You ve seen the news reports about large data breaches at some of the nation s top retailers. These breaches have the potential to affect millions of consumers. They highlight the need to protect your personal data to prevent identity theft. Utilizing credit monitoring services can provide you with the information you need to catch unusual activity on your credit report. When identity theft occurs, it can take a long time to detect it if you only check your credit once a year. Regular monitoring can help you identify problems sooner and restore your credit faster. The best credit report is detailed and pulls from several data sources.

How Identity Theft Happens

Identity theft can happen in several different ways. It s not always some mysterious hacker breaking into the databases of large corporations and institutions. Although that seems to happen regularly, sometimes it is as simple as someone looking over your shoulder watching as you enter credit card information into your laptop at a coffee shop. Identity thieves may also go through your trash looking for discarded credit card offers or other documents with personal information. Some people fall victim to email scams and give their personal information to scammers.

When criminals get ahold of your personal data, they can commit a wide range of crimes. They can apply for loans and credit cards and then go on spending sprees. They may access your bank account and withdraw money. They can also commit crimes using your ID, leaving you with the task of clearing your name for crimes you didn t commit. Often, they will try to redirect the accounts they open, making it difficult to know what s happening.

How Monitoring Protects You

The most important thing you can do to help prevent or remedy identity theft is to know what s on your credit report. The more familiar you are with your accounts, the easier it is to identify discrepancies. Credit monitoring services can help you do that by tracking changes to your account and notifying you as soon as they happen.

Choosing Levels of Protection

If you check your credit only once a year, you could have fraud occurring that has continued for up to 364 days. Thieves can do a great deal of damage in that time. The greater the number of accounts that are fraudulently opened in your name, the longer it will take to straighten it all out. You could wind up with a lot of time and money wasted to restore your credit if you don t check your full credit report monthly. Your credit monitoring service monitors your credit daily and alerts you to changes.

There are a few key considerations when shopping for a credit monitoring service. You want to evaluate the whole package to decide if you re getting your money s worth. Packages typically have options that offer varying amounts of data, including how many sources it will pull your credit data from. They may also offer insurance against identity theft and credit recovery assistance. Fees may be higher with more options, so you have to weigh that against the value you think they will bring. Most services offer a free trial to evaluate their products, so it is a good idea to shop around for the right one.

There are three main credit bureaus: Transunion, Experian and Equifax. The information they collect varies because some creditors report to all three, while others report to only one. If you don t have the data from all three companies, you could be missing some important information. Look for a service provider that offers reports from all three bureaus.

Monitoring services offer many additional options to help protect your financial reputation and to help resolve issues when they occur. A service can monitor additional data sources, such as public, court and social security records, for unauthorized activities. It can even audit black market websites that sell stolen identity information.

A feature you want to have with your monitoring package is access to your credit score. It s a good representation of your financial standing. Creditors use it to determine your risk. When you are in the process of restoring your credit, changes in your score can help you to gauge your progress toward your goal. Not all services provide your credit score, so make sure that it is part of your package.

Credit monitoring can help you spot identity theft so that if it does occur, it takes less time and money to rectify it. Many companies offer identity theft insurance as part of their offering. It may come included in all plans, or it may be offered as an add-on feature. The insurance will have a maximum amount that it will spend on lawyers, accountant and investigators to help your recovery. You should read the fine print to decide if the terms make it worthwhile. There is usually identity restoration support that can help save you time by having their representatives do a lot of the legwork for you.

Credit reporting agencies provide routine access to your credit information and contact you when there has been a change. It s important that your monitoring service collects your data from the three main credit bureaus. Having your credit score is a useful feature that many services offer. By purchasing identity theft insurance, you can help ensure that you have the expertise to resolve it. Credit monitoring can provide peace of mind and help you take control of your finances.

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