A couple weeks ago, I received a letter from Bank of America via postal mail:
Please Review Important information Below
Please Reply Within: 14 Days"
"THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED BY LAW
You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditreport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law."
"Complimentary Credit report and Credit Score -- Your signature is required to try the Bank of America PrivacySource(®) at no cost for 30 days so you can receive delivery of your Compiled Credit Portfolio. your benefits will include the following:
1. Your Complimentary Triple-Bureau Credit Report
2. Your Complimentary Triple-Bureau Credit Score
3. Daily Monitoring notifications"
I had not heard of the PrivacySource service before. I had heard of the PrivacyAssist credit monitoring service from BofA, and reviewed it in this blog. Inside the BofA PrivacySource envelope was a single sheet of paper with this offer and a return envelope. I read the entire offer letter looking for a website address. When I receive an offer like this, I expect the offer letter to provide a website address so I can learn more. Surprisingly, the offer letter didn't mention a website: neither a BofA website nor a PrivacySource website. Not good.
I then performed a few Google searches for PrivacySource which turned up this BofA page. I followed the PrivacySource link at the page bottom, and then entered my state on the next page. The problem: the BofA site redirected to a Privacy Assist page which didn't mention anything about PrivacySource. This was confusing and frustrating. Maybe PrivacySource is replacing BofA's PrivacyAssist credit monitoring service. Or maybe PrivacySource isn't available in my state. The BofA website didn't say. Not good.
After some more searching, I found a page at the CreditReportCamp.com site which mentioned the website address for Privacy Source: PrivacySource.Bankofamerica.com. It should not be this hard to find a website address. Whoever built the BofA PrivacySource website failed miserably at SEO. BofA should have listed the website address in the offer letter. And, the BofA website should have linked me directly to it.
But, back to the offer letter. Part of the way down the page, the letter included some important information:
"By signing this form you are authorzing a debit from your Bank of America checking account to the amount of $12.99 per month for a membership in the Bank of America PrivacySource (®) service unless you cancel within the 30_Day Trial Offer period.
That told me a lot. PrivacySource is a credit monitoring service. The offer was similar to offers I've seen before from FreeScore.com and the major credit reporting agencies, except there were two freebies: a "Triple-Bureau Credit Report" and a "Triple-Bureau Credit Score." That sounded nice.
Like most people, I like free things. But, what is a Triple-Bureau Credit Report, and what does it look like? Is it a summary, or does it provide the same details as a credit report from Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion? The offer letter didn't say. Nor did it include an example report. It's hard to evaluate an offer when the service doesn't provide an example report. Not good.
I also wanted to know what a "Triple-Bureau Credit Score" is. Is it the same as a FICO credit score? Or is it a VantageScore? There are several different brands of credit scores available, and I want to know what I am buying. The offer letter didn't say. Nor did it provide a sample score. Not good.
Near the bottom of the offer letter, there was this important information in tiny type:
"By signing this form, you authorize bank of America to share your Social Security Number with Trilegiant, the service provider of the Bank of America PrivacySource service, and authorize Trilegiant and its credit information providers, which may include First Advantage Credco and FAMS, to obtain and monitor your credit files and information from the credit reporting agencies..."
Well, that said a lot. Trilegiant operates the credit monitoring service for BofA under the brand name PrivacySource. I know a little about Trilegiant as I wrote briefly about it previously in this blog. And, Trilegiant was involved in 2008 in at least one class-action lawsuit, which the company settled for $25 million:
"Trilegiant, a subsidiary of Cendant Corp., has also been the target of actions by attorneys general in California, Connecticut and Florida. In 2006, it settled charges brought by 16 states alleging that Trilegiant and Chase Bank had deceived consumers into paying for membership programs."
This is the best vendor BofA could find for its credit monitoring service? More troubling are the recent consumer complaints about Trilegiant.
But let's get back to the BofA PrivacySource offer letter. The language of this authorization troubles me... particularly the "may include" phrase. It essentially says that BofA through Trilegiant will share my sensitive personal information with other companies and doesn't name all of companies, only a couple of possibilities. That is partial and insufficient disclosure to me. Not good.
And, who is First Advantage Credco? And FAMS? I did a little searching and found this First Advantage Credco profile on LinkedIn.com. The company's official website is credco.com, and it appears to be in the midst of a name change to CoreLogic. CoreLogic Credco appears to collect and data mine consumer information, with perhaps an attempt to enter the credit report marketplace.
I have not been able to determine who FAMS is. If you know, please share a description and website link in the comments section below.
About the PrivacySource website, to its credit the site does provide sample credit reports and credit scores. I compared the reports to actual credit reports I already have from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The PrivacySource credit reports look like summaries. To adequately manage my finances, I need the real thing -- not summaries.
Consumers who visit the PrivacySource website should read the service's Terms and Conditions. This is important to understand what you get for $12.99 per month. You get a credit monitoring service and no credit resolution services. If you are the victim of identity theft and fraud, you'll need both services-- you'll need resolution service to help you communicate with various companies, lenders, and government agencies to fix your credit and all affected financial records.
PrivacySource uses CreditXpert Credit Scores (TM) from CreditXpert.com. Consumers should be aware that this is a different credit score brand. It is not the same as FICO from the Fair Isaac Corporation. The My ID Alert service from Capital One also uses CreditXpert Credit Scores.
If you have the time, you might compare PrivacySource and PrivacyGuard.com, Trilegiant's credit monitoring service. I didn't bother comparing the two sites because I'd already made up my mind about PrivacySource. First impressions are important. The PrivacySource offer letter was underwhelming and the site was difficult to find.
Is BofA PrivacySource for you? Only you can make that decision. It's not for me. Why? First, the letter didn't contain enough information for me to to make a decision, and it didn't include the service website. Second, the difficulty I encountered with finding the PrivacySource website gave me the impression that if the company can't do that well, the actual service is probably problematic, too.
Third, the sample credit reports seemed like summaries and not the full detail. Fourth, I prefer a comprehensive service that includes both credit monitoring and resolution services. Fifth, there are more comprehensive services that also help with medical identity theft and fraud.
If you already signed up for PrivacySource, please share your experience below. I've Been Mugged readers would love to hear your experiences, good and bad. If you have experiences with FAMS and/or First Advantage Credco, we'd like to hear about that too.