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Do-It-Yourself Identity Theft Protection

Last Friday I discussed the CEO of LifeLock’s appearance on the Today Show [3] 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.


Through AnnualCreditReport.com [4], 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.


Visit OptOutPrescreen.com [5] 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 [6] 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 [7] 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 [11], 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 [12])