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Best Identity Theft Protection Services
Why Use Identity Theft Protection Services?
Our reviewers have spent over 60 hours researching identity theft protection services, reading product information sheets and comparing them side by side to come to our ranking of the 10 best. Subscription prices range from $9.95 to $29.95 a month. The best services we reviewed cost between $17.95 and $26.99, so premium services don’t necessarily have the best features. These costs also include credit monitoring; if you want a more basic service that just includes credit monitoring, you’ll pay about $5 less.
Identity Force is our pick for the best identity theft protection service. It offers the complete range of fraud notifications and recovery assistance that we consider necessary in an identity theft service. Identity Force protects your basic personal information but also monitors public records, loan databases and criminal records to ensure that there’s no suspicious activity.
LifeLock is nearly the equal of Identity Force. It monitors personal information like your Social Security number, address, name and credit card numbers. LifeLock offers services to reimburse you from any money lost in the event your identity is compromised. It is more expensive than other services, but provides a more complete service than the majority of ID theft services we reviewed.
ID Watchdog is another service we recommend. It will notify you and the credit bureaus when suspicious activity occurs on your account. Unlike other services we reviewed, ID Watchdog can’t remove your name from direct mailing lists and you’ll be charged an additional fee for credit history reports. But for the price and the depth of its coverage it offers great value.
What to Do When Your Information Is Stolen
Events like the Equifax hack of July 2017 or the Yahoo hack in 2014 can leave your personal information vulnerable. The aftermath of these breeches can expose you to all manner of identity fraud – stolen credit card info and loans being taken out in your name, for example.
After an event like this, you’ll likely be offered free credit monitoring. This is useful, but some monitoring services take up to 60 days to notify you to fraudulent activity. These services usually don’t tell you about other ways your information can be used, such as if a thief uses your information to forge a driver’s license or passport. They also don’t stop tax fraud, and don’t monitor retirement or brokerage accounts. Some of the more robust ID theft protection services we’ve reviewed offer more comprehensive services than the free ones you’ll be offered in the event of an event like the Equifax breach.
We recommend putting a credit freeze on your credit if you suspect your information will be at risk. A credit freeze prevents creditors from being able to pull your credit file without your explicit permission. To do this you’ll need to notify each of the credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – that you want a freeze. This can usually be done online, but in some cases you may need to call. Once this is done you’ll get a PIN you’ll use to unfreeze your account in case you need to apply for credit. Depending on where you live, you may need to pay a fee to place a freeze. This fee should be $15 or less.
Another step you can take is to put a fraud alert on your file. You can do this every 90 days. A fraud alert requires potential creditors to contact you and get permission before opening new lines of credit in your name.
How We Researched Identity Theft Protection Services
To find the best identity theft protection service, we researched the top companies in the industry and found comparable plans for each that included credit monitoring, identity monitoring and identity recovery services. When evaluating plans, we looked for one from each service that provided the broadest range of credit and identity monitoring possible.
We read through each plan’s available documentation to find the scope of what each one covers. We also read reports on the industry by government agencies and independent research firms to determine which aspects of your identity are most susceptible to fraud.
What Can Identity Theft Protection Do for You?
The first thing to know is that despite the name, an identity theft protection plan won’t keep your accounts from being compromised. These services are rapid-response teams that monitor your identifying information and notify you immediately when there’s suspicious activity.
An identity theft protection service can alert you when someone has gotten access to one of your credit cards or bank accounts. These services also monitor your credit report to see if someone has fraudulently opened an account in your name. More advanced services monitor databases of non-credit loans (like payday loans) and other types of money transfers. The best services check your Social Security number to see if a thief has used it to apply for a loan or to create a fictitious identity.
Identity protection services can help you recover if your identity is compromised. The best services employ recovery experts who contact credit bureaus and financial institutions to make sure your good name is cleared in the event that a thief uses your personal information. The recovery experts will make all the calls and fill out the paperwork, saving you the time and effort. Other services may only provide you with contact information, scripts and questions, but you’ll need to do the contacting yourself. Some ID theft protection services will reimburse you for the costs associated with recovering from and ID theft.
Identity theft protection can also keep track of your credit history. Besides monitoring for fraudulent charges, it also includes free access to credit reports from the three bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. For some services these reports are distributed annually and for others you can see how your score changes month to month.
What to Know Before You Sign Up
Identity theft is becoming more and more common. A nationwide study on identity theft by Javelin Strategy shows that identity fraud increased 16 percent from 2015 to 2016. Losses from account takeovers were $2.3 billion. Credit card fraud is the most common type and, fortunately, the easiest kind to remedy. More damaging types of fraud that involve using personal information to open a new account are less common, but they are far more damaging.
Most banks offer fraud protection to account holders. If any fraud occurs, you’ll get called to approve the transactions. Online shoppers are more likely to be the victim of fraud but are also the quickest to notice any discrepancies.
Signing up for an identity theft protection plan can add an extra degree of protection, and these services monitor more than just credit card transactions. It’s important to know that they can’t prevent your accounts or personal information from being stolen. These are reactive services that help discover fraud and then help you recover from it.
Most of the services we reviewed offer $1 million in ID theft insurance. This insurance can reimburse you for up to $1 million in lost wages, legal costs or other out-of-pocket costs associated with having your identity stolen. Your bank or credit card company will reimburse you for any money taken from your account.
Out-of-pocket costs associated with identity theft are uncommon, so ID theft insurance is rarely necessary. Most of the services we reviewed include this insurance for no extra cost.
What We Evaluated and What We Found
In our research of identity theft protection, we found these to be the most important considerations.
Monitoring & Notifications
Good identity theft protection needs to quickly notify you about any fraudulent activity. Most identity protection services will monitor your accounts, and the best will also keep an eye on black-market sites to see if your personal information is being exchanged. You’ll want a service that will notify you quickly if your information is compromised. Some will simply give you a monthly update, but the best will notify you as soon as they learn that your information has been compromised.
Look for a service that also sends fraud notifications to credit bureaus. By putting a fraud alert in place, you’ll be contacted for approval any time a line of credit is opened in your name.
If your account is compromised, another benefit of an identity protection service is that it will help you recover any expenses and move quickly to cancel any stolen cards. Most basic ID theft services will provide you with contact information and written instructions for dealing with identity theft. If your wallet is stolen, these companies will contact each credit card or bank to cancel your accounts.
When choosing ID theft protection, make sure the company offers full-service identity theft restoration or has Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialists (CITRMS) on staff. With full-service restoration, the ID theft company will work on your behalf to contact the necessary government agencies and other organizations to help you recover your identity.
When you sign up with an ID theft protection company, usually you’ll give the service a limited power of attorney. The service will work with the credit bureaus to put a seven-year fraud alert on your account. This means you’ll get two free credit reports per year from the three bureaus and your name will be removed from prescreened credit offers. The ID theft company will mediate claims, process any credit disputes, manage paperwork, find legal representation and pay any court costs.
All the services we reviewed offer a $1 million recovery insurance policy. This covers any out-of-pocket costs you may incur as you work to recover from the theft of your identity.
With any ID theft service you can expect to have your basic personal and account information protected. The service will monitor your Social Security number, street address and name to ensure they aren’t being used to open new accounts or engage in other fraudulent activity. The best services cast a wider net and comb through non-credit loan databases and sex-offender registries as well as public and criminal records to make sure that your identity has not been used for anything illegal.
Fraudulent use of medical insurance information is becoming more widespread. Most of these services monitor your medical records to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Other Things to Consider
Every service we reviewed monitors your credit reports for fraudulent charges. Many services provide you with regular updates on your credit score from the three bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The best services can remove your name from direct mailing lists, which is another way identity thieves can get your information.
If you need customer support, you can usually contact the service through email, but the best services offer 24/7 phone support as well. Most services also offer a variety of blogs and articles that give advice on protecting your identity from being stolen.