LifeLock’s service. Of course, LifeLock only promises to remove your name from lists and put a fraud alert on your credit file (things you note that can be done for free). If someone still manages to steal your identity (if, for example, a bank doesn’t notice or care about the fraud alert) the damages would not be a result of a defect in LifeLock’s service and LifeLock probably wouldn’t pay to get things fixed.

    This is exactly what one of the lawsuits is about. According to an article about the lawsuit, “the only way fraudulent activity could result from a defect on LifeLock’s behalf was if the company failed to sign its customer up for a fraud alert or add its name to an opt-list. Even if that happened, [the plaintiff's attorney] said, it would be difficult for a customer to prove it was LifeLock’s fault.” The above quote was based on statements by the plaintiff’s lawyer, so it may be biased, but that is also the way I read LifeLock’s guarantee.

  2. tom says:

    this is great. I will need to look into this post in more detail so improve my own security.

    thank you for the post.

  3. Paul says:

    The only thing you left out was the pain in the butt opt outs and letters you should write to remove your info from the internet.

    Here’s a good read on the holes lifelick has

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/OptOutDetectives/blog/2009/07/24/Todd-Davis-from-Lifelock-Not-So-Protected-To-much-info-on-public-data-bases-Opting-out-would-ha

  4. GoodCreditGuy says:

    everyone should get a 90 day fraud alert on theic credit reports as a free way to compel credit companies to contact you directly before ANY new credit account is opened……a free ‘lifelock’ (that must be renewed every 90 days of course)

  5. Rosa Rugosa says:

    Jim,
    Thanks for the reminder because I do have ID theft ins coverage, and I question its value. It’s not terribly expensive, but every little bit counts, right? My husband signed us up for this, but I think we need a chat . . .

  6. pg says:

    Great info! Just what I needed.

  7. Terry says:

    Excellent article! One of the best I have seen on this. Lots of good info. in a short space.
    I passed a pointer to it to the the rest of my family.
    Thanks!

  8. M58 says:

    I am questioning as to whether or not its worth the expense every month. Like most people my monthly income has been on the decline. I was a victim of identity theft, unscrupulus family members with drug problems and greedy selfishness to feed desires of material things. It was way too late when I found out about this. I went bankrupt a few years ago, since then my income never came back, other than a small pension payment to help out here. My income is too low to get approved for a small credit card any way. My concerns are falsified addresses/alias, things like the Utility companies and cell phones, payday loans and things like that. At close to $24 per month for the lifelock, I’d rather have the money to keep to help to maintain my basic needs here.

  9. Quest says:

    your link under Use a Post Office Box is broken


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