The Best Identity Theft Protection Services
How We Found the Best Identity Theft Protection Services
18 companies evaluated
1 forensic accountant consulted
3 top picks
The Best Identity Theft Protection Services
To be clear, identity theft prevention services don’t exist — there’s no way to actually prevent your identity from being stolen. What the best identity theft protection services can do, though, is ceaselessly monitor your credit and accounts to alert you as soon as suspicious behavior arises. From there, the best credit monitoring service will assist you every step of the way in reclaiming your identity. We signed up for as many accounts as we could and read their fine print to see which services could best help you monitor and reclaim your identity.
How We Chose the Best Identity Theft Protection Services
Credit reports from all three bureaus
Credit reports are crucial to your financial reputation — they’re what lenders use to decide whether to offer you a loan, they affect mortgage rates and car purchasing, and they even determine whether your internet provider requires an application fee. They’re also how many people first learn they’ve been scammed.
Each of the "big-three" credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) uses a slightly different method to compile data for their credit reports, so it's important to keep an eye on all three. Details that show up in one agency's report (a bogus account, debt collection, or legal judgment) might not show up in another. ID theft protection services that offer continuous, “real time” monitoring of all three credit bureaus give you the best odds of early fraud detection.
Services that monitor how your personal info is being used online
Not all types of fraud appear on your credit reports. If someone has access to your Social Security or driver’s license numbers, your bank details, or your medical insurance ID, they can steal from your existing accounts by masquerading as you — meaning there will be nothing to report to the bureaus. (A payday loan, for example, requires no credit check and will only appear on your credit reports after it goes to collection.) Good identity theft protection services go beyond credit reports, scanning online databases for your personal info and alerting you of active risk. We required that companies monitor each of the following categories:
- Court records
- Payday loan sites
- “Black market” sites where thieves buy and sell identifying details
- The National Change of Address Database
Alerts via text, email, phone call
If your credit or identity monitoring service spots something fishy, how does it let you know? We eliminated providers that didn't offer both email and text notifications, along with 24/7 phone availability. If we received an alert and had questions about what it meant, we would want to know that we could quickly get ahold of a customer service rep to explain the issue and walk us through next steps. Credit protection services are only as good as their ability to communicate and act.
Legal support toward reclaiming your identity
In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission estimated the average identity theft victim spent more than 200 hours across 18 months resolving their issues with credit-reporting agencies. Any ID protection service worth paying for can do the work of contacting creditors, employers, and law enforcement agencies on your behalf. This requires temporary power of attorney.
“The true cost of identity theft isn’t in paying back what’s been stolen, but in clearing your name.”
Now, there are still several important things you'll have to do on your own — including dealing with the IRS or Social Security Administration. But companies that take on power of attorney save you from having to make every phone call, write every letter, and send every email yourself.
The 3 Best Identity Theft Protection Services
Why we chose it
Great protection, great price
For protection that covers all of the essentials at an affordable price, we recommend Identity Force’s UltraSecure+Credit plan. The company offers power of attorney and credit monitoring from all three major credit bureaus, plus personal information monitoring with mobile and email alerts. If a new bank account is opened in your name or if a payday loan is taken out, you’ll hear about it. In the case of suspicious activity, it’ll help you take action after alerted. IdentityForce will complete paperwork, make calls, and handle every detail to restore your identity. For the scope of the company’s monitoring and restoration services, $20 per month is a bargain.
Upon log-in, features that most users will need regularly — including your recent alerts, your credit score, and links to other accounts in your family plan — are displayed prominently on a clean, easy-to-use dashboard. We never had to do much hunting to find what we needed.
Affordable family options
Another standout feature: The company’s affordable family options. Child protection is $3 per month per kid, the cheapest of all our finalists. (If you’re comparing IdentityForce vs. LifeLock, it’s about half the monthly price.) And while there’s no discount for other adults, if you’re willing to pay for a full year upfront, you can sign up for annual membership at $200 and get two months free.
Points to consider
Minimal app capabilities
IdentityForce's app isn't very feature-rich: It essentially serves as a pager to let you know if you need to contact the company. You can use the app to see whether you've received an alert, but you'll need to log onto the website to view details, and you’ll need to call customer service or use the live chat feature on IdentityForce's website to actually resolve any fraudulent activity.
No services for pre-existing theft
IdentityForce covers ID theft that happens while you’re a subscriber. But if you’re dealing with fallout from issues that you encountered prior to registering, you'll be on your own. IdentityForce won’t swoop in to take the paperwork off your hands unless it was the one to discover the problem. If you’re dealing with pre-existing identity theft, you may want to check out ID Watchdog instead.
Why we chose it
LifeLock's mobile app is the sleekest and most functional of all our top picks (with a website portal that’s similarly intuitive). If you conduct most of your business on your phone, LifeLock is the only one of our finalists that allows you to start resolving pending issues directly through the app — no need to make a phone call or wait until you’re back at your computer.
LifeLock provides notifications for a handful of scenarios not monitored by our other top picks, including alerts about third-party data breaches and crimes committed in your name. These features aren’t essential, but they do provide an extra level of reassurance. You can also choose to receive notifications via phone call, so a live rep can explain a given alert’s significance. Just be prepared to pay a little more: This plan runs $30 per month, versus IdentityForce’s $20.
Points to consider
Extra charge for resolving pre-existing theft
LifeLock's most basic plan offers comprehensive help if you become a victim of identity theft after signing up for its service. But if you need assistance navigating pre-existing theft, you’ll have to pay extra.
Why we chose it
Rehabilitation for pre-existing theft
At $20 per month, ID Watchdog’s Platinum Plan offers the alerts and notifications of our other top picks, including credit score and bank account monitoring. But it adds on a truly standout feature: retroactive protection services, which help you deal with theft that occurred before you were a subscriber. This means you can find a bogus item on one of your credit reports, then enroll in ID Watchdog — and it will still work on your behalf to remove these charges.
Restoration for pre-existing theft does carry fees in addition to membership cost. You'll pay $80 per financial record error, $180 per civil court record error, and $280 per criminal court record error. But this service is rare among ID protection services, and it may be worth the additional cost.
Points to consider
ID Watchdog’s website is clunky and not intuitive to navigate. The outdated layout and font makes it difficult to find the information you need. Its mobile app isn’t much better, with limited capabilities that require you to call a customer service representative to resolve pending issues. But even if it’s not beautiful, the service package is the best we found, and its 24/7 phone line picked up quickly almost every time we called.
How to Protect Your Identity
Understand that protection services can't monitor everything
There are some types of personal information that identity theft protection services are prohibited from monitoring. They can monitor your credit reports, public records, and some websites, but privacy laws bar them from accessing your medical benefit statements, as well as any tax info or Social Security benefits paid in your name. And because those are fairly common avenues for identity theft, we highly recommend you keep track of these details by requesting records from these agencies yourself.
Tax-related identity theft, in which a thief claims your tax refund before you do, is also disturbingly prevalent. In 2015, it accounted for nearly 49% of all reported identity thefts. And because government offices also do not recognize power of attorney to resolve disputes, the most an outside company can do for you in this situation is give you the right forms to fill out.
Be vigilant about medical ID theft
Medical identity theft can exhaust your insurance benefits and pose health threats. When someone else obtains care in your name, your files may be updated to reflect their diagnosis and treatments. This means that if you show up at the hospital in an emergency situation, you might not get the care you need — or you might get treated for something you don’t have.
A little vigilance goes long way. Anytime you receive medical treatment, you should get an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement or Medicare Summary. Read these line by line and pay special attention to the services provided, the name of the healthcare provider, the date of the service, and your personal information. Errors like a misspelled name or incorrect procedure date can be warning signs of medical identity theft. Report errors like these to your health plan; you’ll find the customer service number on the statement. The bottom line: If anything on your medical statements or notices doesn’t make sense, investigate it. This goes for receiving bills for care or doctor visits that you didn’t experience, too.
Consider other ways to protect yourself
- Utilize free account services with your bank or credit card issuer. Most banks offer free transaction-monitoring tools that notify you whenever an account withdrawal exceeds an established limit. An increasing number of credit card companies also bundle credit scores and monitoring with their standard service. Both are free ways for you to stay up to date on important financial data.
- Opt-out of prescreened offers. Unsolicited mail from credit card and insurance companies is more than just annoying; it can actually be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands, since it contains your full name, address, and the promise of approval for credit. OptOutPrescreen.com lets you remove your info from the list that credit bureaus give to banks and insurance companies, so they’ll stop sending you pre-approved offers. You can always check your credit and available offers at a free credit-monitoring website.
- Make a habit of reviewing your medical and insurance statements. Because of health information privacy laws, identity theft protection services can’t monitor your medical statements. Read bills, collection notices, and any other medical statements to ensure that the information is accurate.
Identity Theft Protection Services FAQ
The Best Identity Theft Protection Services: Summed Up
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