Yet Williams' quote captures part of the reason for LifeLock's explosive growth and customer retention.

It's like retail therapy. The important thing for customers is that they are paying for something that makes them feel good. Never mind that it's a placebo.

But their "peace of mind" will indeed be shaken if they do fall victim. If thieves use your personal data, you will have to deal with it, LifeLock member or not.

Not only can't LifeLock prevent identity theft, it can't do so much for customers who get ripped off. As the Davis example shows, LifeLock members still have to deal with the problems any victim would face.

Surely, Davis' "peace of mind" must have been shaken by his myriad experiences with identity theft.

He's gotten calls from collection agencies, from police. He's been asked to fill out forms and has had to work with his company (and possibly the folks it hires, because it can't do this stuff alone) in an attempt to convince the credit bureaus that he's not the deadbeat they're looking for. (It's possible they might not believe him, since he filed for personal bankruptcy in 2000, before he was involved with LifeLock.)

The FTC's settlement has not stopped LifeLock from pushing its bogus message of protection and security on its Web site, or in its ads. The prominent testimonials on LifeLock's home page, like the one from Montel Williams, contain verbiage similar to catchphrases used in ads that the FTC says were misleading.

For instance, the FTC expressed concern about this LifeLock message in its March 9 news release: "Do you ever worry about identity theft? If so, it's time you got to know LifeLock. We work to stop identity theft before it happens."

Compare that to Ishana Wieczerzak's testimonial displayed on LifeLock's home page. Wieczerzak states that after a co-worker's theft of her personal information to obtain a credit card, "protecting my identity . . . was a full-time job. I had enough, so I found LifeLock, and now they help protect my identity."

It's just a somewhat softer peddle of the same message.

Perhaps the "old" LifeLock really offered a scintilla of protection, as the FTC acknowledged. It's possible that putting your credit file in a permanent state of red alert might have prevented some new-account crimes (though doing so may also have reduced your credit score, LifeLock's critics contend). But what about today's LifeLock, which no longer sets fraud alerts for its customers?

In the middle of last year, LifeLock unveiled a "new" service to replace the fraud alerts. It really isn't that new. LifeLock's Web site states that the "better and broader identity-theft protection system" will:

• "Use more sophisticated and more scientific algorithms to spot identity fraud.

• "Examine patterns over time across the entire network to help predict future identity risks and vulnerable members.

• "Mine more data sources than the credit bureaus, including retailers, banks, mortgage lenders, utilities, and auto lenders."

The phrase "more sophisticated and more scientific algorithms" suggests that LifeLock already was employing "algorithms" — though less-scientific ones. And what are "algorithms," anyway? Just a fancy term for a "step-by-step, problem-solving procedure," according to one dictionary definition.

The other two bullet points sound just as vague and hokey.

In April 2008, LifeLock rolled out a major new feature called eRecon, which supposedly trolls thousands of Web sites used by hackers for signs of customers' personal data. The feature appears to have had little benefit for Todd Davis, since it was in effect during the year that criminals repeatedly exploited his identity.

The service that LifeLock now provides seems so nebulous that customers ought to wonder whether they can qualify for the $1 million guarantee under any circumstances. After all, the guarantee is triggered only if LifeLock's service fails or is defective.

Before, if LifeLock failed to place a fraud alert and a new account was opened in your name, you qualified for the guarantee. Now, judging by information LifeLock puts out, customers trying to take advantage of the guarantee must prove that LifeLock failed to "examine patterns over time" or perhaps used an "algorithm" that wasn't "scientific" enough.

A testimonial used in the company's advertising from an alleged customer named "Gary Johnson" touches on this problem.

"If I had joined LifeLock sooner, they would have alerted me when my personal information was used to apply for credit or services within their network," Johnson states.

LifeLock members would be wise to make the company spell out exactly what is "within [the company's] network" before signing up. New Times could find nothing on LifeLock's Web site that states what it considered inside or outside its "network."

Customers may also want to inquire how many of the new accounts successfully opened in Davis' name would have fallen within this "network."

LifeLock claims that its new service provides better protection than ever.

As Davis should know, this isn't saying much.

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