Todd Davis, Lifelock’s flamboyant CEO, who flashes his social security in public to sell identity theft protection made Yahoo’s top five stories of the week. When I checked Google News, there were no less than 339 articles covering the woes of Lifelock and it’s CEO.

Lifelock has been mired in controversy since it was revealed in the New Phoenix Times that one of the co-founders (Robert Maynard) wasn’t being truthful about being an identity theft victim and was suspected of being a identity thief, himself.

I covered this part of the Lifelock saga in a post called, “Is LifeLock an identity theft protection service people can trust?”

Maynard stepped down from his position as co-founder, but continued to maintain a 10 percent interest in the company.

A short while thereafter, it was revealed that Todd Davis was himself a victim of identity theft. Instead of letting the authorities do their job, Davis took it upon himself to send out a PI (and film crew) to get a pre-written confession from the scoundrel. The end result was that the authorities dropped the case.

Meanwhile, Lifelock seemed to flourish and obtained a lot of investment capital to drive their aggressive marketing campaign. Everyone from Radio icons to bloggers have been paid to endorse their services.

The bad publicity even led to speculation that an organized hit job was being undertaken against Lifelock.

So far as the organized hit job theory, it does have some merit. The reason for this is that Lifelock’s service isn’t much different than what a lot of other companies are offering. Additionally, the repetitive fraud alerts make it more expensive to issue credit, and there is a cost incurred by the credit bureaus for providing them.

Then there is the competitive edge, identity theft protection services are being hawked by a lot of different companies. They range from unknown start-ups to financial institutions and the credit bureaus, themselves. In not very good economic times, the industry is showing double-digit growth.

The Motley Fool gave a good explanation of the reason for this in their article (one of the recent 339 or so) about Lifelock:

There’s clearly profit to be had in the privacy protection market — much-needed profit for credit reporting-related services. The 2003 passage of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) handicapped one of their revenue streams by mandating free credit reports for all. (Get yours at annualcreditreport.com.)

To help make up for the financial shortfall, the credit reporting companies created a new revenue stream: credit watch products. Seeing profit in consumer fear, other companies soon created their own credit watch muscle for hire.

Please note, the article in the Motley Fool gives some pretty sound advice about how to protect yourself for free from identity theft, also.

Then came the legal actions, first Experian filed a law suit and then came a series of class actions alleging the Lifelock is guilty of misleading advertising, doesn’t warn it’s customers that it only provides limited protection and doesn’t warn them that repetitive fraud alerts might damage their credit rating.

I suspect the current flurry of stories were partially the result of information released from the law offices in the class action suits that Todd Davis has been the victim of identity theft numerous times.

It’s now been revealed that Davis’ identity has been compromised 87 times in the past two years. 20 of these attempts involved drivers licenses. Davis has responded by stating that this proves Lifelock protects it’s consumers from identity theft since the only known successful attempt was with the PayDay loan in Texas.

While this might be partially true, there is a flaw in this thinking. The flaw is that partial information isn’t always picked up by credit bureaus and credit bureaus don’t detect all forms of identity theft.

A new buzz word in identity theft circles is “synthetic identity theft.” Here is a description of it from a previous post:

This is where different parts of other people’s identities are used to forge a synthetic one. Quite often, because a lot of the information doesn’t match, the credit bureaus don’t pick it up. Most frequently, this is discovered at tax time, when someone gets a bill for taxes that an identity thief never paid to the government.

So far as identity theft that isn’t picked up on a credit bureau, here is what I wrote about that in the same post:

Another reason there is no way to guarantee protection is that not all identity theft shows up on credit bureaus. Some examples of this are in cases of medical benefit fraud, employment fraud, government benefit fraud, some forms of check fraud and last, but not least, when it is used to commit crimes of other than a financial nature.

Because of these reasons, I’m not certain if Mr. Davis can be sure that all 87 attempts were entirely unsuccessful?

Another marketing claim that many feel is misleading is Lifelock’s $1 million dollar guarantee. If you read the fine print, they only guarantee they will hire people to look into it should you become a statistic while using their service. They also stipulate that they will choose who does this for you.

Trust me, it’s highly unlikely anyone will collect much of anything if they become an identity theft statistic while paying for Lifelock. In most instances, after the work is done, the financial institutions end up responsible for the loss.

Of course, when this happens the cost is passed on to all of us. No business would be able to remain solvent, otherwise.

The sad truth is that there really is no guarantee that you will never become an identity theft victim and it’s probably better to exercise common sense and perform your own due diligence.

Since I seem to be quoting myself a lot in this post, here is something I wrote about this:

Most of the experts (not selling services) agree most people can fix their identity for free, and in the long run, they might do a better job of it, themselves.

If someone were to do this, a good place would be the FTC’s Identity Theft page. Other decent free resources are the Identity Theft Resource Center and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Last, but not least, the good folks at Attrition.org did a highly amusing parody of identity theft protection services after they got sick and tired of them using their free material:

Going forward, we would like to announce that we have a new partnership with Identity-Love-Sock, a trusted provider of identity theft prevention services. Not only can Identity-Love-Sock protect YOU from IDENTITY THEFT, it also provides several guarantees for your PROTECTION should YOU be affected by IDENTITY THEFT. With the services provided by Identity-Love-Sock , YOU will NEVER have to WORRY about your IDENTITY being STOLEN, MISUSED, or otherwise COMPROMISED. For more details on how YOU can be COVERED and PROTECTED, please visit Identity-Love-Sock . You’ll be glad you did.

Along with covering various matters related to computer security and privacy, Attrition is recognized for maintaining a pretty telling database on where a lot of identity theft starts, or data breaches.

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