Protecting consumers

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Credit card fraud and identity theft are increasingly on the minds of American consumers, but that doesn't mean they know what to do. Financial institutions of every stripe are setting up services to help educate the public and give people tools to protect themselves.

E-mail is the medium of choice for many scam artists looking to steal personal financial information, which negatively impacts its effectiveness as a tool for marketing protection services. Phishing scams involve sending consumers e-mails that are carefully designed to look like they come from bank or credit card issuers. The fake missives request social security numbers or password information, and provide a fake link or Web address where this information can be provided. Unsuspecting consumers think they're giving sensitive information to a trustworthy financial group, only hand it over to criminals.

It is important to educate consumers about credit protection, but providing information via e-mail - at least without express permission - presents obvious credibility issues. Hence, Wachovia doesn't do any proactive direct mailing to promote its new suite of security services, the Security Plus Program.

"You [don't] want to confuse customers by communicating by e-mail, because [there are] criminals phishing," says Matt Wadley, communications manager for Wachovia.

Wachovia relies instead on its Web site, where consumers can opt in to a regular newsletter about credit protection. "They know they signed up and will receive e-mails updat[ing] them on fraud and other ID theft issues," Wadley says.

TransUnion also avoids e-mail when promoting its TrueCredit.com service, which allows consumers to monitor credit reports from the three major providers. It opts instead for DRTV ads and search marketing.

Lucy Duni, VP, marketing at TransUnion, says the company's greatest communications challenge is making consumers aware of the need to monitor these reports without getting bogged down in financial minutiae. The 15- and 30-second DRTV spots, created by TargetCom in Chicago, use humorous metaphors that make a simple point: It doesn't pay to be casual about credit protection.

PR also helps TransUnion educate consumers. "We have relationships with a lot of consumer finance reporters, and they turn to us whenever they have questions about credit management or credit scores," Duni says. "Every week, if not every day, TransUnion [is] quoted in a variety of pieces on identity theft or credit scor[ing]."

Citi has also made identity theft protection a centerpiece of customer offerings. Its free service, Citi Identity Theft Solutions (CITS), provides personalized attention should a theft occur. The service and the general theme of protection has been featured prominently in TV ads, but the bank also uses e-mail, direct mail, and the Internet in response to customer inquiries. An "extensive" credit protection program is available at UseCreditWisely.com.

"There is always information available online about the CITS," a Citi representative says via e-mail. "Information is typically only offered in response to a consumer's direct question or request."

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