Consumer Alert

FICO security lapse scary, but not part of larger problem

By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / February 7, 2010

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Q. I recently received a rather disturbing letter from the myFICO division of FICO (formerly known as Fair Isaac Corp.). Apparently, FICO sold my credit report through their Internet site to an imposter. It was a shock to learn that the company could have such lax security to allow for such a crime to occur. Was this an isolated event or was there a major security breach affecting other consumers? Am I entitled to any compensation such as free credit monitoring?


A. It is scary to learn someone is poking through your personal financial information and even more disturbing when you learn that they got it through the people who score your credit.

“Occasionally our site is visited by aspiring identity thieves,’’ FICO spokesman Craig Watts said. “Our security safeguards are designed to protect the information of our members. As your reader learned, as a matter of policy, we alert our members if we have any reason at all to suspect that someone may be trying to steal or use their identity.’’

He said the apparent illegal accessing of a credit score was not part of a larger data theft. Watts said FICO isn’t a big data center. It does the math used to calculate the scores and then resells the figures to consumers after they are processed by the credit bureaus.

FICO did not offer any free credit monitoring as is often done after a large breach, but rather suggested using their paid monitoring service. Watts also suggested filing a police report, placing fraud alerts with each of the credit reporting agencies and regularly reviewing credit reports.

Watts said the company will notify people when there is a suspicion of a problem.

“We tend to over-alert our members about possible threats rather than under-alert, since we believe it’s much better to be safe - if possibly a little rattled - than sorry in the face of possible identity theft,’’ he said.

Beware tax time traps
Now that it’s tax season, watch out for some traps set for you to give up yet more of your money. The most common is even practiced by some legitimate companies - refund anticipation loans.

You’re sold the idea that you can get an advance on your refund, but in reality you’re borrowing against it, often at an absurdly high rate. If you file electronically, you’ll get your refund in pretty short order - all of it.

Mitch Lipka is the Consumer Ally for AOL’s and lives in Worcester. He can be reached at