Do you know where to turn if a suspicious account is opened in your name, if a criminal claims your tax refund or if a fraudster poses as you to purchase prescription pills?
MasterCard has announced that, starting in July, it will include free identity theft resolution assistance as a benefit on all credit, debit and prepaid cards with the MasterCard logo.
Any MasterCard cardholder will be able to get assistance 24 hours a day by calling (800) MC-ASSIST, according to the MasterCard guide to benefits.
The benefit includes:
- An identity theft affidavit the consumer fills out and can provide to law enforcement, credit bureaus and creditors.
- Notification to the three major credit bureaus, help obtaining free credit reports and placement of alerts on the consumer's credit reports.
- Sample letters that can be used for canceling checks, cards and accounts.
- Identity theft education.
MasterCard is basically providing a one-stop shop that could cut time in reporting identity theft, something that experts say is critical.
There is a great deal of free help out there without a service such as this, however. You can get an affidavit free online from the Federal Trade Commission, says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
And any consumer can call the ITRC to get free help, which includes access to a case adviser who will walk you through the steps you need to take to deal with ID theft.
Visa offers a similar service through a partnership with the nonprofit consumer network Call For Action; cardholders can call (866) IDHOTLINE for free help.
Consumers also can pay for help if they want to. For example, credit bureau Experian offers RestoreMyID. For $149.95, an ID theft resolution agent will work with the ID theft victim. The service includes credit reports and scores from the three bureaus and three months of Experian's ProtectMyID credit monitoring. However, you can get the credit reports for free on your own from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Consumers who reach out for ID theft help usually fall into one of two groups: Either they've had a wallet, purse, laptop or credit card stolen and want to minimize the damage, or they've discovered possible ID theft, Velasquez says. For example, a consumer might discover “he” has a criminal conviction. “Or they'll go to apply for government benefits and find out someone else is collecting welfare in Louisiana under their name,” she says.
The MasterCard service can help you by taking a little bit of the work off your shoulders — for example, by notifying the credit bureaus for you and helping you get all of your credit cards and membership or affinity cards replaced, Velasquez says. That could provide convenience, she says, especially if you are facing a complicated case of fraud.
“If your whole wallet was stolen and you have a lot of cards to replace, it could be a time-saver,” Velasquez says. “If they're simply offering it as an additional benefit on the card, it can't hurt.”