It may start with a data breach at a large company you do business with. Next thing you know, your personal information is being traded on black market internet sites and used to access your accounts — or worse, open new accounts in your name. Identity theft is a growing problem, with an estimated 17.6 million Americans—or 7 percent of the population over age 15 – victimized by identity thieves in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In response, “identity theft protection” companies are also on the rise. It’s a bit of a misnomer: These companies can’t actually protect you from data breaches or identity theft, but they can monitor your accounts to warn you when a data breach has occurred. They can also help you recover from the fallout when it happens.
We reviewed the leading identity theft protection companies to come up with this list of the seven top companies that are worth checking out if you decide you want this added protection.
7 of the Biggest Identity Theft Services Reviewed
Identity Guard uses IBM Watson technology to monitor and report threats to your data. Its Privacy Now program searches for potential breaches to your data, and alerts you early when your data may be at risk, and offers advice on how to better protect yourself. The company uses a color-coded comprehensive threat rating system to let you know just how exposed you are. Identity Guard’s Total Guard was voted “Best ID Protection Service” by Kiplinger Finance magazine in 2015 and has served over 47 million customers in the past 20 years.
Identity Force has been in business for 35 years, and is a preferred provider for the federal government and healthcare agencies. This is the only identity theft protection company that has received a “Parent Tested, Parent Approved” Seal of Approval, thanks its family protection plan. Identity Force was also endorsed by the American Hospital Association in 2008 for its expertise in protecting hospital patients and employees from identity theft.
Headquartered in Denver, ID Watchdog was founded in 2005. It won the Javelin award for Identity Protection leader for best detection, prevention and resolution in 2016. In addition to its comprehensive monitoring and restoration plans, ID Watchdog offers a separate restoration service to victims of identity theft.
ID Shield is a division of LegalShield, which has been providing legal services to millions of clients for over 40 years. The identity theft division (ID Shield) has about one million customers around the country.
The company’s family plan covers two adults and up to eight kids for less than what some plans charge for a single person.
LifeLock has been in the identity protection business since 2005 and has earned a positive reputation among its 4.4 million customers. Unfortunately, the company has also earned a reputation for some dubious business practices after being slapped with millions of dollars in fines by the Federal Trade Commission. In 2015 the company agreed to pay $100 million to settle an FTC suit charging that it failed to protect users’ personal information and falsely advertised its level of protection. In November 2016, the company was acquired by security firm Symantec. The company touts its ability to monitor more than a trillion data points and its patented LifeLock Identity Alert system, which quickly notifies you by email, text or phone when suspicious activity is detected.
Zander Insurance Group is a Nashville-based insurance company that also offers identity theft protection services. The company has been around for more than 80 years, and personal finance guru Dave Ramsey endorses the Zander identity theft protection plan. The company offers a simple, low-priced service that does not include credit monitoring.
Seniors are often the victims of identity theft and fraud, and since they are more likely to have good credit and own their own homes, they potentially have a lot more to lose. AARP has partnered with Equifax (one of the three credit rating agencies) to offer Trusted ID identity theft protection coverage for AARP members and their families. In addition to offering individual plans, AARP offers family plans, which include another adult up to two grandchildren living in the household (under age 25), and you can add additional children or grandchildren to your plan for only $5 per year.
To come up with our list, we reviewed the services of numerous identity theft companies.
First, we made sure the company offered both monitoring and recovery services.
We looked for companies that regularly monitor a broad swath of potential problem areas, including: black market (“dark”) websites, public/court records, credit agency reports, payday loans and financial account information to quickly identify any potential identity theft. We looked for companies that clearly spell out what they monitor and how often. Since time is of the essence in minimizing damages from identity theft, the more frequently they monitor, the better.
All but one of the companies reviewed monitors credit reporting agencies, and most offer a service that monitors all three. If credit monitoring is important to you, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends you do so at all three credit bureaus.
We looked for companies that proactively alert you to any suspicious account activity via email, text or through a mobile app.
Hopefully you will never need the recovery services of an identity theft protection plan, but if you do, you want to be sure the plan is top notch. We looked for plans that include 24/7 emergency customer service if you are the victim of identity theft. We also looked for companies that help do the recovery work – like calling credit card companies and canceling cards – instead of just telling you what to do. All the companies on the list offer insurance (usually up to $1 million) in the event you are a victim of identity fraud. But most victims experience little if any out-of-pocket expense as a result of fraud, according to Consumer Reports. So while this seems like a huge benefit, it is rarely used.
Once the company covers the monitoring, alert and recovery basics, we look to see what additional services they provide. This is where you can find a company that goes the extra mile to meet your family’s needs. Extras include things like:
A family plan: If you have children, it’s nice to know that their identities will be protected as well. Family plans may cover the kids for free or for a low additional fee.
Software programs:to protect you from phishing and other types of data breaches. Not all the companies offer this, and not all customers are interested, but it provides an additional level of protection to your home computers.
Lost wallet assistance:If your wallet/purse is lost or stolen, will the company help contact your bank and creditors to cancel and replace your cards?
Does the company have a detailed, transparent website with services and prices clearly outlined? Many of the companies we reviewed have clear pricing and plan descriptions, but do not offer a lot of details. To be sure you are getting the service you want, you may need to call and ask specific questions.
We looked at Better Business Bureau ratings and did not include any company that had less than an A- rating with the BBB. We also looked for companies with a track record. Since the industry has suffered from some questionable practices and a less-than-stellar reputation, it’s a good idea to go with a company that has been around for a while and built up a positive reputation.
Tips for Shopping for Identity Theft Protection
Before you start shopping, first consider whether you need identity theft protection at all.
Consumer Reports says that do-it-yourself safeguards are just as effective and are often free.
By law you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three national credit
rating agencies. If you rotate through them, you can get one free credit report every four
months. The federal government also provides free advice and resources for victims of identity
theft at identitytheft.gov. And with free online banking and your bank’s mobile app, you can
check your bank balances daily to make sure there are no unauthorized transactions.
But it can be time consuming and stressful to stay on
top of all your accounts all the time, so if you are
looking for some peace of mind and a little added
protection, here are some tips from for what to look
for in an identity theft protection plan:
- Look for more than credit monitoring.
Although stolen credit cards are responsible for most identity theft complaints, they are the easiest to detect and correct, according to Consumer Reports. Look for a company that protects your Social Security number and birth date from being used to open new accounts, file tax returns or use your health insurance. This is less common but can also be much more destructive.
- Ask if the service monitors all three credit reporting agencies and how often.
Some monitor just one, but it’s much better if they monitor all three, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. You will often have to pay more to get monitoring of all three agencies, but since creditors often only check with one agency, it will offer greater protection.
- Look for a company that monitors your accounts frequently.
Some monitor daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. The more often a company monitors, the quicker you will be alerted of a problem.
- Find a company that provides immediate alerts via email or text of questionable activity.
- Ask what, specifically, the company will do to help you recover if you are a victim of identity theft.
Will it help you contact law enforcement, creditors, etc. or does it just provide forms? Does it help with legal services?
- Shop around for the best price.
There’s significant variation in prices and services, so it pays to shop around for a plan that meets your specific needs.
You can visit this site to order your free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Transunion, Equifax and Experian.
The Federal Trade Commission operates this site to provide free advice and resources to victims of identity theft and helps you create and follow a recovery plan.
The CFPB offers lots of information and advice about how to monitor your accounts and what to do if there’s a breach.
This article from the Federal Trade Commission outlines your rights under the FCRA.
Consumer Reports offers useful do-it-yourself tips.
The Consumer Federation of America established this website to help consumers learn about identity theft, how to reduce their chances of being a victim and what to do if they are.
Offers advice on what to look for in a plan.