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Identity Theft Part II—Identity Theft Monitoring Services

I think I may need to do something more than just checking my credit report for free once a year – what do I do now?

In the June blog, we covered the basic steps of what to do immediately if you find out your credit card, social security number, or other forms of identity or financial accounts have been stolen, particularly for unemployment insurance fraud.  In the case of a stolen credit card number, your bank can just issue you a new card with a new number.  If your social security number is stolen, like in the case of many who are victims of unemployment insurance fraud, your social security number may be out there in the “dark web” forever.  So what to do for the long-term if something about your identity or financial situation has been stolen and you can’t change it? 

Check with groups you are with now.  First check what is being offered by your bank or credit card companies, like Capital One, or affiliations with groups like AARP or AAA.  If you are a Costco member, they offer a service too.  Some of the free or low cost services they are offering do more than credit monitoring for free, like identity theft/social security theft monitoring.

Check with companies who had their systems breached and if you were a customer of theirs. Also if your identity was compromised because a company like Capital One, Home Depot or Dunkin Donuts did not keep your information safe and there was a breach – sometimes they will offer you a free service (here are all known major breaches for the last 20 years).  In the last five years, my name has been part of at least 3-4 breaches and each time, they have offered free monitoring for at least two years (sometimes up to seven).

Paid services for identity theft. Consumer Reports states that it does not think it is worth paying extra for monitoring services, but if you do need that extra peace of mind, you can pay for services that will be actively looking at changes in your credit but also flag any cases in which your data is being passed around or shared in fraudulent ways for sale on the “dark web”.  These services generally can cost between $8 to $35 per month or between $100 to $400 per year. 

You have probably heard of Lifelock – it has the highest profile but is not necessarily the best.  Foolishly, the CEO shared his social security number openly at one point to show how good they are, and fraud was committed (though they have gotten better).  After looking at about 12 different articles from reputable sources that rated the services, we’ve put together the services that were mentioned the most as the top providers (in the order of most mentions – fees are annual for their most basic service).  One of the services below is actually free: Credit Sesame – though the service level is very minimal as you can imagine. 

  1. Identity Force ($100)
  2. Privacy Guard ($120) OR Experian Identity Works ($108) (2-way tie)
  3. MyFICO ($240), Lifelock ($108) OR Identity Guard ($80) (3-way tie)
  4. Credit Sesame (Free) OR Transunion ($300) (2-way tie)

You can probably do well with any of the ones listed above so it may boil down ultimately to the cost and the specific features.  Things to consider, depending on your needs, are:

  • Does it monitor all three credit bureaus or just one? 
  • Can it monitor other family members like kids, spouses, etc.?
  • Will they help me recover from identity fraud if my identity is stolen?
  • How much in identity theft insurance do they offer?  (many offer at least $1 million)
  • How often do I get alerts? (daily, weekly, monthly)
  • Where and what does it monitor?
    • Social Security Numbers
    • Social Media
    • Dark Web where hackers and fraudsters operate

Many experts recommend you NOT use one of the 3 big credit reporting agencies, like Equifax, Experian or Transunion because there can be a conflict of them providing the information being monitored. They especially recommend not Equifax because they are the reason half of Americans (over 160 million) had their credit profiles hacked in 2017.  To learn more on these types of services, here are some of the top articles we found on the topic that we referred to for this article:

Chris Linder, CEO, MaineStream Finance