In broad terms, identity theft protection services are designed to prevent your sensitive personal information from being stolen and used for malicious purposes. There are numerous different types of identity theft protection, and you will find that many service providers offer tiered protection with different levels of coverage.
Most ID theft protection services include identity and/or credit monitoring, which are designed to detect suspicious activity in real time. Many also come with some form of insurance to cover costs if an issue does occur, along with tools to help you resolve ID theft issues and recover your ID.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
In the modern world, most identity theft occurs via the internet when consumers don’t implement appropriate cybersecurity measures. Outdated or absent antivirus programs or a weak password can provide an opening for criminals to steal your personal information.
For example, phishing scams are often used to steal passwords and other personal information. This is where an imitation website is created and used solely for the purpose of gathering these details. Once you’ve entered your login, you will often be redirected to the website you thought you were on, leaving many people none the wiser.
Some hackers will also break into your device directly by planting a virus or using remote desktop software. Others will force access to your accounts or information using malicious techniques. Personal information can also be stolen through a data breach from a company or other organization with your details on record.
Using this information, criminals can do anything from applying for a loan in your name and disappearing with the money to emptying your bank accounts. Many criminals also sell ID information on the Dark Web and on other criminal forums.
Act immediately if you suspect you’re the victim of ID theft, or else you may suffer much more serious consequences than stolen information.
Why Is Identity Theft Protection Important to Have?
It’s a good idea to use some sort of identity theft protection service to protect you if your information were to be used for fraudulent activity. Most services come with real-time credit and identity monitoring, enabling you to protect your identity and place an immediate credit freeze if an issue is detected.
How Does Identity Theft Protection Work?
Most identity theft protection services work by offering real-time monitoring and alerting you if suspicious activity is detected. Some of the things that are monitored include the Dark Web, social media accounts, Social Security numbers, and credit card transactions.
The best ID theft protection services on the market utilize unique data and advanced technologies to monitor credit card transactions, the Dark Web, social media, and more. Their goal is to immediately detect when your information is stolen, offered for sale, or used fraudulently, in order to mitigate the damage of ID attacks as much as possible.
Once you are alerted about an attack, these services will help restore your identity, reimburse you for stolen funds, and offer expert support around the clock.
Here are some features and capabilities offered by the best ID protection services on the market today:
Detect changes in your credit score
Identity restoration specialists
Be alerted when your information is stolen or offered for sale
Up to $1M reimbursement of stolen funds
Learn of social media activity using your name or photos
Coverage for lawyers and experts
Court recordings & bookings
Learn of crimes reported in your name
Know if your mail has been redirected
Find out about addresses associated with your Social Security number
Detect attempts to take over your account or loans taken in your name
Learn if an offender moves into your neighborhood
Learn if someone uses your driver’s license fraudulently
How to Prevent Identity Theft?
Subscribing to an identity theft protection service doesn’t stop your personal information from being stolen, but instead enables you to take action immediately if theft or fraud is detected. Everything from your credit files and social media accounts to the Dark Web is monitored for signs of criminal activity.
Fortunately, there are a few actions you can take to actually prevent identity theft from occurring in the first place. These include the following:
Checking your financial accounts regularly: It’s a good idea to glance over your credit card statements and bank accounts as often as possible to check for any signs of suspicious or unrecognized activity.
Using strong, unique passwords: This has two functions—to make it difficult for criminals to guess your password and to limit the damage if one of your passwords does get leaked or stolen.
Installing modern antivirus software: Many malicious players will attempt to install malware on your device to steal your personal information or to provide them with remote access. Using a reliable antivirus program can help reduce the risk of this happening.
Keeping physical information secure: A few things need to be mentioned here. For one, make sure your mail is delivered to a secure location or locked mailbox. Similarly, ensure all personal documents are shredded before disposal so they can’t be stolen from your trash.
Do I Need an Identity Theft Protection Service?
Ultimately, this comes down to personal choice. Do you want to pay a small fee to be covered if you fall victim to identity theft? Or would you prefer to take the risk?
We’d certainly prefer the former.
Identity theft protection services are great because they act to protect your finances and identity from criminals and others with malicious intent. However, it’s important to remember that they don’t prevent identity theft.
Is an ID Theft Protection Tool Worth the Investment?
As people across the US, and worldwide, spend more and more time using their phones and computers, the risk of digital ID theft continues to rise. If you want to add an extra layer of security to your life and reduce the risk of falling victim to identity theft, we’d suggest spending a few dollars per month on an ID theft protection service.
It’s worth noting that people who have already been the victim of ID theft have a higher risk of falling victim a subsequent time. Individuals who conduct sensitive transactions online can also benefit more than the average person from ID theft protection.
What Types of Identity Theft Protection Services Are Out There?
Different identity theft protection services offer different features and different levels of protection. Some, like credit report monitoring, are basic and don’t provide full coverage. Others are more comprehensive (but often more expensive).
Credit report monitoring: On the simplest level sits credit report monitoring services, which essentially provide real-time monitoring of your credit report. You will be notified of any changes, including loan applications or new bank accounts opened in your name.
Identity monitoring: More comprehensive identity monitoring is designed to monitor various sources for leaked or stolen personal information that could be used by criminals. These include the Dark Web, normal websites, and various databases.
Identity recovery: Decent identity recovery services (which usually come as part of an ID theft protection package) can make it much easier to reverse the damage caused by ID theft. Some companies provide professional assistance, so you can basically sit back and let experts take care of it.
Identity theft insurance: Last but not least, it’s worth paying attention to the type and level of insurance coverage included with your identity theft protection service. Some provide a high level of coverage, protecting you if you’re the victim of a financial crime or out-of-pocket because of ID theft.
Other Types of Identity Theft Protection Services
Tax-Related ID Protection
People who illegally obtain personal information such as a Social Security number can file fraudulent tax returns to the IRS. As a result of increasing tax-related ID theft, the IRS partnered with representatives from tax firms, payroll processors, and state tax administrators to address the problem. Efforts include awareness campaigns to keep civilians informed and up-to-date with best practices.
Americans are advised to keep their Social Security cards in safe locations, use security software and strong passwords when submitting sensitive personal information online, and always securing their tax records.
Medical ID Protection
A less-common but no-less severe form of ID theft, medical ID theft occurs when your personal information is used to procure medical services or medication. Though information can be sold and acquired on the Dark Web to be used by complete strangers, other instances of medical theft have occurred with medical providers submitting excessive or even fabricated claims to insurance providers.
For that reason, the standard practices of guarding your information and protecting your information online may not be enough, and experts also recommend checking your health insurance records once a year for possible discrepancies.
Common Types of Identity Theft Scams
Criminals run various scams that are designed for the sole purpose of stealing your identity or personal information. However, not all identity theft cases involve modern technology. Phone scams and physical information theft are still rampant.
Phishing: Phishing scams are centered on criminals impersonating a legitimate company or organization. Most phishing scams involve an email or text message from what looks like a legitimate company, such as your bank. They usually encourage some sort of urgent action, such as updating your details or payment information. Of course, when you enter these, they are promptly stolen.
Hacking and data breaches: Unfortunately, everyone is at risk of ID theft, even when using the most up-to-date cybersecurity measures. Hackers use various techniques to gain access to devices or company databases, enabling them to steal vast amounts of personal information.
Formjacking: In some cases, criminals target unsecured websites, inserting malicious code that’s designed to help them steal your password and other information. This is often done using forms, and when it’s done well, the hacker can easily remain undetected.
Physical theft: Although it’s not as common as it was in the past, physical ID theft remains a major issue. This can occur in an array of ways, including the obvious theft of a purse or wallet, mail theft, or dumpster diving—which thieves engage in with the hope of finding items like bank statements or other documents containing sensitive information.
Other Kinds of Identity Theft
Along with the standard types of identity theft described above, there are a few other, less common occurrences that you should be aware of.
Tax-related identity theft: Stolen information such as Social Security numbers can enable criminals to file fraudulent tax returns to the IRS. Various departments work hard to minimize the risk of this happening, but it’s still worth securing your Social Security cards and tax records.
Medical identity theft: Medical ID theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to procure medical services or make fabricated insurance claims. However, it’s relatively uncommon.
Child identity theft: Some scammers steal children’s identities so they can open bank accounts, apply for loans, and more.
Synthetic identity theft: This is a little different and involves the use of real (and usually stolen) information in conjunction with fake data to make a completely falsified ID.
What Are Some Common Signs of Identity Theft?
A few things to look out for:
1. Financial discrepancies: One of the first red flags signaling identity theft is discrepancies or unauthorized transactions on your credit card or bank records.
2. Your mail is going missing: A common tactic used by criminals is to change a victim’s mailing address so they can access it themselves.
3. Debt collectors contact you: If someone has been using your identity to take out loans and credit cards, but has failed to make their payments, you may find debt collectors chasing you for debts you didn’t know you had.
4. Your medical records don’t add up: Some criminals will use your personal information to access medical treatment. If your benefits don’t add up or you receive an unexpected medical bill, you may be a victim of identity theft.
5. Your information is exposed in a data breach: Data breaches are surprisingly common, and they often lead to a wealth of personal information being exposed and/or sold on the Dark Web. This could lead to you becoming a victim of ID theft.
How Can I Find Out If Someone Is Using My Identity
If you suspect someone is using your identity, there are a few things you should do. For starters, review your bank account and credit card statements for signs of unauthorized transactions or similar issues.
You can also request a credit report if your credit score has changed unexpectedly, which could be a sign of someone using your ID for fraudulent loans or something similar.
How to Report Identity Theft
Identity theft should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This can be done via phone or online, and it's important to provide as much information as possible.
It’s also a good idea to contact your bank, credit card provider, and any other organization that may have been impacted by fraudulent activity conducted in your name. It’s also often recommended to contact one or more of the three credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—to place a fraud alert and/or request a credit freeze if necessary.
You can also file a police report. To do so, you will need your ID, proof of your address, your FTC identity theft report, and whatever proof you have that ID theft has occurred.
How to Choose the Right Identity Theft Protection Service
Every identity theft protection service on this list is a great option, but they aren’t all suited to everyone’s needs. The first thing you need to think about is your budget, so you can eliminate expensive options immediately.
You should also consider your requirements. Do you want credit monitoring or complete identity monitoring? What level of insurance do you require? Does the service offer professional assistance if you suffer from ID theft?
Once you’ve thought about these questions, you should be pretty well equipped to make an informed decision. Remember, many providers offer a free trial that enables you to test their services without paying.
Identity Theft Is on the Rise
According to recent reports, identity theft is becoming an increasingly concerning problem. Credit card, loan, and benefits fraud are very common, and the FTC received more than 1.4 million ID theft reports in 2021.
This can largely be attributed to the increasing digitization of our lives, which has led to numerous data breaches in recent times. These have exposed the details of countless people, enabling criminals and ID thieves to take advantage of them.
Our Methodology: How We Rated the Best Identity Theft Protection Services
There are countless identity theft protection services out there, and it can be very difficult to choose the right or most appropriate one. Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve reviewed countless providers to bring you a comprehensive list, and each service that made the cut is worth considering.
To start with, we review a company’s level of service. The complete package should include identity and credit monitoring services, identity restoration services (to help you if you do fall victim to ID theft), and some cybersecurity tools to prevent online data theft.
We also pay careful attention to a company's reputation, looking at factors such as past customer reviews and their Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating. This is a crucial factor to consider, as some companies put on a good face but fail to live up to their promises.
Other Identity Theft Protection Services We Reviewed
Beyond the Identity Theft protections services discussed above, we've also done our due diligence and researched more brands you may be interested in. Check out this list of identity theft services to get a better idea about more price plans, types of reports, and features across the board:
Using one of the best identity theft protection services to protect your identity is a great way to reduce your risk of falling victim to fraud or other criminal activity. It’s usually worth using a service that includes credit monitoring, as this will reduce the risk of you falling victim to financial fraud.
Every option on this list is worth considering. Make sure you choose carefully, paying attention to your needs, budget, and the features on offer before you sign up for an identity theft protection service.