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Don't Fall for ID Theft-Prevention Ripoffs

If you're worried about identity theft, there are plenty of products and services out there promising to safeguard your personal information. But many of them are just looking to earn a dime from consumer fear and don't provide anything that the consumer can't do for himself -- for free.

Experian (EXPGY), a credit-report provider, is suing one company called LifeLock, alleging that it engaged in deceptive marketing practices and broke federal law by placing unwarranted fraud alerts on thousands of consumers' reports.

The company, which promises to guard personal information with a $1 million guarantee if an identity thief is successful, is also facing several class-action lawsuits regarding its marketing practices and the difficulty consumers face in actually collecting the guarantee when their information is compromised.

Before the suit, LifeLock CEO Todd Davis became the target of several identity thieves after displaying his social-security number in advertising to prove that the LifeLock service really worked. One Texan got away with a $500 advance loan on Davis' paycheck. (In a statement, Davis insisted that "the whole incident proves that LifeLock works," because he recouped the cash.)

While LifeLock has garnered the most attention, it's certainly not alone. There's the buySAFE Internet tool bar, the IdentitySweep software, the TrustedID and Identity Guard services, the Debix "identity-theft prevention tool," and scores of other products, books and services that promise to protect your identity and your wallet.

These outlets are cashing in on the identity theft hype, which affects a relatively small segment of the population but has effectively stoked a wave of consumer fear, says Fred Cate, an Indiana University professor and expert on identity theft issues.

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