Identity theft has gotten out of hand. In 2017, a record 16.7 million consumers were victims of identity theft.
It’s not a matter of if you’ll have your identity stolen, it’s a matter of when.
One option is to invest in identity theft protection.
Identity theft protection services include a range of products. Everything from basic credit monitoring to identity restoration after it’s stolen. Here’s what to look for along with my recommendations for the best identity theft protection services.
The 3 Best Identity Theft Protection Services
Keep in mind that no identity theft protection service can completely prevent identity theft. However, some providers offer services that help you reclaim and repair your identity if your information is stolen.
Here are three of the best identity theft protection services to consider.
Due to its commercials, Lifelock is perhaps one of the most recognizable identity theft protection services on the market. The company’s “ultimate plus” plan offers comprehensive protection against identity theft.
Generally, this is a good plan for people who want widespread protection and who don’t plan to do any kind of identity theft monitoring on their own.
- Identity theft monitoring for all three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion)
- Legal fee reimbursement up to $1 million if your information is stolen
- Up to $1 million in stolen funds reimbursement
- Identity restoration support
- At $29.99 per month for the first year, Lifelock’s Ultimate Plus plan is one of the more expensive identity theft protection plans out there, especially when you consider that this is for single coverage only. If you want to add identity theft protection for a spouse, you’ll pay another $29.99 a month. There is an additional $5.99 a month charge per minor child on your account.
- In October 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent refunds totaling $31 million to consumers who were Lifelock customers between 2012 and 2014. The money came as part of a $100 million settlement in which Lifelock was forced to pay fines and issue refunds based on the FTC’s findings that it “failed to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect its customer data.”
Lifelock’s run-ins with the FTC gave me pause, I started to avoid them myself. However, former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, whose then-office investigated Lifelock’s business practices, has said the company’s problems stemmed not from offering subpar service but from misrepresenting its services as “guaranteed” and airtight.
According to Cuccinelli, Lifelock didn’t necessarily deliver a flawed product. Rather, it advertised something that was impossible to deliver. As Cuccinelli stated, no company can claim to offer a fail proof protection against identity theft. “Such claims,” he said, “are ludicrous on the face.”
Identityforce’s UltraSecure plan is a more affordable option compared to other identity theft monitoring services.
For $17.95 a month, you get round the clock monitoring of your financial accounts, public records, and malware monitoring on Windows computer systems. You also get up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.
- Real time alerts for suspicious activity
- Family plan available for just $24.90 per month. This covers two adults and any minor children in the household.
- Identity theft restoration services from Certified Protection Experts available 24/7.
- Excellent customer ratings at both Consumer Affairs and Trustpilot
- The UltraSecure plan does not include credit bureau monitoring. To receive monitoring for all three bureaus, you must upgrade to the UltraSecure+Credit plan, which is $23.95 per month.
- Website offers popup discounts, including the UltraSecure plan for $18 a month, but it’s unclear how long that promotional price lasts.
- Some online reviewers say it’s difficult to cancel once you sign up.
Overall, the Identityforce UltraSecure plan is a good bargain for people who want the peace of mind of identity theft protection.
The ID Watchdog Platinum identity theft protection plan offers credit monitoring for all three bureaus, as well as the ability to freeze and unfreeze your credit report.
- Affordable at $19.95 per month.
- Daily credit score tracking for your Equifax credit report.
- 401K/HSA Stolen Funds Reimbursement up to $500K.
- Many employers offer ID Watchdog identity theft monitoring to their employees as a job benefit. The website has a specific landing page where employees can enter their activation code to enroll in the plan.
- The credit report freeze feature only applies to your Equifax and TransUnion reports.
- No computer security features, which means you’ll need to purchase separate malware protection for your desktop or laptop.
ID Watchdog’s website isn’t as comprehensive as those of other identity theft protection services. The company is also owned by Equifax, so keep that in mind when shopping around.
Understanding Your Options: Different Kinds of Identity Theft Protection
Identity theft protection services can vary widely. Companies typically offer three kinds of products: monitoring your accounts and credit files, alerting you to suspicious activity, and helping you recover if identity theft occurs.
Account monitoring is the most standard feature identity theft protection services offer. This service is designed to detect new accounts as they’re opened, so you can make sure no one is using your information fraudulently.
Not all identity theft protection services monitor your credit reports, and some only monitor one credit bureau. If this is important to you, make sure that the monitoring of your service is as broad as possible.
Many identity theft protection services combine alerts with account monitoring. Specifically, they will automatically notify you whenever someone opens an account in your name.
Recovery can mean a couple different things. First, the majority of identity theft protection services offer insurance that covers attorney’s fees and other costs associated with getting fraudulent accounts shut down and reclaiming your identity.
Some identity theft protection services also offer a separate recovery option that gives you a dedicated recovery representation who works one on one with you to clean up the mess of identity theft if it happens. This service is usually an additional fee.
Tips to Consider Before Investing in Identity Theft Protection
If you’re considering paying for identity theft protection, there are two main things to keep in mind.
1. No Company Can Guarantee to Stop Identity Theft
The reality is that no business can give you a blanket guarantee that you won’t be a victim of identity theft. To put it another way, police officers can deter criminals by patrolling the streets, but they can’t stop all crime.
This is where companies like Lifelock have run into trouble. No matter how secure or robust a company’s account monitoring is, there is still a risk that an enterprising thief will hack your account or steal your financial information.
However, this doesn’t mean you should forego identity theft protection. Most homeowners know that having locks on their doors won’t necessarily stop a determined burglar, but it’s better to lock your front door than leave it wide open.
2. You Can Monitor Your Accounts on Your Own
Identity theft protection and account monitoring is convenient, but the companies that offer it aren’t doing anything you can’t do on your own.
For example, you can monitor your credit reports for free. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus every 12 months.
You can also monitor your credit score for free using the Discover Scorecard, which doesn’t require you to be a Discover cardholder to use the free service.
However, identity theft protection services typically conduct routine monitoring across all your accounts, which lets you know any time someone opens a new account in your name. If you’re only checking your credit report once every 12 months, you could miss a new account.
For many people, the peace of mind that comes with constant monitoring is worth the monthly cost of paying for an identity theft protection service.
How to Choose The Best Identity Theft Protection
As you look for an identity theft protection service, there are a few points you should keep in mind.
It helps to compare and contrast certain things about each company, including what services they offer, how much they charge, and what their customers have to say about them.
1. Is Monitoring a Key Feature?
Some folks won’t need any help monitoring their credit report.
There’s enough free ways to get it that checking it once a month is pretty easy these days. If you check your report often, you don’t need to pay someone else to do it for you.
I don’t fall into that category. I check my own report maybe once a year.
In my case, monitoring has a much bigger benefit.
If you’re like me, get an identity service that has real-time alerts (or close to it) across all the credit bureaus.
2. Are You Protecting an Entire Family?
Individuals can expect to pay $15-35/month for the identity protection service.
Things get expensive you have a whole family and have to pay for each person on your plan. If you have a family and want to protect everyone, pay close attention to how much the total cost will be.
In most cases, you should get an identity protection service that has a family plan.
3. Check the Fine Print on Stolen Fund Reimbursements
Getting your credit report cleaned up is one thing, recovering your entire retirement savings is another.
The worst case scenario is having your key accounts emptied. It could take decades to recover from something like that. This is the type of scenario that I focus on when purchasing insurance or protection services. I need to know that I can depend on something when I really need it.
Definitely read the fine print for getting stolen funds reimbursed and get a plan that covers your liquid net worth (cash, stocks, bonds, etc).
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