Daily Illuminator

September 16, 2008: Identity Protection . . . Not?!

Recently my bank sent me an offer for an "identity theft protection" service offered by a company called Intersections Inc., an "industry leader in identity theft protection." According to the flyer, Intersections would "monitor my credit with Equifax . . . every business day for signs of fraud and identity theft." How much would this cost me? Why, it was FREE. Yes, FREE, all caps, underlined. All I had to do was "call today."

So I called. A nice lady on the phone confirmed that yes, the service was courtesy of my bank, and that it would be free as long as I had an account there. She took down my information. Then she said "One more thing," and rattled something off. She asked me to agree to it.

"Wait, sorry, I didn't get all that." I said. I could tell that I was giving them some kind of formal permission to look at my file - that was the point - but what were the terms, exactly? And why didn't I hear anything in their formal agreement about what they would or would not charge?

She repeated it. The parts that I'd gotten the first time, including the one-more-thing-we-need  intro, seemed word for word. Okay, she was reading from a script!

So I said. "I'd like a copy of this agreement."

"We don't send out copies."

"Oooookay - May I talk to a supervisor?"

Long story short: The supervisor confirmed that they didn't send out copies of their agreement. She said, quite condescendingly (not an exact quote) "This is free. You don't need to worry about it." I said "But what's the record of our agreement, if I'm not signing anything?" She responded "We're recording this."

Is it unreasonable of me to want a written agreement with anyone who's going to be accessing my credit file regularly? Is it naive of me to think that it's a very one-sided little "FREE" agreement if they have a recording of the customer agreeing to their script, and the customer has nothing? Is it a bit paranoid of me to tell them "No, thank you, I don't think I want you reading my file without an agreement, and I'm going to talk to my bank about this?"

Anyway, I said "No thanks." Imagine my surprise, at the beginning of this week, to get a letter telling me how happy they were to have signed me up! It did include a sheet entitled "TERMS OF USE," which ran a full page in small type - quite a bit longer than the script the lady had rattled off on the phone. And it included the magic phrase "At any time without notice to you we may modify these Terms or the fees for the Service, or modify or cancel the Service."

Yes, that's right. They had signed me up anyway. After I had explicitly declined their service.

The good news is, 30 minutes after I called my bank officer, we were in a conference call with a supervisor at Intersections, and I am now awaiting a letter from them confirming that I am UNsigned-up and that they have not been into my file.

(You're wondering why I don't blow the whistle on my bank, by name? Well, first, because when I told them what had happened, they dealt with it as quickly as I could have wished - and second, to protect my own privacy.)

Identity theft is a real problem. It happened to one of our staffers recently. But after this experience, I think "services" like this are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

-- Steve Jackson

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