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In this interview, we talked with Rob Berger from Solus ID.
Here is what Solus ID says about what they do differently when it comes to Identity Theft Protection:
Your good name, your credit history, your health, your job – all define who you are as a person – they define your identity. SOLUS believes that your most valuable asset is your identity – without it, your life simply comes to a screeching halt. Our Platinum Identity Theft Protection delivers a comprehensive protection solution focused on prevention, detection, and restoration. Protection ideally tailored for today’s individual and family. We believe that by providing you state-of-the-art Identity Protection, we provide you Life Protection.
Identity Theft Secrets: This is Jonathan Kraft with Identity Theft Secrets. We’re really fortunate today, we’re here with SOLUS ID and I’m actually speaking with Rob Berger, Managing Director of Identity Theft Protection Pro. Rob, how are you today?
Solus ID: I’m fine, thank you very much!
Identity Theft Secrets: Awesome! Well, let’s go ahead and jump right into this. Obviously SOLUS ID is relatively new in the Identity Theft Protection space – relatively speaking. The market is only about 5 or 6 years old. I see that you show on your website that you have two different areas of identity theft protection plans: you have a personal side and a group side. Can you give me some history of your company – when you got started? Then a little bit more about what you offer?
Solus ID: Sure, sure can! Starting with our corporate background which includes our sister company, WFI (Wise Financial Insurance) which has over 20 years of experience delivering and administering financial insurance-related products in the retail automotive industry through dealers and lenders. Part of WFI, we originally rolled out identity theft protection products sold through automotive dealers over three years ago. During one of our annual strategic planning sessions, we determined that the core components of that protection were really suited well for a retail consumer protection product – so SOLUS was born.
Similarly, we knew that the identity theft protection industry as it grew in terms of consumer acceptance and perceived need, that the demand for protection as part of an employee or customer benefits package would grow as well. So that gave birth to our Group Protection Program which you mentioned.
That’s kind of a core focus for us. We hope to make comprehensive identity theft protection a core component of any employee benefits package out there; much like you would see health, disability or any other kind of insurance protection oriented products. So that’s kind of the background.
Identity Theft Secrets: You’re personally involved with the company ….
Solus ID: I’m one of the Principals and the Managing Director.
Identity Theft Secrets: Awesome! So that’s why you started SOLUS ID. What kind of product offerings do you have for people?
Solus ID: Our core retail products we call our Platinum Level Protection. It’s designed for an individual consumer. It has 6 important components; starting with the basics of education, facts and knowledge, full suite of credit monitoring benefits, restoration services and a support infrastructure for those services that really can’t be beat. Extended legal and emotional care is a part of that membership protection and also reimbursement coverage for out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages for victims of identity theft. Finally, a full online suite of member resources really designed to keep our protection members in the “know.” That’s our Platinum Protection which we sell directly to consumers and then we also sell through our Group Protection Plan. From that, we have the two lower levels of protection which we sell through our Group Plan, a Gold and a Bronze which basically carve out some of the features to offer a lower price point.
Our theory is that with identity theft, you can’t eliminate your risks … it’s impossible. You can minimize them and any protection is better than no protection; competitors or our lower levels. But any protection is better than nothing.
We knew that on the group side when we’re talking to businesses, organizations, associations – budgets may only allow for certain things. We wanted to make sure that we could put a tiered structure out there that would really help any organization that might be interested in extending protection benefits to their members.
Identity Theft Secrets: Sure and what are the price points of those different products?
Solus ID: On our retail protection plan, a one year membership or a one lump payment is $169. We offer an installment plan which includes an enrollment fee of $59 and then a monthly fee of $9.95.
On the Group side, it’s an underwritten product and it really varies wildly depending on the group size and the protection level. So it could be as high as $8 a month down to under a $1 per month depending on group size and the protection level selected.
At the retail level, less than fifty cents a day and at the group level, considerably less than that.
Identity Theft Secrets: Ok and that just depends obviously on the size of the group and how many people enroll and all of that.
Solus ID: Sure. We have a staff of sales managers that handle that handle the group size. That’s a full agreement selected plan. We can do some customization; we can include part of our affiliate program if they want content for their websites or their internet. Some organizations look for additional information that they can put in their hiring packets and their benefit folders. So there are a variety of different needs that come up when you enter that space.
Identity Theft Secrets: Obviously, SOLUS ID is playing in the industry with some really big heavy- hitters. I just heard a statistic that LifeLock will spend about $27 million on marketing in 2009, give or take a million! What makes SOLUS ID different from a consumer perspective and how do you as a business plan to compete with this whole host of companies – everything from Kroll and their product offerings to companies as big and with much more momentum behind them like LifeLock?
Solus ID: Well, let’s just start first by just speaking about a few basic things.
LifeLock has at their core of their model that filing and routinely updating consumer fraud alerts on an individual’s credit report will stop their identity from being stolen. First of all, the ability to file a fraud alert with any one of the three major credit repositories is a right all consumers have by Federal statute for free, that they could do for free for those consumers that feel they may be at risk for having their identity stolen. Fraud alerts, in general, on your credit report may protect you for some instances of credit fraud, such as new account fraud, but don’t do much when it comes to thieves trying to obtain identifications in your name or utilize your personal information to obtain employment or to obtain medical insurance benefits, rent a home, the list goes on and on and on.
Our protection assumes that steps can be taken to minimize the risk of becoming a victim but not eliminate it. As such, our protection has those 6 core features which we discussed before. One of the key attributes of our protection, one of the things that we think over the long haul will really help set us apart is the foundational partners we have supporting some of these key attributes are really the strongest in the business. I’m going to give you an example.
Our credit monitoring package that’s included as one of the features of our protection is the complete credit monitoring package that TransUnion would otherwise sell on their own. So our members enjoy all the benefits of TransUnion which, as you know, is the largest of the three credit repositories. Our membership includes the entire credit monitoring package that TransUnion puts out there. So that includes: 24/7/365 access to your credit report and your credit score; the ability to lockdown that credit report at any time that you choose. Obviously the ability to file fraud alerts and all that goes right along with it.
Identity Theft Secrets: For no additional fee you can do that at any time?
Solus ID: No additional fee – that’s part of the protection. One of the key pieces which I haven’t even mentioned yet to that credit monitoring package is that it will automatically alert you via email if there are any significant changes to your credit profile. What does that include? New accounts opening up, change of address, delinquencies, change of balances, new public records or collections. Those things will trigger email alerts to you to let you know that there are changes to your credit report; allowing you to take action immediately to stem any losses, any future repercussions. As we are all aware, the typical victim of identity theft who suffers from some sort of credit fraud, doesn’t become aware it’s happened, in some cases for months or even years after the fact. They go to apply for a loan or something else that involves their credit later on and find out that something’s on their credit report they had no idea was there.
So with this kind of “alerting” mechanism and the ability to go in and look at an updated credit report at any time of your choosing – we recommend that you look at an updated one at least monthly – really allows you to stay on top of your credit situation. That’s just one of the pieces, so that’s TransUnion.
Our restoration services are administered by a company called Europ Assistance USA and that is a division of Generali; they are a Fortune 500 international insurance organization, hundreds of billions of assets. One of their key fortes and the reason they are included as one of our support partners is that they administer 32 Action Centers – what I mean by that is emergency Action Centers around the world that field all kinds of assistance calls. They have the case management structure and the multi-lingual features, meaning that, as an example: our members enjoy an emergency Action Center where they can get one of 26 different languages translated on the phone in real-time at any point throughout the day. What does that do for you? Well, you’re a SOLUS member, you’re in a different country, your wallet and identity are stolen, you’re in the authority’s office and you can’t communicate with anybody. If you can get to a phone, get to that Action Center, they’ll make sure somebody there can translate for you and help you get your identity back.
By having that support structure, having the call center structure in place to be able to field those calls, it’s not waiting on somebody to come into the office the next morning. If you think something’s happened, people jump into action immediately to take the steps necessary to recover your identity, restore your good name and to really protect your future. So that’s just a critical component and really none of the competitors out there can have that kind of support structure behind their action center.
Likewise, extended legal and emotional care; if your particular case as a victim has to take steps beyond the mandated affidavit process and filings with various government agencies and local authorities, if you have to go to court or even make an appearance in court, we’ll work with you to draft a Victim Impact Letter. We’ll also provide initial consultation with an attorney at our cost. If you choose to go after and pursue somebody else in a civil case, we’ll provide access at a significant discount to an affiliate group of attorneys nationwide. Same holds true on the emotional care. Becoming a victim of identity theft is an emotionally draining process. You can guess, somebody is using your name, stolen your identity, doing things as you – it could drive anybody nuts! So our protection includes 24/7 access to a master level therapist, a counselor via the phone; as many contacts as needed and if it’s determined during those cases that some face-to-face work is needed, the membership includes up to three in-person sessions with a member of the affiliate network in your area where that member might live. So those are real important, critical pieces.
Part of that also includes emergency cash advances. If you’re traveling and you’re more than 100 miles away from home and your identity is stolen, we can make arrangements to advance up to $500 to you to be able to get home in instances where you’ve lost your identity.
The last piece of the puzzle – actually there’s two. The one is the reimbursement for the expenses and lost wages. We include a $25,000 policy as part of this protection. That would cover any extra legal bills for recovering your identity, filing of loan papers, long-distance calls. It includes up to $1,000 a week for five weeks in lost wages if you have to take time off work and that’s just part of a group master policy that’s included with the protection. On top of that, then we roll it all together with the online member resources which include a member forum set up and tasked by members of our team, email newsletters that go out monthly, automated alerts when we have critical things we need to push out; lots of information in terms of links to news articles, news videos, prevention tips, shredding tips, all kinds of other things.
So we feel, when we say that our protection is comprehensive, we mean it’s comprehensive.
Identity Theft Secrets: So you have both a restoration and a reimbursement side. Obviously working in the identity theft space for six years now, the thing that I see a lot is a lot of companies are either offering restoration or they’re offering reimbursement — but they are not offering both together. I’ve seen a lot of that, more of where it’s a restoration policy but it’s somebody calling 1-800-INDIA and the person is basically reading the book to you over the phone that you’ve got sitting in front of you.
So if I become a victim of identity theft and I have SOLUS ID, who actually is doing the restoration work with me to help me get my information back? What kind of people are doing that work?
Solus ID: Our team of advocates includes … and it really depends on the nature of your actual victimization. It depends on the nature of what happened to you; because identity theft takes on so many varied fronts. There are lots of different things that might be required. Typically the first piece, mandated by the FTC, is that affidavit; it’s a six page affidavit that really kind of breaks out and talks about specifically what happened to you as a victim. That affidavit, when filed properly with the government agencies and the local law enforcement agencies, is what helps to protect your rights as a victim. Helping to fill out that affidavit and make those filings happen, is a direct result of our emergency Action Center; the Action Center I just spoke of. We’re supported by our support partner there, Europ Assistance USA. Our Action Center is actually in Washington DC, staffed 24/7; it links to the other 32 Action Centers around the world which allows for the multi-lingual piece if they need to – they can conference those people in. But the case management actually happens here in this country.
Then the case management extends to 24/7; you’ll have an assigned primary contact that’s assigned to handle your case. But as information comes up, as new things come in, you can contact the Action Center 24/7 via a toll-free number and that Action Center will update your records and take whatever additional steps necessary at that point in time, immediately, to protect your rights and help to restore your good name and your identity.
Identity Theft Secrets: Talking about all these different kinds of companies because there are a lot of companies that are offering products – we could go through a big, long list of them. What kind of changes do you see have happened before all these companies? SOLUS ID has been around since …. as offered to a consumer side?
Solus ID: The retail consumer directly just rolled out this past summer.
Identity Theft Secrets: You’ve probably watched some changes as you’ve been building this company…
Solus ID: With the product that we’ve been selling to the automotive sector, we’ve been on top of this the last 3 years. The core components of our protection have been tested, field-tested and put in place for several years.
The thing that we’ve noticed is that other companies are quick to try to rollout a new database scanning feature or a new product attribute to help you protect your wallet or protect this or that, in hopes of setting their product apart from the competition. Some go so far as claiming they can completely eliminate your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft. And that’s absolutely not true. As a potential victim of identity theft — it takes so many forms beyond credit fraud; people utilizing your identity for a variety of different means and obtaining your information in a variety of different ways, simply taking steps to lockdown and secure your credit report only stops a certain portion of identity theft. It’s important to note that you as a potential victim of identity theft can take steps to minimize your risk of becoming a victim; but again, you can’t eliminate that.
In the future, I see more people becoming victims of identity theft. We have the internet, a real transition in becoming a web-based society; social networking and then you throw the global economy into it and global outsourcing. All of those things are really key reasons of why the instances of identity theft are only going to grow. So I see more consumers coming to grips with the fact that just as you would protect your home or your car with insurance, so must you protect your identity which, in our mind, is really your most valuable asset.
Identity Theft Secrets: And I think that’s what we see coming in the future too. We see more and more people saying, “I just tried to check my credit report, I just got an email from a lady today that said, I just tried to check my credit report – I can’t even check my credit report because they’re asking for the mortgage amounts to verify who I am. They’re asking for what my monthly payment is on my mortgage … and I don’t have a house! So I can’t check my credit! How do I go about checking my credit?” That’s an email I’m going to have to respond to today with somebody that just wants to know how they check their credit.
Solus ID: If I can interject real quick, that’s a situation where she’s probably trying to utilize, again, a free service that’s mandated by law that allows you to access your credit report with each repository one time per year and/or she might be even going to purchase that credit report. They have to confirm and verify her identity at that time. And like you said, if there’s information on there that they are using to verify and it’s not hers, she’s stuck! And that’s a good point to be brought up there, identity theft is the only crime where a victim is presumed guilty until proven innocent and the criminal is innocent until proven guilty; simply because if it’s on your credit, everyone automatically assumes it’s yours. The fact that somebody else may have put it on your credit first – that doesn’t register. It’s not the way our system works. So I can completely empathize with that lady’s situation; it’s a tough situation to be in!
Identity Theft Secrets: Right and you go, “well, what do I do now?! Ok, so I can’t even look at my credit report to find out what is mine and isn’t mine.” So having some help there obviously is a big issue.
Solus ID: Right, our members would obviously have that access with the credit monitoring benefits they have access to that credit report. They would simply have to log-on; username and password and there’s your credit report. It’s that simple.
Identity Theft Secrets: And obviously there’s all these criminals out there that are putting things on people’s credit reports. But obviously also, they are using it for other kinds of things. Reader’s Digest did an article about medical identity theft. And there’s lots of different kinds of identity theft. All these scams that are created everyday by people just causing chaos in the world. Do you as a company keep up-to-date with all of these? And then the question really is, as a company, how is it that you keep up on what’s going on in the marketplace so that you can educate and inform your customers about what they need to do to protect themselves?
Solus ID: Well, in a web-based society, we use tons of ways to keep up with the latest trends. You know, from information from our business partners, security partners, news organizations, automated alerts and government agencies. Speaking of that, one that’s really strong that most people don’t even know exists, is the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team; we have a link to it on our site. That organization is a division of the Department of Homeland Security and really it exists to monitor the internet computer networks, keep track of the latest trends in both security software updates but also trends in terms of what the latest, malicious versions of the viruses or spyware or malware, whatever is out there. They keep on top of it and then provide solutions and recommendations in terms of what you can do. So there are a lot of resources that are out there some of which are free, like I just mentioned the USCERT, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team; there are a lot of ways that a person could find additional information. What we do is by scanning all of these news agencies, paying attention to security apparatus we’re connected with. utilizing information that’s available in the public domain. We act as an aggregator bringing all that information together and then we push it back out to our members in the form of that monthly newsletter as I had talked about and then by posting additional information onto our website and linking to the news articles and the latest videos.
Knowledge is something that has to be honed and it grows over time. You just can’t throw everything out there at one point in time and say, ok, this is it! In this industry, the criminals are figuring out new ways of stealing your identity everyday. Because of that, you have to be vigilant, you have to be determined in terms of maintaining a solid foundation of knowledge and that means allocating a little time on a monthly or quarterly basis just to read and be an intelligent consumer and really know what’s going on out there. So we try to provide resources and tools to our members for them to be able to do that.
Identity Theft Secrets: And just by keeping up with a lot of the other people who are publishing information in the more technical way and breaking that down for your customers?
Solus ID: Absolutely. Simplifying the information to make it easily digested – that’s the easiest way I can say it. So we utilize our website, our blog at OneIDProBlog.com. We have a fully interactive member forum where they can post questions and then a member of our team posts answers. The monthly newsletters and sporadic email alerts when something critical needs to be pushed out.
One of the things we do in addition to that is when a customer becomes a new member, we provide them with a hard copy fulfillment which includes a member card, Action Center number and then complete, detailed benefits so that they really understand what it is that they have. But similarly, we include a link to a Quick Start Guide on the member area of our website, which allows the consumers to really jumpstart their membership, both in terms of understanding the features but also working on increasing their knowledge and education about the risks that they face in everyday life.
Identity Theft Secrets: There’s a lot of things your product obviously does do. It sounds like you’ve really thought about putting together a comprehensive product. But obviously, there are some things that SOLUS ID can’t or doesn’t do for individuals. What are some things that consumers need to be aware of and doing for themselves when it comes to protecting their own information?
Solus ID: Well, personal awareness is the key. As a consumer, a person needs to be aware of how their day-to-day actions can really put them at risk for becoming a victim of identity theft. Paying attention to bank statements, credit card statements, any kind of financial account statements. Looking for entries or notes that don’t make sense – exercising common sense. If something doesn’t seem right, follow-up on it. An example of good common sense might be if you apply for a new account yourself, a new credit card or a loan or something and the information doesn’t come back to you in a timely fashion, maybe it was diverted. We’ve learned that in court cases, California vs Greenwood, dumpster-diving is legal. If you put trash out at a curb to be picked up by a trash company that becomes part of the public domain and people walking by can look in your trash legally. Again, common sense. I’m going to take that trash thing a step further; shred, shred, shred! Invest in a good cross-cut shredder, you don’t want the old style strip shredders. You want a cross-cut shredder, makes it into little bits. To our members, we provide printable lists, one specific to the home and one specific to the office that talks about what kind of information you would want to shred. People don’t always think … you may not have all the personal information on one document that would allow a person to even maybe open an account in your name or otherwise utilize your identity, but if they can pick up one bit of information from one piece of paper or document, another bit from another piece and another bit from another piece, all of the sudden they can build out a profile on you. So it’s really important that you take steps routinely, you work at changing your habits so that your natural routine safeguards your personal information and if you take those steps and then back it up with a good protection product that really provides that long-term support to you, you really take great strides in terms of minimizing that risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Identity Theft Secrets: We always tell people, just to contradict that a little bit, we tell people if you shred, it’s really good; keeping doing it, if you’re already in the habit of doing it, do it. By the same token, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is tracking database breaches and 240 million records have been stolen in the last 3 years alone and so your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft don’t really seem to be that much reduced depending on where you live and who’s dumpster-diving around you and all of that stuff, but your chances aren’t that much reduced because your information is already, as you know, irretrievably out there. There’s just nothing you can do to get your information back because it’s stored in so many places that are digital and those digital databases are easy to get in to.
Solus ID: Well, even the search engines nowadays. The search engines cache websites and information that they pick up and even if a website gets taken down that same information that was on that site may be still floating around on the web because it’s sitting on a server somewhere. I’m with you and that exact point really speaks to the fact that you can’t eliminate the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. You can take steps to minimize it, but you can’t eliminate it. It’s like your house catching on fire or being burglarized or getting in a car accident; you can drive safely, you can have an alarm system, smoke detectors, but it could still happen.
And we make the exact same point about identity theft. As much as you do, you can still become a victim of identity theft and that’s why it’s critical that you have protection … any protection.
Identity Theft Secrets: And that’s really the point I hope people take away from the interviews and the information is that you have to do something! Shredding is great, but you have to have some sort of plan in place for when you become a victim, not if you become a victim.
Solus ID: Absolutely! That’s why we provide the information, the emergency Assistance Center – if you think you’ve been a victim, you make that phone call and the team advocates jump into action to really help you protect your identity. Without it, you’re left to handle all of that time-consuming, emotionally-draining process on your own. Most people wouldn’t know where to start.
Identity Theft Secrets: Really appreciate you taking a few minutes today … I’m sure you have other things you’ve got to run to, but is there anything, just kind of wrapping up here, that you want people to know about SOLUS ID – what makes the company different or anything else really you want people to know regarding identity theft?
Solus ID: Well, we spoke to a lot of detail. We truly believe that we have a comprehensive protection that’s really designed to deal with and assist with recovering from identity theft regardless of the form that it takes. We believe that protecting your identity provides protection for your life and that of your family, your good name, your credit history, your health, your job. They all define who you are as a person – they define your identity.
At the same time, these components of your identity provide the foundation of your life and that of your family. So for that reason, protecting your identity provides protection for your life.
One thing that I don’t know that I stressed, but I think that as a last point, one of the things that really helps set our protection apart too is that the bulk of our protection, as an example, the restoration services, the legal and emotional care, the online resources – all of those benefits extend to an entire member’s immediate family, including domestic partners, living under the same roof. The only piece of the puzzle that is only good for one, but allows for adding on, is the credit monitoring. The credit monitoring package is included for one social security number. But at the time of activation, for a small monthly fee, a significant discounted monthly fee, you can add an additional social security number, or numbers, if you wanted to add the children as well or other members of the household to that package.
When you’re buying our membership and our protection, you’re covering yourself and your family; where when you buy a competitor’s protection, a lot of times you have to buy a protection membership for yourself, one for your spouse and so on. Those costs can really add up. In our case, if you’re a family of four and you want protection – even if you activated credit monitoring for all four, it would be substantially cheaper than any other major competitors out there. So that’s kind of how I would choose to leave it.
Identity Theft Secrets: Great! Again, want to thank you for taking the time today. It’s been very good to talk with you and we’ll hope to have you back at some point in the future as SOLUS ID expands and grows in the marketplace.
Solus ID: Thank you.
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