Security Boss Tempts Fate, Pays Price

Dennis Faas's picture

A criminal has successfully answered a security firm chief's challenge to steal his identity -- and it could be a particularly costly defeat. Todd Davis of Californian company LifeLock was so confident of his fraud prevention service that he published billboards and filmed TV adverts displaying his own social security number. (It's 457-55-5462 in case you were wondering.)

At least 87 people have attempted to steal his identity; at one stage people were trying to use his social security number under the names 'Joe Blow' and 'Jabba The Hutt', while another would-be criminal listed his address as '123 Fake Street'. But none had actually secured any money using the number. (Source:

However, Davis recently admitted that one criminal succeeded. Davis doesn't appear to have lost out financially, but beyond the obvious corporate embarrassment, he could now pay a hefty price in civil court. Customers in at least three states are suing the company, saying that Davis should not have continued guaranteeing they'd be safe from identity theft after he knew -- from personal experience, no less -- that the system was fallible.

It's not known for certain how the Texas-based hacker stole Davis' identity, but he used his social security number to borrow $500 from an online payday loan site. Davis didn't get the alert that LifeLock is supposed to produce because the lenders didn't run the application through one of the three leading credit bureaus. The first he knew of it was when the firm approached him to demand repayment.

The case backs up criticism that the protection offered by firms such as LifeLock is limited. It doesn't cover incidents such as a job applicant using a stolen social security number, or an arrested criminal using someone else's details to keep their own identity secret.

That problem is at the heart of a separate lawsuit against LifeLock which argues the firm's much-publicized $1 million guarantee against losses is misleading. The guarantee only covers failures in LifeLock's service and doesn't cover all types of identity theft, even though customers may have signed up under the impression they do. (Source:

There's clearly some question about how valuable such alert services are -- some consumer advocates argue they don't offer anything you can't do yourself for free. But it's a reminder that there's no absolute guarantee against security theft. With that in mind, it's a good idea to:

  • only give personal details such as social security numbers to measures to organisations you trust;
  • keep firewall and other security software active and up to date;
  • use different user names and passwords for different services; and regularly check your accounts for suspicious transactions.

Follow those three golden rules -- and keep your social security number off billboards -- and you should be just fine.

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