There are lots of consumer authentication schemes on the Internet, and lots of services that offer credit reporting and identity theft protection services.
There's just one problem: Consumers are still being robbed blind.
According to a study conducted last year by Javelin Strategy & Research, there were 8.4 million victims of identity fraud in 2007, in the United States alone, who were defrauded for about $49.3 billion. More than 33 million U.S. adults already use a credit monitoring service, and more than 32 million use fraud alert services, Javelin observes, and the incidence of identity theft is decreasing each year -- but the numbers remain alarming. (See Amid Confusion, Market for ID Theft Services Grows.)
The problem, experts say, is that most "identity theft protection" services don't actually do much except alert the consumer after a theft has occurred. In about two weeks, however, consumers will have broad access to an online service, Debix, which promises to alert them to potential fraud -- and stop it before it happens.
Debix Inc. , which has been operating since 2006, is not a new service. It has been offered to many groups of consumers and employees following many recent data breaches, most notably the data loss last year in the state of Ohio.
Up to now, however, Debix was not generally available to consumers or companies. "We started out in the breach market because we wanted to prove we could do this on a large scale," says Bo Holland, founder and CEO of Debix. "With about 400,000 customers now, we think we've done that." To prove Holland's point, Debix this week released an identity theft research study that tracks the experiences of more than 250,000 of those customers.
Although it's targeted for consumers, Debix isn't a credit reporting or fraud detection service. In essence, it's a multi-factor authentication service that can be employed by banks, credit card services, hospitals, or any other organization that handles sensitive personal information. It provides a simple means for companies to contact their customers and ensure that they consent to any major transaction -- before it's executed.
When an identity thief attempts to make a move on behalf of the victim -- such as opening an account or transferring bank funds -- a Debix-enabled system automatically calls the consumer on the phone and gives a voice code that only the consumer will know, Holland explains. If the consumer approves the transaction, he or she simply presses the star key. If not, he or she can decline the transaction, and immediately initiate a fraud investigation through Debix.
Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center, doesn't normally endorse identity theft services or technologies. "But in this case, let me tell you -- Debix works," he said in an interview yesterday. "It exceeds all of my expectations. In the cases where we saw it being used, we saw zero fraud. None."
Foley said Debix hits identity thieves in the place where they can do the most damage -- opening accounts or making major transactions on the victim's behalf. In a study released earlier this month, the ITRC reported that 57 percent of all ID theft victims reported at least one attempt to open an account in their names.
Holland would not say how much the company will charge for its service when it makes it available to consumers early next month. The company is currently offering a $149 membership on its Website, but Holland said that is a trial price.
Debix will also make its services available to businesses that want to offer them as an additional authentication factor for customers, or companies that want to offer the service as a benefit for employees. "Some companies may want to keep the service as a precaution, in case they have a breach," he said. "Others may want to go ahead and give it to employees or customers as a preventative measure."
A more detailed announcement is coming in about two weeks, Holland says.
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