Identity theft has been an increasingly prevalent concern for consumers since 2010. Following four years in which occurrences of identity theft declined, Javelin Strategy and Research estimated more than 11 million Americans were victims of fraud that year. In a 2018 study, the California company found that in excess of 14 million Americans lost a combined $16.8 billion as a result of identity theft crimes such as credit card fraud and full-on impersonation in 2017.
More concerning is the fact that scams have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to IDentity USA. Protecting against identity theft requires vigilance and taking various measures such as regularly checking credit card statements and requesting annual credit reports. However, there is no real way for consumers to “prevent” identity theft–that is a fallacy. This is because none of us can stop a breach from occurring at companies or agencies that we use as consumers. Consumers can be more proactive in their approach to defend against fraud and identity theft by purchasing protection and monitoring services, but the best services include RESTORATION services by professionals. The key to a successful identity theft protection plan, as I explain in great detail in my 2016 book “What’s the Deal With Identity Theft”, is a restoration benefit, performed by professionals, which relieves you of the anxiety and hours needed to recover from a serious ID theft incident.
Most plans offer credit and identity monitoring services to alert you to suspicious activity, but only two of the top 5 listed below offer you comprehensive restoration services. Below are five of the most popular services:
IDShield Individual is one of the most cost-effective identity theft monitoring platforms on the market at $13.95 per month. It monitors all three credit reporting agencies as well as bank and credit card accounts. It even alerts you to possible data breaches on social media platforms.
Through their partnership with Kroll, ID Shield is the only plan on the market that offers full restoration services performed by licensed professional investigators. A limited power of attorney is signed, and then the Kroll investigator fights your battles for you, and guarantees to restore you to pre-breach status, with a $5M service guarantee.
It stands out from the below-mentioned services by providing these restoration services on all of the 6 major types of ID theft—Credit-related/drivers license ID theft/ Medical identity theft/Child Identity theft/Social Security Number ID theft/Character or criminal ID theft. Their family plans are relatively cheap at $24.95 per month, and cover up to 8 children below the age of 18.
Although it is one of the more expensive options available, LifeLock provides comprehensive monitoring support and even offers antivirus and VPN services. It also offers age-specific programs such as LifeLock Junior and LifeLock Senior, which are designated for children and individuals 65 years and older, respectively. The standard package can be purchased for less than $10 per month, while LifeLock Ultimate Plus carries a price tag of $28.99 per month.
The advantage of the latter is the amount of data it monitors. In addition to sending you a new Equifax credit score each month, it tracks suspicious activity across credit card accounts, investment and retirement accounts, and people-search websites. It has a user-friendly interface, through which users can easily initiate credit freezes, and offers up to $1 million in ID-theft recovery assistance, but you still need to do the vast bulk of any restoration work yourself under the “guidance” of Lifelock’s agents. Its drawbacks include the absence of two-factor authentication and the lack of a family plan pricing model.
IdentityForce’s UltraSecure+Credit is its most comprehensive program and, at $23.95 per month, is a less expensive option than LifeLock Ultimate Plus. Like LifeLock, it monitors all three credit reporting agencies. In addition, it offers a visual tracker that allows you to see how your credit rating has changed over time.
Beyond credit information, it also scours various illicit identity-sharing websites for pertinent threats and tracks public information record changes, court and arrest records, payday loan applications, and address changes. In addition to tracking misuse of your personal information, it even alerts you of registered sex offenders in your neighborhood.
IdentityForce’s strongest point is that it offers fully managed restoration protection services, like the ID Shield program listed above, in which their representative makes the calls and does the paperwork necessary to restore you to pre-breach status.
UltraSecure+Credit also has an advantage over LifeLock in that it offers family plans and two-factor authentication, the latter of which should be a common feature of identity theft services but is only offered by few. Other features include a credit score simulator and a compatible mobile app that provides smartphone protection and push alerts for issues that require immediate attention.
4. Identity Guard
Identity Guard Premier is available for $16.67 per month and, while it monitors all three credit bureaus and offers a $35 family plan, it lacks in several areas compared to the aforementioned services. It doesn’t directly monitor credit card, bank, or investment accounts, and doesn’t offer 24/7 telephone assistance. It does, however, alert you when someone uses your name to file a tax return, which is a relatively unique feature.
The standout feature of Identity Guard Premier is that it incorporates IBM’s Watson AI technology. In the past, Watson technology has helped doctors make cancer diagnoses and won the game show Jeopardy. As for its application in Identity Guard Premier, it scans the internet in search of patterns that might suggest a stolen identity.
5. Complete ID
Offered by the credit reporting agency Experian, Complete ID, like many other services, provides up to $1 million in reimbursement for identity theft recovery expenses, including lost wages and legal fees, but you do the bulk of the restoration work yourself. Like Identity Force, it also includes a graph that depicts changes in your credit score over time.
It is $19.99 per month, but available at a discounted price to Costco members. Gold and Executive Costco members can purchase the service for $13.99 and $8.99 per month, respectively. There’s also an option to purchase child protection for a small monthly fee.