Does Identity Theft Protection Work?
When Todd Davis, CEO of identity-theft protection company LifeLock, broadcast his Social Security number on national television, he became one of the 10 million American victims of identity theft each year. In fact, his identity was stolen at least 13 times and LifeLock accumulated $12 million in fines due to the advertisement. Instead of proving the confidence he had in the security of his company, Davis showed us that identity theft still remains a great threat.
Granted, most of us won’t plaster our Social Security numbers all over billboards. But real threats exist out there, and it is important to protect your identity. Are online identity-protection services worth the cost? Can you trust them? Are there more-effective ways to protect your personal information without the services of a specialized company?
The purpose of this website is to educate consumers about what to look for if you decide to buy into an identity-theft protection service. We’ve researched the top identity theft protection services and even created a unique comparison tool which allows you to select services for a side-by-side comparison. When doing your research, you should know what features these companies offer, and evaluate whether their services fit your needs.
The Real Risk Of Identity Theft
Criminals can steal your identity through a variety of ways, including phishing scams, malware on your PC, and even rooting through your trash for sensitive paper documents. You can defend yourself against such attacks by keeping an eye out for phishing tactics, running anti-malware utilities, and shredding documents.
One method of identity theft that you can’t directly guard against is a data breach against a company–such as a bank–that you do business with. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 498 such breaches occurred in 2009. Often criminals will sell personal information harvested from data breaches to other crooks on online black markets. Criminals could use your identity for anything from opening bank or credit card accounts to seeking medical care using your name.
To make matters worse, laws requiring companies to disclose data breaches are spotty: Some states have tough reporting laws, but no national standard exists. In other words, you could do everything right, and still have your identity stolen without realizing it. No wonder there’s a market for identity-theft protection services.
Should You Use Them?
In the past, it was a widespread belief that ID theft protection companies didn’t offer many services that you couldn’t do yourself, but rather provided convenience. Instead of consumers getting immersed in the daunting task of tracking their identity at all times, they would just pay a company to do it for them.
But not anymore.
Today, ID theft protection companies have transformed into highly developed monitoring services. Some companies, such as Lifelock Command Center and Identity Guard, scan on public databases, such as sex offender registry reports or court records, for signs that your identity has been stolen.
Although ID theft protection services have evolved, these companies are not your answer to complete protection. Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, says many companies don’t offer credit monitoring, and when they do, they may only pull credit reports from one of the three major credit bureaus, which does not offer complete protection.
What Identity Protection Services Do (and Don’t Do)
Typically, ID-theft protection services charge a monthly fee to follow your credit or public records, or non-credit related outlets, for any irregular patterns or charges. Some services will offer assistance after an identity theft has occurred to help you rebuild your credit. Many banks also provide their customers with a variety of identity theft protection services.
Each identity theft company operates differently to guard your identity. Some services track non-credit related sources of identity theft – like TrustedID, which offers monitors against medical benefits fraud, or Guard Dog ID, that watches for Social Security number fraud.
But others don’t follow certain types of identity theft, such as:
Social Security number fraud – a debated point in the LifeLock advertising
Criminal identity fraud – an offender taking your identity when arrested
Medical fraud – a criminal assumes your identity when seeking medical attention
Previous instances of identity theft
Debit/check card fraud
These kinds of crimes, Stephens notes, “are more difficult to recover from than financial identity theft.”
We designed this website to inform consumers about what to look for in an ID-theft protection service. When looking for a services, you should know what features different companies offer, and how they fit your needs and lifestyle. After thorough research, we have developed a comparison which easily allows you to analyze different services.
View our Buying Guide to see a list of the kinds of services to look for in an ID-theft protection service. When looking for a service, try to ask yourself these questions:
Which credit bureaus does the company get reports from?
How often does it get reports?
Do I have unlimited access to my credit reports and scores?
Does this company really provide services I can’t do on my own?
What extra protection does the company provide?
What kind of insurance does it offer?
It’s also important to determine if the service provides additional identity monitoring. For example, will it track if someone is using your address? Or using your name to get medical services? “Do ID-theft protection services do more than monitor your credit? If they can say ‘yes,’ then maybe they’re worth some value,” says Jay Foley, executive director with the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Don’t put off receiving ID theft protection until it’s too late. Looking at this site means the topic is already on your mind. Too many people don’t take measures to protect themselves from identity theft and approximately 10 million Americans a year end up regretting it.
No matter how you decide to guard yourself against identity theft or fraud if you do it yourself, use a company, track your credit or any mix of these methods it is vital you do something. Each year, identity theft costs our economy $50 billion and staggering amounts of anguish. Act today and rest assured that you and the ones you love are safe.
Sleep sound, and protect yourself now.