Identity theft protection services monitor and scan personally identifiable information in credit applications, public records, websites, and other places. These services almost always include a credit monitoring service that monitors your credit history and provides periodic credit scores. In fact, protecting credit is the most common reason people seek out identity theft protection services.
These services alert you to any unusual activity that may be a sign your identity has been compromised. Some services may also help you correct problems if identity theft occurs. This can include disputing errors and filing any necessary reports.
They may also offer identity theft insurance which generally covers limited out-of-pocket losses, chat room monitoring, public record searches, monitoring of black market websites, and virus protection software.
Prices and services offered by identity monitors vary widely – from as little as a few dollars a month to over $20 per month.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Before signing up for a service, make sure you understand what you’re getting. This is particularly important when you’re offered a “free” service.” Before accepting a “free” offer, check for hidden trial periods and fees or cancellation requirements.
Also check with your local consumer protection agency and State Attorney General’s office, to see if complaints have been filed against the company. You can do an online search for reviews by entering the name of the company with the word, “review” after it into a search engine.
Be aware that you can also monitor your credit yourself for free or nearly free. You can monitor your credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com. Everyone is entitled to a free copy, of each one of their major credit reports, every twelve months. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit files at no cost, more frequently throughout the year.
There are other consumer sites that offer free access to credit reports. Some provide updates monthly. Before signing up for these services, be sure to understand the limitations, what they are selling to you and if there are any hidden costs. And remember, you can check your credit report, at any time, without hurting your score.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft of fraud (or are about to become one), you can place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert does not prevent someone from opening credit in your name, but it does require a lender to take extra measures to verify your identity.
You may also place a security freeze on your credit reports. Doing so will generally prevent new credit from being opened in your name. However, if you put a security freeze on your credit file, you’ll need to unfreeze your file before you can open new accounts in your name. For instance, if you want to shop for the best rates on insurance, you will have to lift the freeze so that the insurance companies will be able to access your credit report.
Under a credit freeze, organizations you already do business with will still be able to access your credit report. And a freeze will not stop someone from using existing accounts that have been compromised or stolen. Instead, those accounts should be closed.
Each state has rules about credit freezes and how much you pay for them. In most states, you can file a security freeze for less than $10, and if you are an identity theft victim, you typically can place a freeze for free.
Members of the military have an additional option available to them: active duty alerts. This alert gives service members protection while they are on active duty and it lasts for 12 months.
When you place an active duty alert on your credit report, creditors must take reasonable steps to make sure the person making the request is you, before opening an account, issuing an additional credit card on an existing account, or increasing the credit limit on your existing account. Your name also will be removed for two years from the nationwide credit reporting companies’ pre-screen marketing lists for credit offers and insurance.
Opt-out of pre-screened credit offers and junk mail by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. Taking this step can also reduce your vulnerability to identity theft.
Shred anything with personal information or accounts numbers.
For additional tips and to learn more, visit our blog and search for Identity Theft Protection Services.