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Is buying identity theft protection like following lemmings?

This morning, I was listening to my favorite Sunday morning nationally-syndicated radio show, when the radio personality made a misleading statement suggesting they were experienced in selecting identity theft related protection services. This blarney came at the end of making a plug for one of the several identity theft protection services that are hyped on radio by several high-profile talk show hosts and commentators.

How much should we believe when a talk show host or commentator recommends a product or service?

Consumers follow these lemmings, which, by the way, are rodents, into the sea of identity protection, a mishmash of confusing products and services, where the best is often determined by whom is hyping what is sometimes malarkey.

These commentators know as much about identity theft and protection services as the average consumer. Our experience from talking to consumers at the hundreds of identity theft consumer seminars we have given over the last decade and by assisting many with resolving their identity theft issue is that the average consumer doesn’t know much about identity theft. Most do not understand the crime, how to prevent it, and what needs to be done to resolve it.

After saying that, don’t expect to hear me on the talk shows, because my frankness just earned me the top spot on the barker's hated-person list. Hey, someone had to say it!

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently blogged a consumer information piece, “Can you believe that review?” It alerts consumers that radio, TV, Internet and social media endorsements and testimonials may be sales pitches. The FTC has endorsement guidelines that expect advertisers to be up front with consumers. For example, the FTC endorsement guides state “that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.” How many of these identity theft protection radio ads are in compliance with this standard?

Consumers should ask themselves these three questions about any celebrity endorsement or testimonial.

  • Are they being paid to make the endorsement?
  • Did they purchase the product or service independently, or are they receiving complimentary products or services, and
  • Are they being paid a royalty, finder’s fee or commission every time a consumer makes a purchase by using the “promo code” announced over the air?

The answer to these questions are commonly yes.

Identity theft expert, Robert Siciliano, critiqued the infamous “million dollar guarantee” that lures consumers to selecting an identity theft service. He called it baloney and contrasts the million dollar guarantee that at least a few identity theft protection services offer with the relatively small amount of auto insurance consumers carry in the event they are involved in a tragic automobile accident—an accident where one or more persons die.

Why is less than a million dollar in auto insurance (for example $250,000) to cover an expensive and complex wrongful death law suit sufficient, and a million dollars in identity theft insurance so necessary? Some of it comes down to deceptive advertising that leads some consumers to conclude that the million dollars is going to end up in their pocket if they become a victim. By reading the fine print and using some common sense, consumers can learn that little to none will. Siciliano concludes the million dollar guarantee is fluff.

A few years ago, one of the leading advertisers of identity protection services was penalized $12 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceptive advertising. Today they are being investigated by the FTC again. Is this a bad product? It is actually a pretty good product, however, there are others that are as good as well as those that are better--based on benefits, quality and price.

Consumers should beware of online advertising that may appear as ads or as links while doing Web searches and alongside news articles. For example, because this article is about identity theft, you likely have one or more identity theft protection ads in view right now alongside or within this article. The ads are placed there automatically, they are not endorsements by the author. Also, some of the links that are shown in this article, especially those associated with the key words, “identity theft,” may have been placed there by the publishing software and not the author! They may link to other articles or ads that appear as news articles. For this reason, when writing, I try to provide my own links to as many important key words as possible so "imposter links" don't appear that may suggest that this author endorses another article, author, or product.

So here is my advertising disclosure. I have been a practitioner (author, speaker, expert witness, talk show guest, activist, etc.) in the field of privacy, security, and identity protection for well over a decade. I hold certifications and licenses pertinent to these subject areas including the CITRMS, CIPP/US and CIPP/G designations and special investigator and in insurance licenses.

I have written hundreds of articles, many on the, as well as a book about these subjects. I have taught continuing education on related subjects including identity theft to a number of different local, state and national professional associations from lawyers and CPAs to educators and human resource professionals to insurance agents and individual investors.

I have been selling some of the leading identity protection products through my own independent selection process. In other words, I have not been approached by the companies to sell their identity protection services. Through my years of experience, research and evaluation, I decided to stand behind one identity protection service because of its value, quality, completeness, reputation, experience and complementary services. This premium identity protection service is not advertised on radio or TV. You cannot call a toll free number or go to a Website and give a discount promo code linked to a talk show host whose real expertise is in politics, personal finance, technology or the paranormal.

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