Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



AT&T's Not-So-Subtle Pretext

Months after phone carriers were widely criticized for handing over consumer phone records to the Feds, AT&T (NYSE: T  ) is suing to protect customers' privacy. Better late than never, eh?

Well, actually, it's better than that. AT&T's suit claims that roughly 25 data brokers accessed customer records without authorization through a scheme known as "pretexting" -- derived from the practice of using false pretenses to steal personal data.

It's big business, apparently. As recently as February, members of the Federal Trade Commission testified before Congress about the problem. Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz said at the time that pretexting had become far too prevalent, and that the agency was investigating data brokers, apparently of the same sort that AT&T is suing.

For its part, AT&T says pretexters may have victimized as many as 2,500 customers, though no Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, or similarly sensitive financial, credit or identity information was accessible. Furthermore, all of the potential victims have been notified, and their account records have been frozen to prevent further tampering.

That's a relief. And yet I find it eerie that I had no idea what pretexting was before the AT&T case came to light. It's even more disturbing that, at its website, the FTC draws a link between some forms of pretexting and identity theft, which says has cost as many as 14 million Americans $3.8 billion in out-of-pocket expenses since 2001.

Over the past year and a half, there have been several high-profile personal-information break-ins involving ChoicePoint (NYSE: CPS  ) , Reed Elsevier (NYSE: ENL  ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , Retail Ventures' (NYSE: RVI  ) DSW Shoe Warehouse, and, of course, the Veterans Administration. Accordingly, I feel compelled to repeat our best advice for dealing with a potential ID heist:

  • Get out the word. Start by contacting the three major reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union. They can freeze your account to prevent further damage.
  • Track your spending. A money-management program such as Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft's Money can help you check credit transactions daily or even hourly. Make records of all fraudulent charges.

And finally, if you're the paranoid type, hire a virtual security guard. Credit-monitoring services are abundant, but they can't do much other than show what's been stolen. Other services, such as LifeLock, take the more useful step of allowing you to freeze your credit files on demand.

Surely I could include more tips here. But you may be better served by my Foolish friend Dayana Yochim, who recently wrote a report on how to prevent ID theft and permanent credit damage. Download the free report today.

Money issues keeping you up at night?Get help with 30 days of free access toMotley Fool GreenLight. Every issue is jam-packed with money-saving and moneymaking tips.

Microsoft and Intuit areInside Valuepicks, while Bank of America is anIncome Investorpick. You can check out our entire suite of newsletters by clicking here.

Fool contributorTim Beyersthinks identity crooks ought to be locked up with the murderers. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on all the stocks he owns by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool'sdisclosure policyis never subtle.

Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 515620, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 10/25/2016 4:59:45 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,169.27 -53.76 -0.30%
S&P 500 2,143.16 -8.17 -0.38%
NASD 5,283.40 -26.43 -0.50%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

10/25/2016 4:01 PM
T $36.70 Down -0.16 -0.43%
AT and T CAPS Rating: ****
BAC $16.72 Down -0.05 -0.30%
Bank of America CAPS Rating: ****
CPS.DL $49.85 Down +0.00 +0.00%
ChoicePoint CAPS Rating: No stars
RENX $16.66 Up +0.07 +0.42%
Reed Elsevier NV CAPS Rating: **
RVI.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Retail Ventures, I… CAPS Rating: **