The Consumer Federation of America recently released a report that reviewed 20 of the major identity theft protection services that are available today. The review was a follow-up to a set of voluntary "best practices" guidelines that the CFA created last year, with the intention of this review being to see how well the services had improved in the year since those guidelines were released. Many of the services reviewed had done a "fair job" in complying with the guidelines according to the report, but there is still significant room for improvement within the industry.
According to the report, the biggest complaint that consumers have with identity theft protection services revolves around the "free trial" periods that many of these services offer. Some services don't make it immediately clear that billing will start automatically once the trial period is complete, and in many cases it was difficult and sometimes frustrating for customers to cancel their subscriptions before the trial period ended. Consumers have also reported a bit of sticker shock after the trail period ended due to the actual cost of the service being more than they were initially led to believe it would be.
This wasn't the only problem that the CFA reviews found, of course. The report outlines several of the most common deviations from its "best practices" guidelines, including:
• Misrepresentation or overhyping of the services that are provided, and the lack of specific details about coverage from some providers. This includes overpromising the protection that services provide, references to "free" credit reports and other products that aren't really free, and a general lack of details about the specific things covered by the service.
• Sloppy use of identity theft statistics that paint an unrealistic picture of identity theft rates and recovery time; in some cases the statistics used were significantly outdated even though there were more recent statistics available.
• Lack of information about identity theft recovery assistance, including whether the services actually take an active role in the recovery process or if they just give information to the customer. Even when they do take an active role there was very little information available as to what specifically the services did to assist.
• Too much emphasis on insurance programs without specific details. Despite the CFA's opinion that identity theft insurance is of little value due to low payouts and coverage of legal services that aren't often needed, many consumers like the thought of having identity theft insurance. While information on the insurance programs was relatively easy to find, specific details about coverage amounts was not.
The CFA report included an overview of the "best practices" guidelines and suggestions as to how identity theft protection service providers can improve their existing services to better coincide with the CFA recommendations. Those of you who wish to read the report, including specific breakdowns of the performance of each company that was reviewed, can find the report in its entirety at the CFA website.