Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth What You Pay?

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes around the world. There have been more than 13 million victims annually. There are radio and television ads screaming that if you’re serious about protection, sign up with one of the “identity theft protection services.” But are these products worth the money you pay, and do they do the real job? Their stated purpose is to protect you and your assets, but do they do the job? Is it possible you can do the job yourself and save money?

All the companies listed below provide regular electronic surveillance of the information most often compromised, acting as the guard dogs of your data. Some premium services also offer different types of monitoring (credit reports, public records, credit cards, and Social Security numbers). A few of them offer software to protect your computer.

Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth What You Pay?
Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth What You Pay?

You can even get free access to your credit scores. An important warning about any and all of these plans – they’re not going to be able to warn you in advance. There must be a breach before they will activate notification or any forms of protection. And none of them can monitor every transaction. LifeLock specifically advises (in small print) that if the breach is through a vendor that is not in their network, they cannot be held liable. The options are out there if having a third party protect your identity is a high status concern for you.

The First Level

Those that make the most noise in advertising are the ones best known, of course. There are other choices are out there, though. Here are the lesser known players, and it might be the place to start your hunt for something that meets your needs for a reasonable price.

Identity Theft Protection Services - Lesser Services

ProductPricingMonitoringWarrantyReportsSummary 
All Clear ID Alert NetworkFree 30-day trial; $14.95/mo.1- or 3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, SSN$1 million warrantyNoneCovers individuals and families, but poor customer service, confusing website and lack of comprehensive protection makes it less than appealing
ID FreezeFree 14-day trial and 15% discount; $7.1/mo (paid annually)Credit cards, public records, SSN, bank accounts, medical records$1 million warrantyAll 3-bureau credit reports each yearReasonably priced but no credit report monitoring; 10% discount and free 14-day trial
LegalShield$29.95/ mo plus one time $10 membership fee3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, emails, phone numbers, SSN, bank accounts, driver's license, passport, insurance cardsNoneAll 3-bureau credit reports each yearSomewhat pricey when compared to other services; complete restoration assistance, no insurance guarantee, limited monitoring for large families and frustrating user experience
MyFICO$24.72/mo (paid annually)3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, public records, SSN, bank accounts, driver's license, passports, medical IDs, address change, payday loan applications$1 million warranty3-bureau credit scores updated in real time; 3-bureau credit reports annuallyStrong identity monitoring paired with comprehensive, 3 bureau FICO score monitoring; on the pricey side
Trusted IDFree 14-day trial and 10% discount; $9.38/mo (paid annually)3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, public records, SSN, bank accounts, medical records, social media$1 million warrantyEquifax credit reports and scores monthly; TransUnion and Experian credit reports and scores annuallyBest value, especially for families; monitoring of medical records is a major plus

The Big Boys

These names will be more familiar to you. The pricing doesn’t seem to be too variable and the services offered appear to be similar. You might want to ask for a definition of “comprehensive” identity theft protection though (ie, just how comprehensive is comprehensive?). A word of warning: none of these companies offer additional Internet security features.

ProductPricingMonitoringWarrantyReportsSummary
AARPFree 14-day trial and special AARP price; $9.17/mo (paid annually)3-bureau credit reports, bank accounts, credit cards, SSN, public records, social media$1 million service warrantyEquifax credit reports and scores monthly; TransUnion, Experian credit reports and scores annuallyComprehensive identity theft protection and credit report monitoring for AARP members and family; monthly Equifax credit reports and scores; special AARP price and free 14-day trial
LifeLock (Standard)Free 30-day trial; $8.25/mo (w/annual prepay and our 10% discount)Credit and debit cards, SSN, driver's license on Internet black market and address change verification$1 million guaranteeNone, unless plan is upgradedValuable identity theft protection and customer support for an affordable price, yet lacks in terms of credit report monitoring; 10% discount and free 30-day trial
LifeLock UlimateFree 30-day trial; $24.75/mo (w/annual prepay and our 10% discount) 3-bureau credit reports, applications, credit cards, SSN, driver's license, address change, credit card and bank account activity, investment accounts, sex offender registry, court records$1 million guaranteeTransUnion credit scores monthly; 3-bureau credit reports and scores annuallyThorough identity theft protection and 3-bureau credit report monitoring; annual 3-bureau credit reports and scores; monthly TransUnion credit scores; somewhat costly even with 10% discount; free 30-day trial
MetLife DefenderFree 30-day trial and 10% discount; $18.38/mo (paid annually)3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, passport, driver's license, gov-issued ID, bank accounts, SSN, emails, phone numbers, home addresses, social media, retirement/investment accounts, frequent flyer accounts, rewards cards, insurance cards$5 million service guaranteeNoneComprehensive protection includes medical information and social media protection; families will appreciate anti-cyberbullying app for children; expensive in comparison to other services but offers a 30-day free trial; no credit reports or scores
Protect My ID by Experian7-day trial for $1; $19.95/moExperian credit report, credit cards, SSN, address changes, public records$1 million insuranceOne Experian credit reportAn expensive option that lacks in protection; only includes Experian credit report monitoring; 7-day trial for $1 with enrollment; credit score and other credit reports cost extra

(Charts compiled from the following sources: Credit Monitoring Service Comparison – Identity Theft Labs and Credit Monitoring Service Reviews.)

So, What To Do?

It boils down to your having to determine what you want watched. With only a few exceptions, all monitor your credit bureau reports, but you can do this for free. Depending on the state you live in, you can get free credit reports every six month or annually. If you are diligent you can ride the herd on your credit cards and bank accounts yourself, as many not provide either periodic credit reports, credit scores or both. If those are your major concerns, save your money.

Making sure no one uses your Social Security number inappropriately may be a bit difficult, and the government should not be counted on as a guardian. Just a couple of months ago it was reported that 4 million federal employees’ records have been hacked.

With data miners at work all the time, trying to keep track of the listing of your name, address, phone number and email could be a full-time task. Truthfully, most of the information these miners are coming up with is from public records – which is to say that it’s already out there and you can’t pull it back in. With such things as HIPPA (Healthcare Information Privacy And Protection Act) enforcement and your own vigilance, this may not be a major concern for most people.

Lastly, eleven of the companies offer “service guarantees” or warranties. What they will pay for is a vague in most instances, and none seem to make a blanket offer of restitution or remuneration. LifeLock states up front “Network does not cover all transactions. Phone alerts made during normal business hours.” LifeLock is one of the heaviest advertisers for their products but these stipulations may not make it as attractive as something else.

Check with your friends, your broker, and your banker. This is truly going to be one of those decisions based on “word of mouth.”

Have you ever used an “identity theft protection service?” Have you been the victim of identity theft? Would you share with us any difficulties you experienced in restoring your records? Did the authorities catch the thieves?

( Photo by Don Hankins )

5 Responses to Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth What You Pay?

  1. Bill, my concern is the safety issues as far as who these companies are hiring. I know from the days when I use to have a clearance – we did have instances of embezzlement and other fraudulent activities going on. Personally I prefer to monitor my own stuff and take certain safeguards. Now I am not saying I know how to do it better than these companies, I am just concerned about who they hire. No background check can guarantee the honesty of anyone. Bottom line, everyone should use common sense to safeguard themselves. I see too many people not protecting their passwords as they make purchases at retail stores. Me, I have even had to ask some people to “back up” to give me the privacy I need to input my password when using my debit card. Of course some understood and really was not paying attention to how close they were while others totally went crazy on me. Well I stopped what I was doing until they did as I requested = you can hold up the line if you want to. I thank God that I have not had any issues and continue to pray this continues. Another thing I am very leery about is making purchases over the phone. It is like why would I trust someone on the phone without knowing them or their location. Africa and India are fast becoming the hot spots for fraud and so are job sites. I caution people to remove all information from their resume that oculd be used to create an identity. If the job posting is indeed valid, they can supply additional information as needed. I now use my email address on my resume – no more phone numbers or addresses. Great post!!!

  2. Hi, Angela,

    Had not even thought of the point you mention — that of the security risk of those hired to work for these outfits. That’s a valid one, and probably, if you are going to sign up with one of them, you ought to ask about verification all are “clean.”

    My basic objection to them is after you drill down through all the pitches, all yhoui get is someone telling you something you’re going to find out on your own. They can’t stop it, and it appears a bit doubtful there is anything they can do for you if it does. I’m with you; I can do it myself. It just takes diligence and determination not to mention consistency.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Angela,

    By the way, thanks for being a loyal “follower” and “reader” here at OutOfYourRut.com. We always appreciate your very insightful responses.

  4. Bill, you are welcome! This site provides some relaxation for me when I have a few spare moments. You and Kevin are doing an AWESOME job with posting interesting material that makes us think!!!! Keep writing….

  5. I keep reading lots of articles where people are saying that credit monitoring is a waste of money and anyone can easily do it on their own. Who has the time for that? I don’t even have enough time to spend with my kids, let alone sift through credit reports on a monthly basis. For $20 bucks or whatever the cost, it’s worth it to me to let someone else keep tabs on my credit reports. I signed up with identity force and so far it’s been great.

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