Teresa McUsic

Free services help consumers protect against identity theft

A new free ID monitoring service called Civic will notify members when new accounts are opened or when a credit report has changed
A new free ID monitoring service called Civic will notify members when new accounts are opened or when a credit report has changed AP

Identity theft is like the arcade game whack-a-mole. Once one area is shorn up, thieves just pop their heads out of another hole.

Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the San Diego, Calif.-based Identity Theft Resource Center, sees it unfold every day.

“There are good mechanisms and practices now in place for the financial industry platform where identity fraud victims can resolve their problems quickly and without much pain or adverse effects,” she said. “Unfortunately, it is getting worse, particularly with government identity theft.”

According to Javelin’s “2016 Identity Fraud: Fraud Hits an Inflection Point” report, there were 13.1 million fraud victims in the U.S. last year, and a 113 percent increase in new account fraud.

So far this year, the ITRC said there have been 572 data breaches with 13.5 million records compromised. Since the center began tracking in 2005, there have been 6,381 data breaches involving 864 million records.

Such volume should make everyone take steps to protect themselves, Velasquez said.

Fortunately there are several ways to monitor your accounts at no cost.

“There is a lot you can do for free,” Velasquez said. “But you have to have the time to do it.”

Whether to pay for a monitoring service or not should depend on your disposable income, time and expertise, she said. And once in place, she cautions that consumers should still actively be monitoring their own accounts.

Two new free services that recently became available are Civic and PrivacyStar. While the ITRC does not endorse any company, both are sponsors of the center.

Civic, based in Palo Alto, Calif., launched three weeks ago and will have a smartphone app by September, said CEO Vinny Lingham.

The company is based on the premise of stopping identity theft before it happens. After signing up on its website, Civic members will instantly receive an email or text notification when new accounts are open in their names.

“I signed up for a JetBlue credit card and received a credit alert from Civic in two seconds,” said Lingham. “From there I can approve or deny the action.”

Other features include notification when your credit report has changed at TransUnion and hotline access to IDT911, a service that will help with data breaches and recovery in the case of ID theft. Membership also includes a $1 million ID theft protection insurance policy.

The company is able to offer its service for free to consumers because it gets paid from the financial companies it partners with, Lingham said.

“We are a disrupter in the ID monitoring industry,” he said. “We’re trying to build the biggest ID protection platform in the country.”

PrivacyStar is offering another form of free protection as an app on Android smartphones. The company includes a real-time caller ID and call blocking service called ScamBlock for your cell phone, as well as the ability to report abusive calls directly to federal agencies.

This service is partnering with the ITRC, which provides a step-by-step plan and the documents and letters needed to report and resolve an identity theft case as a free service to the public.

“Consumers who have just been scammed may be at an increased risk of identity theft,” said Velasquez. “They are often confused, scared and don’t know who to trust. This partnership will allow the ITRC to be a trusted resource to PrivacyStar’s most vulnerable customers when they need help the most.”

Monitoring your identity should be something everyone does proactively, Velasquez says. Don’t wait to become a victim.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Ways to watch identity

  • ID Theft Services. Some online companies are offering ID monitoring for free, including Austin-based Debix at www.AllClearID.com (basic protection plan is free), and Civic at www.Civic.com. PrivacyStar has an Android app to block scam calls.
  • Computer software security checkups and tools listed at www.StaySafeOnline.org, powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance.
  • Credit Reports. For a free look at your credit reports, go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Order from one credit bureau every four months to monitor your credit for ID theft. Look for any new accounts you don’t recognize.
  • Check data breaches by company at www.idtheftcenter.org. See if you have done business with these companies.
  • Fraud alert. A no-cost service requests that the company issuing credit contact you first. Contact a credit bureau to place the alert on all three of your credit reports. The alert lasts up to 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days for up to three years. TransUnion’s fraud victim assistance line is 800-680-7289, www.TransUnion.com; Equifax is 800-685-1111, www.equifax.com; Experian 888-397-3742, www.experian.com.
  • Monitor bank and credit card statements, cable and phone bills. If you see a new account you did not authorize, contact the company immediately.