I started looking for a replacement credit monitoring service after Discover changed its credit monitoring vendor. Earlier posts have reviewed credit monitoring services from the national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Since several banks offer credit monitoring services, Today's post includes a review of ID Theft Inspect from WaMu.
The WaMu site requires users to first enter their home Zip Code, which indicates that the bank's offering may not be consistent nationwide. WaMu provides two options: a free service and a monthly fee service. Both are available only for WaMu deposit customers. (Bank of America customers should read this Privacy Assist review.)
The free service includes a paltry $5,000 of insurance, "toll-free access to Identity Theft Recovery Specialists." There's no credit monitoring, access to credit scores, or any related services with the free offering. The insurance amount is far less than what's available elsewhere. More importantly, the site didn't explain the background of the ID-theft recovery specialists. So, it's unclear what assistance these specialists really provide. I guess you get what you pay for.
For a monthly fee -- the site didn't say -- WaMu customers can upgrade to the bank's "ID Theft Inspect" service, which includes more of the traditional features and services you'd expect in a credit monitoring service:
- Daily monitoring of your credit reports at the three national credit bureaus
- Alerts of any activity or changes to your credit reports
- Quarterly Credit Updates
- A "three-in-one personal credit report with data from three major credit bureaus"
- A Card Registry to register your plastic (e.g., debit cards, credit cards and charge cards) in case it is stolen
- "Toll-free access to Credit Education Specialists, for answers on credit report..."
- WaMu will help you apply for emergency cash (up to $2,000)
- Access to the ID Theft Inspect™ web site with credit reports, credit scores, credit analysis tools, and theft prevention tips
- $15,000 in ID-theft insurance, with no deductible to help cover certain out-of-pocket identity theft related expenses
The "3-in-one personal credit report indicates that consumers don't get the full text of all three of their credit reports, but instead a single, combined summary. I prefer the full text off all three reports. Detail is everything when it comes to monitoring my credit information.
The WaMu site also states the WaMu customers have "toll-free access to the Identity Theft Resource Center" with the ID Theft Inspect service. The site does not explain how, if at all, this is any different from the Identity Theft Resource Center Web site. And, this seems to kick in only after the WaMu customer becomes an ID-theft victim.
All of the above features for the ID Theft Inspect service are pretty standard stuff. Summary credit reports and not the full text. Not much in the way of insurance. Vague descriptions of credit specialists and recovery specialists. No demos or online tutorials. The site does a very poor job of explaining and proving the service benefits and features.
The site didn't offer any explanations of why ID Theft Inspect might be better than other credit monitoring services. The user is left to make their own comparisons and analysis. It seems that WaMu offers its ID-theft services purely as a convenience for its customers, whom it hopes aren't too educated or savvy about the available credit monitoring services.
More importantly, the site fails to state the monthly fee for ID Theft Inspect. How can consumers make a decision about a service when the site doesn't state the price?
Normally, I'd quit at this point since the site failed to provide key information. I decided to probe a little deeper to see if I'd missed anything about WaMu ID Theft Inspect. I downloaded and read the free ID Theft Services PDF document, since the WaMu site didn't provide a link to the agreement for the ID Theft Inspect service.
The PDF document stated that "Identity Theft Recovery Specialists" are provided by a firm called Worldwide Assistance Services. I tried to find this firm's web site. It proved more elusive than I felt comfortable with. It should be easy to find... the first result in a Google search. Instead, the first results page included this broken link:
So, I typed "www.worldwideassistance.com" into my browser's address field and the link redirected my browser to www.europassistance-usa.com, a Bethesda Maryland-based division of an international firm which assists consumers with emergencies while traveling abroad. So, this travel firm has diversified its traditional services by adding ID-theft resolution services.
I couldn't find in the Europ Assistance USA site any statements of the training or accreditation these reps have to perform credit recovery services. These travel-assistance phone reps are the credit recovery specialists? That doesn't sound very reassuring. And, if Europ Assistance USA is indeed the correct company name, the the agreement at the WaMu site should be updated to list the company's correct and current name, and not an old obsolete name. It seems that the WaMu site presents an old contract from 2006. Not good.
Let's continue to review WaMu's free ID Theft Services PDF document. It also included some services which consumers can do for themselves for free (with a 5-minute phone call), like placing Fraud Alerts on your credit files. Eligible expenses covered by insurance include:
"Eligible Expense(s) means reasonable and necessary attorney fees or court costs associated in removing any civil suit wrongfully brought against you as a result of identity theft or any suit brought against you by a creditor or a collection agency or other entity for non-payment of goods and/or services as a result of identity theft, actual U.S. wages lost due to time off relating to efforts in resolving your identity theft issues, loan applications fees, notarizing affidavits or other similar document cost, long distance telephone cost, and postage cost you may have incurred as a direct result of identity theft."
Note that this doesn't cover the actual monies an identity thief may have stolen. And, to file a claim WaMu requires ID Theft Inspect customers to also:
- Report the theft to WaMu
- Contact the 3 national credit bureaus and place a fraud alert
- File a police report in your local jurisdiction
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Follow the instructions and requests by any other companies involved
- Keep copies of all receipts, bills or other records
- Take all reasonable steps to protect your identity from any further fraud
"We only grant access to nonpublic personal information about you (such as your name, address, Social Security number and credit history) to company employees and affiliated and nonaffiliated service providers so that they can provide or offer products and services to you, process and service your accounts, and administer our business. Our Code of Conduct requires that your information remain confidential. Even if you are no longer our customer, we will continue to treat your nonpublic personal information in the same way as if you were still a customer."
The policy explains what sensitive customer information the bank shares with both "Affiliated" and "Non-Affiliated" companies, the latter being marketing companies. The former includes banks and other financial institutions.
Is WaMu's ID Theft Inspect service for you? You'll have to decide for yourself. Remember, you have to already be a WaMu depost customer. It's definitely not for me, I will continue to look at other credit monitoring services. WaMu's offering is weak in several areas. The credit recovery specialists are suspect. Other credit monitoring services provide more features and benefits. For example, see the Suze Orman Identity Theft Kit. Many consumers may consider these additional features important.
During the upcoming weeks, I will review more credit monitoring services. You can access prior reviews at the Product and Service Reviews page, or via "Product Reviews" in the right-column tag cloud. To receive alerts about future reviews, click on either of the e-mail or RSS links in the right column.