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Friday, April 10, 2009


In the last post, we talked about ID fraud protection services and whether or not you should pay for one. Almost everyone—that is, except for the services themselves—agrees it is a waste of money since you can do what most of them do, and it’s free. Lifelock was discussed at length because it has the most visibility due to all the press over lawsuits, but there are others. They have literally come out of the woodwork much as other “would be helping hands” have when disaster hits.

In the MSN Money article quoted yesterday, Paul Stevens, director of public policy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, considers these companies a “concierge” service, so if you’d be willing to pay someone to shop for you, this kind of ID theft protection is for you. Even Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, doesn’t disagree with that analogy. His company will also assist you when applying for credit, check for the sale of your private information on the black market, stop junk mail, provide a credit report, and, of course, the $1 million guarantee. All of this, except for the guarantee, can be done by the individual and at no cost. Todd soaks you $10.00 every month.

According to two of the class-action lawsuits, “…Lifelock’s $1 million guarantee is not a guarantee at all but just a ‘promise’ that the company is not actually obligated to fulfill.” Further, the terms of the guarantee are structured in such a way “…so there's really no way to get up into the million dollars." Basic coverage is for a “defect in product,” like accidentally forgetting a fraud alert or spelling your name wrong. Davis answers this by saying that this kind of wording is necessary to keep Lifelock from becoming an insurance company, controlled by state insurance commissioners.

One of the class-action attorneys makes a bold statement: “…that although the company is fulfilling its promise now, if there is ever a serious data breach and many of its customers are defrauded, the company may not fulfill its promise.” Examples given were insurance companies that failed to honor their flood clause in the wake of the Katrina disaster. Both attorneys and privacy advocates caution consumers that the $ 1 Million guarantee by Lifelock, regardless of its wording, is no guarantee to “ward off fraud or identity theft.” If you don’t take anything else away from this post, please believe this statement, and not just re. Lifelock, but for all ID theft protection services.

Many of you won’t listen to reason simply because you want to believe that you are covered, insuring that it wouldn’t happen to you. In a Morning Call post by Gregory Karp, quoting Consumer Federation of America who indicated most Americans won’t be in those 9 million annual identity theft victims, still says no ID theft service is foolproof. I can vouch for the fact that the crooks will always find a way around the latest technology. But CFA is impressed with a couple of companies: ID Watchdog and ID Theft Assist. So, if you must.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Is it necessary to pay a company for the protection of your identity? The general consensus is an overwhelming NO. Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, of course, does not agree with this. Neither do the almost 1 million customers of Davis’ company who pay $10.00 ever month for Lifelock to continually place fraud reports in their name for all three of the credit bureaus. The key here is the word, “necessary,” because this is something the individual can do in minutes, and for free. Are those of you who are customers feeling somewhat contrite right now, or still just lazy like most of us.

It still amazes me how today’s consumer, apathetic over the identity crisis, can rush to judgment on unproven services like this simply as a matter of convenience. I would venture a guess that most Lifelock customers don’t even know the specifics of their coverage, particularly what it doesn’t cover. A West Virginia law firm filed a class-action suit against Lifelock in 2008 charging their “…multi-million-dollar advertising campaign provided false and misleading information about the limited level of identity protection the company provides, and failed to warn them about the potential adverse impact the company's services could have on their credit profiles.”

This particular post was suggested by a reader’s comment which stated that, “Identity theft is the most dangerous scam out there.” I agree. He or she goes on to say the fraud has affected credit scores. It has. The comment closes by saying that ID theft protection is “very necessary.” My first thought was this is a sales pitch for a Lifelock clone, because the “from” line said True Credit, so I checked them out. It turned out to be another service offering credit reports and scores of the three credit bureaus for $14.95 monthly, this one run by TransUnion. I do believe these services can be valuable in keeping consumers up to date on their identity status, but I prefer the program offered by Equifax.

ConsumerAffairs is asking the question on MSN MoneyCentral: “Identity protection: Worth paying for?” And in the first sentence of this article, they quote other consumer advocates saying that Lifelock’s “…customers are wasting their money while the company’s founder insists it is the best way for consumers to protect themselves.” Todd Davis, Lifelock CEO, publishes his Social Security number to prove his point, and admits to 87 attempts to compromise his identity. However, he adds that only one succeeded in monetary success; $500 in a fraudulent loan.

In checking Lifelock’s record of complaints, ConsumerAffairs shows 6 complaints, the Better Business Bureau of Arizona gives it an “A” rating, receiving 39 complaints, all resolved, and the Ripoff Report 22 complaints. Based on this documentation of Lifelock’s customer service, the company appears to be upstanding with its subscribers.

But customer service is not the issue here. It is not a question of whether or not Lifelock’s service—or any other of these companies for that matter—is a necessity for consumers to protect their identity. The overwhelming consensus is still NO.

More on this subject next post.

Monday, April 06, 2009


The “whiners” are back in the form of the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Moves America coalition. They were “disappointed” by a San Francisco resolution attempting to create a Do-Not-Mail program. It’s not even binding, but it does reflect the 89 percent of the American public in support of a national registry similar to the FTC’s Do-Not-Call, according to Zogby research. SF Supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi, introduced the legislation last fall, and it was passed the end of March by a 9 to 2 vote of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The PostalNews Blog said: “City Calls On California To Give Citizens Choice Over Junk Mail.” ForestEthics entered the fray again with Todd Paglia, FE Executive Director, saying, “Until now, junk mailers have stifled all efforts to give Americans what they want: an enforceable, comprehensive solution to junk mail’s waste and annoyance.” I did a couple of posts (here and here) on environmental issues in connection with junk mail, and the DMA’s constant whining over the Do-Not-Mail issue. More than 93,000 consumers have signed the ForestEthics petition for the creation of a Do-Not-Mail registry. You can sign up here.

Mirkarimi is a crusader for similar issues like when he passed the nation’s first municipal ban on the use of plastic bags. We have likely not seen the last of the Supervisor in the case of turning the Do-Not-Mail resolution into law. In support of his actions, the PostalNews Blog reports that 100 million trees a year are cut down to produce the 100 billion pieces of junk mail. Not surprisingly—after all, we do call it junk mail—44 percent ends up in landfills across the country.

Junk mail industry publication, Direct, weighs in on the whole thing with the usual bias toward junk mailers. Two points that need addressing are the article’s claim that a Do-Not-Mail resolution would do damage to the workforce, and that junk mail offers prices that are cheaper than traditional retail.

First, a statement made by Ben Cooper, Executive Director of Mail Moves America, in his claim that, “…we believe it is important that city, state and local governments not support legislation that would hurt the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers.” How about the 9.9 million victims of ID fraud in 2008, costing them personally and collectively almost $10 billion. A Javelin Strategy & Research 2009 survey says that 33 percent of the respondents reported that junk mail credit card solicitations resulted in fraudulently opened accounts in 2008. On average it took each individual 30 hours to resolve the issue, some of which, no doubt, taken from work hours.

Next, at the end of the Direct piece, something from “The Lobbyist’s Take,” a statement is made suggesting that there are “…bargains available only to through-the-mail shoppers.” which would be lost with a Do-Not-Mail law. My wife is an avid seeker of bargains—even before the latest downturn of the economy turning a majority of Americans toward that lifestyle—and she finds repeatedly that junk mail is not the answer for the best price, particularly considering shipping costs that often are unreasonable when you look at the price of the item being purchased.

But you be the judge. If you want junk mail, just say nothing. If you don’t want it sign up at Also let President Obama and your congressional representatives know. Contact the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Jillian Coleman Wheeler and her Grant Me Rich ploy are at it again. On March 19 she e-mailed me the following: “Whether you back the recent stimulus package or not, I think you'll find my newest blog post fascinating.” I didn’t. She continued, “It provides you with a quick overview of the otherwise mysterious process of how this bill is going to turn into grants for you and your fellow citizens.” It won’t, according to Herb Weisbaum’s article, “Free money from stimulus? Are you kidding?” on MSNBC. Most of the activity is from phony Web sites created to suck the life out of this new legitimate program. In her blog, Coleman Wheeler talks about money being funneled into Community Development Block Grants, which may be true, but that’s not what her e-mail says. As quoted above, she makes it look like individuals can participate (“…grants for you and your fellow citizens”), and Eileen Harrington, Director of the FTC’s bureau of Consumer protection flatly states, “There is no money in the stimulus package to send out individual checks to people.” Homeowner insurance mailings will take up the slack in dwindling credit card offers in 2009. DM News, junk mail industry publication, says 82 million offers were mailed in 2008, an almost 19 percent increase over 2007. Since I haven’t received one of these mailings, I cannot say if they are using any personal information in their appeal. If they aren’t, they do have it, you know; things like your percent of down payment, mortgage type and amount, lender name, purchase date, which also tells them the expiration date of your current homeowner policy, purchase price, and the list goes on. By providing this information, I am not encouraging the insurance companies to use the private data; the idea has already been hatched. If they aren’t already, they probably won’t use it until their attorneys tell them that if by doing so, they will still be able to beat the privacy laws. The Comperemedia survey also says they expect similar volume of homeowner insurance mailings in 2009 as 2008. I did a post on February 16, “Credit Card Solicitations Go Underground,” that covered the latest gimmick in credit card mailings. Instead of coming from the CC companies, now they are coming from companies you have regular dealings with who get a fee for hooking you. Your name and personal data in the clouds. You’re at 30,000 feet and you are aching for a martini. You can get one, of course, in the little individual bottle, so you give the flight attendant your credit card to seal the transaction. Bingo! You have just completed a “point of sale touch point,” according to Chief Marketer, a junk mail industry publication. You also did it when you “registered” with the gate attendant, so why not just collect all this good private individual information with a hand-held scanner and shoot it into another database. That is the thinking of the article’s author, Justin Jackson, who works for Donnelley Marketing, a subsidiary of InfoUSA. They are another data broker that ranks up there with ChoicePoint in size. Maybe it all sounds completely harmless to the average consumer, but based on 35 years as a data broker, I can tell you that it is yet another way to shanghai your sensitive data and sell it all over the world. This is only one example, but they came out of the woodwork on a daily basis when I worked in junk mail, and they are the deciding factor of why we are in the throes now of an identity crisis.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


All my life I had been a Democrat, liberal in my outlook in the humanist point of view. Even tried to work for the Democratic Party in Arizona, but after witnessing some of the ineptitude of the organization heads, gave up, eventually deciding to withdraw my help. After some thought about how I wanted to pursue my political philosophy—which is still liberal, but not bleeding anymore—decided to become an Independent, and quickly changed my voter registration accordingly. Even then, knowing what a good President Barack Obama would be, once again offered my services to his organization in Arizona.

They didn’t even follow up to contact me; doing this to many potential volunteers as I later heard, and, no doubt, the major reason he lost the state of Arizona. I still voted for Obama, though.

Following the changeover, I did a couple of posts on Independents in May and June of 2007 you can see here and here. That stirred up some action with a couple of folks who are at the heart of the national Independent movement, who later put me in touch with my local Independent voter group, Grand Canyon Independent Voters, who is not officially affiliated with CUIP. By the way, be sure to check out the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP) site. Click on “Activist Center” at the top and look for your state’s group. Also, click on “About Us” for a wealth of fascinating information about CUIP and the whole Independent movement.

The national drive to organize Independent political thinkers has already been very successful. According to CUIP, 35 percent of American voters consider themselves independent. In Arizona, the registered number is 28 percent. The intent of the Independent movement is not to organize a new third party, rather, to give those voters who are no longer satisfied with the two-party system a way to express their political beliefs. And to have a solid organization behind them from which to get the truth about the candidates.

To give you an idea what your local Independent voters group is doing, I am quoting from a recent newsletter published by Arizona’s Grand Canyon Independent Voters (GCIV) organization. To summarize their “Mission,” it strives “To protect and further the rights of all of Arizona’s electorate.” Giving a voice to Independent and unaffiliated voters in the state. Encouraging and working with candidates to run for office. And to continue to expand our country’s traditions of democracy.

Those interested Arizonans can contact Scott Brannon at his e-mail address: or telephone him at 480-201-2162. Ask for a copy of the recent newsletter; it is full of interesting information and facts on the Independent voting movement. Currently, GCIV’s Web site is down for maintenance, but here it is for future reference:

One of GCIV’s goals—and one that should be important to any state without this option—is to open Presidential Primaries to Independent voters. As an Independent in the state of Arizona, I was not allowed to vote in the 2008 Presidential Primary. Thanks to a clinging “good-old-boy” network in Arizona’s legislature, an attempt to change this was thwarted.

Arizona could be a model where Independent voters show the rest of the country that a third voice—not party—with beliefs and ideas outside the traditional two-party system can be effective…and elect political candidates who agree. Call or e-mail Scott Brannon today.