Consumer IQ

Identity Verification by Phone: Is the Process Safe Enough?

phone

Have you ever changed your name? I have, and I agonized over what I thought the process would entail. I prepared for a long slog of copying documents and snail mailing paperwork to credit card companies, banks, even airlines.

Frequent flier account

I started with United Airlines because I had recently taken two flights that I wanted credit for, but the (new) name on my boarding passes didn’t match the name on my frequent flyer account. Here is the gist of the conversation:

“Hi, I’d like to update my records with my new name because I recently got married.”

“Okay, we need you to mail in a copy of your marriage license, along with your name, gender, date of birth, and account number.”

“Really? Wow, that’s a lot of paperwork for miles.”

“Here’s the address to send it to…The change will take up to seven days.”

I photocopied my license, wrote a cover letter with the information requested, and addressed the envelope.

Credit card company

Next, I called my credit card company to begin the same process. It went like this:

“Hi, I’d like to change my name because I recently got married.”

“Okay, what’s your new name?”

“Cavanagh.”

“C – A…?”

“V – A – N – A – G – H.”

“Your new credit card will be mailed to you today. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Stunned silence. The battle was over? Without a fight?

I was shocked to discover that changing the name on my credit card was completed with a phone call, but my frequent flyer account necessitated mailing in government-issued paperwork.

This wasn’t a fluke. The same scenarios played out when I called another airline and my second credit card company. In fact, of all the places I changed my name, including my checking account, student loan, and retirement fund, the credit card switch was the easiest.

What gives?

Is the verification process too easy?

I contacted my two credit card companies for an explanation.

“We try to keep the process as simple as possible for our customers,” said a representative from the first company. “In all cases, we take necessary steps to authenticate the customer before permitting any changes to account information.”

The other credit card company sent a prepared statement that readt: “We have enhanced authentication procedures to validate a member’s identity before processing transactions.”

To be fair, before I changed my name on both cards, I had entered either a pin number or the last four digits of my social security number and I had verified my address.

Perhaps the ease of which I changed my name on my credit cards is less an indication of lackadaisical security and more of a reflection of a company’s ability to complete secure transactions by phone. Imagine the frustration you would experience if every little thing – like checking the balance on your bank account – had to be done through the mail.

The bottom line

The lesson I learned is that companies rely heavily on the phone verification process, so if anyone knows the name of your favorite pet, the color of your first car, or your favorite combo of digits, Fort Knox-ify your accounts ASAP.

Julia Scott founded the money-saving blog, BargainBabe.com