Why Use Identity Theft Protection Services?
While evaluating identity theft protection, we discovered that both IdentityForce and LifeLock have the exact same level of ID protection, services and monitoring, resulting in both services earning our top recommendation for ID protection. ID Watchdog, though lacking some of the additional features that our top two picks offer beyond ID theft monitoring and recovery, is still good enough to also be counted among our best ID protection companies.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a hot topic in the news and a real risk in our lives. Identity theft occurs when an individual uses your personal information to acquire something for themselves. Most people, when they think about identity theft, think about thieves who use personal information to open bank accounts, acquire credit cards or use your information to drain your finances. While this is certainly a common form of it, identity theft has the potential to reach far more into your life.
Some people use stolen identities to gain employment. Others use it to get a driver's license. Stolen identities can also be used to receive medical treatment or given to law enforcement if the thief is caught doing something illegal.
Identity theft often completely destroys your credit or ruins your reputation and costs thousands of dollars to resolve – not only in money directly lost, but also in lost wages, refilling fees for loans or even private investigators to weed out the worst of the fraud. The process is also very difficult, with each financial institution, creditor and the IRS setting policies and procedures that you must follow exactly or risk starting the process over, often taking months to finally resolve the issue.
How to Protect Yourself from ID Theft
One way to protect your identity is to never give your personal information online unless you know the website is legitimate and that appropriate, legal safeguards are in place to protect you during a transaction, such as an online purchase. Another important step is to shred sensitive papers and even junk mail that has identifying information prior to throwing it in your outside dumpster. This makes it harder for a potential thief to grab information, such as account numbers, addresses and credit card offers, and swiping your ID that way.
It is also a good idea to stay on top of your financial records and be aware of any transactions that don't correspond to your own accounts. In case you have special concerns or simply want to be better safe than sorry, there are reliable identity theft protection services that monitor your information, alert you to potential fraud and provide restitution assistance. The best ID theft protection services don't only monitor your financial information; they also keep track of your Social Security number, address, medical records and more. All three of our top picks – IdentityForce, LifeLock and ID Watchdog – offer the most comprehensive ID monitoring services, each closely watching as many aspects of your ID life as possible while keeping your personal information secure.
What We Discovered When Reviewing ID Theft Services
Identity protection involves more than just monitoring data. You want identity theft protection that adapts to the new strategies criminals use to steal identities. You also need to ensure that the service you choose has the security tools to make sure your sensitive information isn't inadvertently shared or vulnerable if its system is hacked, goes down, or becomes infected with malware, viruses or ransomware.
Here is what we found while reviewing identity theft protection services, including some standout features of the individual services. For more information on how to protect your identity, check out our articles on identity theft protection.
One aspect that sets basic identity theft protection apart from the best ID protection companies is a service's commitment to help you restore your credit and identity after it has been compromised. Most of the services in our review offer you some help, usually in the form of providing you with written steps to restore your identity. These include phone numbers for the IRS and Social Security Administration and the forms you need to file with them, creditors to contact, and questions to ask them as part of your identity restoration.
Both IdentityForce and LifeLock go above and beyond by actually contacting your creditors for you and, on your behalf, submitting paperwork to reverse any negative effects on your credit or identity. In some cases, you may need to speak directly to the creditor, but these identity theft companies either establish a three-way call to guide you through the process or provide you with a detailed outline of what to ask and answers to common questions.
Several banks and credit card companies monitor your credit scores and reports in order to determine if your identity has been compromised. While this is an important place to look, it doesn't give you a full picture. ID theft protection services should look beyond your credit report, which only monitors the use of your address, Social Security number and full name. But research has shown that identity thieves use your identity for more than just credit purchases.
TrustedID and Identity Guard monitor medical records to make sure someone isn't using your identity to receive medical treatment and leave you with a hefty bill. Identity Fraud monitors medical records too, and it also keeps a close eye on public and criminal records, including sex offender registries. This is because criminals often seek to use your identity to mask who they really are and get out of jail on bond, leaving you with a sketchy record and the possibility of being picked up on a warrant or charged with a crime you didn't commit.
Before you trust someone with your sensitive information, you want to make sure they will keep it safe rather than creating an environment that makes it an easy target for identity thieves. Many services, such as IDFreeze by myFICO, use data encryption programs so that any information you send to them about yourself is scrambled until accessed by an authorized associate. This means if a hacker gets your information, it will not make sense, making it difficult to steal and use.
We were impressed with the sophisticated system of LifeLock. All sensitive information is sent to this company via snail mail or fax to make it more difficult for an identity thief to intercept the information. None of this information, such as your bank account number or Social Security number, is saved on LifeLock's computers; it is kept in a physical file that is then stored in a locked vault. The information can only be accessed by the assigned associate, and only after they have made contact with you. After your recovery file has been closed, all this information is shredded and disposed of in a way that ensures it never falls into the wrong hands.
ID Theft Protection Services: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Identity theft is a costly business that not only comes with substantial financial burdens, but may also ruin your reputation. Our top picks – IdentityForce, LifeLock and ID Watchdog – are all great solutions for protecting your identity. Others on our lineup, such as Privacy Guard and Identity Protect by Intelius, are also very solid. All of these solutions not only monitor your credit, but also provide assistance in restoring your identity in the event it is compromised.