Last week I posted here about the soaring price of gold and the role that the fear factor on talk radio -- especially Glenn Beck, who has heavily promoted his longtime sponsor Goldline International -- has played in sending the precious metal to a non-inflation-adjusted record high price. (And more news on the gold front is coming -- take my word for it.)
The interplay between a noxious radio/TV host like Beck and his sponsors is viewed by some as a sideshow at best, but in the case of Beck his entire shtick is built on ginning up non-stop fear in his audience -- one minute it's global economic collapse, but a minute later it's identity theft. Indeed, the relationship between Beck and the odd list of gimmcky products he peddles get a major shout-out in my forthcoming book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, Hi-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. It's important to see how Beck is a modern medicine man who tells you the disease and then also offers the cure...for the right price -- whether it's Goldline or Beck's latest book or American Revival gig or, in the case of identity theft, a company called LifeLock.
For years now, Beck has been delivering heartfelt-sounding paid testimonials for the Arizona-based identity-theft protection firm, often in the worried-but-sincere same tones as he delivers his apocalyptic warnings about the breakdown of American society. This is what he said about LifeLock in a recent radio show, as captured by Forbes magazine in its recent article, Glenn Beck, Inc.: "I wish I could protect my children--[my daughter's] got a boyfriend in New York City--I can't lock my children up, but I can lock my computer up. ... " At times, an ad with Beck touting LifeLock appears on the lucrative homepage real estate on GlennBeck.com, and the firm still advertises on Beck's Fox News Channel show.
But here's something that Beck doesn't mention in his testimonials:
[T]he Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that the claims were bogus (.pdf) and accused Lifelock, based in Arizona, of operating a scam and con operation. The commission announced, along with 35 state attorneys general, that it had levied a fine of $12 million against the company for deceptive business practices and for failing to secure sensitive customer data.
Now, the Phoenix New Times, one of the best alternative weeklies in the country, is out with an update on LifeLock, which alleges that the company's sales pitch hasn't changed much despite the aggressive FTC penalty. But it gets better (or worse). Have you ever heard the ads for LifeLock in which the company CEO, Todd Davis, gives his Social Security number over the air?
The paper had previously reported on one case in which someone stole Davis' identity off of the ads, and now it reveals there was much, much more:
In October 2007, a few months after news broke that Davis had become a victim, someone in Albany, Georgia, opened an AT&T wireless account using Davis' personal info, a Chandler police report shows. (See the PDF version of the report.)
As Todd Davis tried to deflect the bad press in the wake of the Texas crime, the Albany resident was racking up hours on a cell phone in Davis' name.
By the time AT&T cut off the person, he or she had amassed a large, unpaid bill. The amount with which AT&T was stuck wasn't disclosed, but in the fall of 2008, the phone company authorized a collection agency to try to recover a $2,390 debt.
In fact, the New Times reports there have been at least 13 episodes since 2007 of people using Davis' Social Security number -- as revealed in the LifeLock commercials -- to open bogus accounts. It sounds like maybe Glenn Beck can't lock his children or his computer up.
LifeLock is a major Beck sponsor, but it's not the only one with a troubling consumer record.