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.
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
|All Clear ID Alert Network||Free 30-day trial; $14.95/mo.||1- or 3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, SSN||$1 million warranty||None||Covers individuals and families, but poor customer service, confusing website and lack of comprehensive protection makes it less than appealing|
|ID Freeze||Free 14-day trial and 15% discount; $7.1/mo (paid annually)||Credit cards, public records, SSN, bank accounts, medical records||$1 million warranty||All 3-bureau credit reports each year||Reasonably priced but no credit report monitoring; 10% discount and free 14-day trial|
|LegalShield||$29.95/ mo plus one time $10 membership fee||3-bureau credit reports, credit cards, emails, phone numbers, SSN, bank accounts, driver's license, passport, insurance cards||None||All 3-bureau credit reports each year||Somewhat 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 warranty||3-bureau credit scores updated in real time; 3-bureau credit reports annually||Strong identity monitoring paired with comprehensive, 3 bureau FICO score monitoring; on the pricey side|
|Trusted ID||Free 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 warranty||Equifax credit reports and scores monthly; TransUnion and Experian credit reports and scores annually||Best 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.
|AARP||Free 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 warranty||Equifax credit reports and scores monthly; TransUnion, Experian credit reports and scores annually||Comprehensive 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 guarantee||None, unless plan is upgraded||Valuable 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 Ulimate||Free 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 guarantee||TransUnion credit scores monthly; 3-bureau credit reports and scores annually||Thorough 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 Defender||Free 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 guarantee||None||Comprehensive 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 Experian||7-day trial for $1; $19.95/mo||Experian credit report, credit cards, SSN, address changes, public records||$1 million insurance||One Experian credit report||An 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?