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Vulnerabilities / Threats

New ID Theft Service Crawls the Web on Consumers' Behalf

For $15, Affinion penetrates hacker chat rooms and warns users when their data is for sale

Most identity theft prevention services promise to keep criminals away. The folks at Affinion prefer to work alongside them.

Affinion Security Center (ASC), an ID theft prevention service that has been used by banks and financial institutions for almost 30 years, today is launching a new consumer service, IdentitySecure, that includes direct monitoring of hacker marketplaces where personal information is bought and sold.

The service, which costs $1 for the first month and $14.99 per month after that, also includes a wide range of other services, including Web searches involving the customer's personal data, PC security software, identity theft insurance, and fraud assistance services.

ASC joins a number of ID theft prevention services, including Debix and iSekurity, that have broken into the market recently to launch offerings that go beyond simple credit reporting and monitoring. (See Ex-Feds Start Up ID Theft Protection Service and ID Protection Startup Prepares Commercial Push.)

You might not have heard of ASC, but it isn't a new player. In fact, it's been offering ID theft prevention services for almost three decades, but most of its services are "re-branded" by the banks and financial institutions that offer them to their customers, usually as optional, fee-based services.

"It's sort of like 'Intel Inside," explains Tom Rusin, CEO of ASC. "The bank is the one offering the identity theft protection, but we're the ones delivering the service."

With the introduction of IdentitySecure, however, ASC is coming out of the shadows. The new package of services can be purchased by individuals, but it is mainly distributed by businesses that want to offer identity theft protection to their customers or members. And it competes directly with less comprehensive ID theft protection services that do little more than keep tabs on consumers' credit reports.

"There are a lot of new services out there, and a lot of it is just profiting from fear," says Rusin. "Quite frankly, some of it is just pandering crap. We think it's important to give people a real choice."

IdentitySecure starts with a basic truth that many consumers still don't want to admit, Rusin says: You can't control the movement of your own personal information.

"You can't put your data in a box and keep it safe," Rusin explains. "It's used by all of the companies you do business with, and it's not always under your control. You can't control it. But you can monitor it."

ASC does that monitoring in a variety of ways, crawling the Web, checking credit services, searching public records to discover criminal activity associated with the subscriber's name or address. In addition, ASC is the owner of CardCops, a service that actually monitors IRC chat rooms and other hacker forums specifically to identify any mention of the subscriber's personal information or credit card data.

"This sort of information is bought and sold every day in chat rooms and hacker forums," says Dan Clements, who heads up the CardCops operation for ASC. "What we do is monitor those forums and, if the user's name or account information comes up, we warn them before the criminals can do anything with it."

IdentitySecure's preventative measures aren't perfect -- even consumers who have it may still fall victim. So ASC also offers Truston's Fraud Assist Toolbox -- a package of services that help users manage their activities when fraud occurs -- as well as trained specialists who walk users through the process when they suspect their data has been stolen.

"Our goal with IdentitySecure was to put together the most comprehensive package of identity theft services we could, at the lowest possible price point," Rusin says. "We think we've got something better than what [consumers] are seeing out there right now."

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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