During the run-up to the holiday season, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a settlement agreement where Lifelock will pay $100 million to settle charges that it violated a 2010 federal court order to properly secure customers' sensitive personal information, and stop performing deceptive advertising. The identity protection service has featured notable spokespersons, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, television personality Montel Williams, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani.
The company's stock price plunged in July 2015 when news of the FTC investigation broke. The FTC's charges against Lifelock included four components. The FTC alleged that:
- From at least October 2012 through March 2014, LifeLock failed to establish and maintain a comprehensive data security program to protect users’ sensitive personal information (e.g., Social Security numbers, credit card payment information, bank account information, etc.).
- LifeLock falsely advertised that it protected consumers’ sensitive information with the same high-level protections used by banks.
- From January 2012 through December 2014 LifeLock falsely advertised that it would send alerts “as soon as” it received any indication that a consumer may be a victim of identity theft.
- Lifelock failed to comply with the recordkeeping requirements in the 2010 court order.
In 2010, about 950 thousand consumers received refunds from Lifelock results from deceptive advertising claims. In a 2014 review of the service, Consumer Reports advised consumers to ignore the hype and consider whether you are like to lose or have stolen as much money as Lifelock's annual service fees: $99 to almost $250 a year. Consumer Reports said:
"LifeLock’s latest commercial shows folks happily sharing personal information on smart phones, laptops, and tablets, oblivious to LifeLock’s claim that “identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America.” That’s why you need LifeLock.. True, existing debit- and credit-card fraud, aka card theft, makes up the largest part of what is trumped up as identity fraud, and it jumped 46 percent last year. But consumer-protection laws and zero-liability policies limit the actual cost of that crime for most consumers to zero. Those who had out-of-pocket costs in 2013 lost only $108, on average. The incidence of new-account fraud... has fallen to historic lows. Your chance of getting hit last year was only one-half of 1 percent. Again, you’re generally not liable if a creditor lends money to a crook posing as you, but costs for consumers who were liable somehow averaged $449. LifeLock’s terms-and-conditions agreement requires that you also work to protect your personal information “at all times.” Why pay someone for DIY defense?"
Regular readers of this blog know that after my personal information was disclosed during a prior employer's data breach, I placed Fraud Alerts for free on my credit reports on my own. Later, I upgraded to Security Freezes for greater protection. The only cost I incurred for the Security Freezes was the $5 fee (which varies by state) each credit reporting agency charged. I monitor my credit card and bank statements monthly (for free) for fraudulent charges, and when they occur get them removed without incurring any costs. For me, DIY protection works.
Terms of its settlement agreement with the FTC require Lifelock to:
"... deposit $100 million into the registry of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Of that $100 million, $68 million may be used to redress fees paid to LifeLock by class action consumers who were allegedly injured by the same behavior alleged by the FTC. These funds, however, must be paid directly to and received by consumers, and may not be used for any administrative or legal costs associated with the class action. Any money not received by consumers in the class action settlement or through settlements between LifeLock and state attorneys general will be provided to the FTC for use in further consumer redress. In addition to the settlement’s monetary provisions, record-keeping provisions similar to those in the 2010 order have been extended to 13 years from the date of the original order."
Consumers who did not participate in the class action can still sue the company. Congratulations to the FTC for the enforcement and holding Lifelock accountable.