Who Watches the ID Theft Watchdogs?
Money Helps: Last April I enrolled in an identity protection plan that's supposed to send me an e-mail alert whenever someone checks my credit report.
(MONEY Magazine) - Question: Last April I enrolled in an identity protection plan that's supposed to send me an e-mail alert whenever someone checks my credit report. A couple of months later, I applied for credit at a furniture store. No alert. I found out that I wasn't covered for all three credit bureaus, so I tried to upgrade. I was dropped altogether! --C.J. Holtzman, Atlanta
Answer: Your question has two parts: how to get what you paid for, and the bigger-picture issue of how much ID theft protection you need. Let's start with the red tape.
For $120 a year, the protection plan you chose--Profile Protect, offered as a promotion through your Discover Card--promised a quarterly look at your credit score, a "credit analyzer" tool (which supposedly helps you make better credit decisions), a quarterly copy of your Equifax report and daily monitoring of your credit file.
So far, so good. But it also included a free premium service, daily monitoring of all three credit bureaus. The glitch: The outside vendor that handles the monitoring required a written authorization to process the upgrade. You sent it, but they never got it--perhaps because you didn't include it with your initial application--so no three-in-one for you! As for your disappearing coverage, blame the ghost in the customer service machine. The inspector from Discover was appropriately apologetic: Your service was restored, and you got three months free as restitution.
Now, how much identity theft protection do you need? Credit monitoring is meant to catch new-account fraud (as opposed to someone taking a joyride with your credit card). James van Dyke, co-author of a landmark Javelin Strategy and Research study on ID theft, says you can get peace of mind for less than what you spent: "Unless you're really at risk, you don't need once-a-day monitoring." Once a week should suffice.
Swift communication between the credit bureaus makes three-in-one coverage a luxury as well. "You can get all the protection you need from a service that monitors only one credit bureau," says van Dyke.
We found coverage (TransUnion ID Fraud Watch) for $43.80 a year--$76.20 less than what you paid. SEE UPDATE BELOW
Having a financial nightmare?
Need an advocate or some good advice? E-mail Ellen McGirt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
REPORTING BY JUDY FELDMAN