Latest Update: March 10, 2017
Have you been thinking about investing in identity theft protection? If so, you might have spent a few hours scavenging the Web to find out which company is the best. Chances are you found yourself signing up for LifeLock, but you still likely don’t know exactly what these companies do.
In fact, how would you picture an identity theft protection system working? It sounds like one big database-like system, right? Well, in reality it’s just a bunch of modernized detection tools and scanners that work together. If any red flags come up in any of these parts of their entire security system, an alert will be sent out. From there the protection company and the victim can do what’s necessary to resolve the issue as fast and trouble-free as possible.
Perfect, but don’t get caught in all the sales hype — there are a few great identity theft protection companies, but also a bunch of duds out there. If you want to make sure the service you get is top quality, look for one that includes all the features found below. To save you some time: LifeLock Ultimate Plus offers all this (and much more) and it’s your best bet if price is not an issue. Meanwhile, families might lean towards investing in IdentityProtect as they offer full family protect for the same cost as LifeLock for just one adult.
Now to help you decide where to join, take a look at the list of common identity theft protection features below.[toc]
Features Found in Identity Theft Protection Services
When you sign up for identity theft protection services, these are some of the typical features you will find …
24/7 Identity Restoration Services
Some identity theft companies will allow you to contact them at any time of day. This gives you the chance to alert of any credit or identity fraud issues that catch your attention. If you’ve been victimized, the 24/7 identity restoration services come in very handy. You’ll get all the advice on what to do next and, if you’re lucky, the restoration specialist will be able to take care of everything for you.
$1 Million Identity Theft Insurance
You will find insurance / service guarantees in most identity theft protection plans. The amount they offer to cover will vary depending on which company you’re dealing with though. It could also vary depending on the plan you choose. However, this is not a big deal because you usually don’t need anywhere near this amount of coverage. Even if you do become a victim, just $25,000 in identity theft insurance would likely be enough to resolve even the craziest identity theft situation.
Bank Account Monitoring
You can have all your checking and savings accounts monitored in one place. From there, you can begin customizing the alerts system. You can choose what will cause you to get a text or email alert. For instance, you might want a notification only if there’s a transaction over a certain dollar amount — or you could make it so duplicate and obvious fraudulent transactions get alerted. You can also get account monitoring and alerts set up with your investment accounts.
Bank Account Takeover Alerts
This is simply what the name implies. If someone tries to take over your bank account, you will be able to get alerted right away. This could make all the difference in ensuring your funds are safe and secure. Even if you aren’t liable for them, having your bank account drained could hurt your credit if it ends up pushing an important loan payment late. If your bank account gets taken over, it’s likely due to a phishing or malware attack — find out the root cause and treat it, don’t just change your banking login info!
Court Records Scanning
It’s a common tactic for identity thieves to avoid criminal persecution and/or penalty by pretending to be someone else. These fraud instances usually go undetected, and sometimes they result in the unknowing victim getting arrested because there’s a warrant out for, “them,” as the fraudster escapes. So you definitely want to be able to pick up on any forged court records that include your information, and the sooner the better — you could catch the culprit and have him or her arrested if things time out right!
Data Breach Notifications
This little feature allows for victims to find out when they’ve been targeted in a data compromise. This typically occurs after a large data breach takes place — think about what happened to Target customers, or LinkedIn users. It’s also possible for small-scale sites to get compromised, and then the data lists get sold off for a quick profit by the hacker. Sometimes they get released on the Internet in copy/paste files; you can use HaveIBeenPwned.com to check if you have been a victim in a data breach before, and if your identity protection service doesn’t offer it, they have free data breach notification alerts too.
Fictitious Identity Monitoring
Fictitious identities are created by fraudsters committing synthetic identity theft. It’s a common tactic, and in fact most identity theft cases occur synthetically. This is because the identity thief only needs part of your information to turn the fraud profitable. If your identity protection service provider monitors for fictitious identities, any signs of synthetic identity fraud will be picked up right away.
File Sharing Network Monitoring
File sharing networks are used to pass around sensitive data and media all the time. It’s not just about copyrighted films and TV shows; these networks are also being used as the information vehicle for millions of compromised records. If your identity gets stolen by a hacker, or if you become a data breach victim, there’s a fair chance your details will pass through a file sharing network. With monitoring intact, you will be able to pick up on these transmissions — and if you’re lucky, you will identify the security breach before anyone abuses your information.
Fraud Alert Placement
Most identity theft protection companies don’t offer fraud alert placement anymore. LifeLock caught flack for it and the judge in their case ruled it as illegal. However, there are still a few small players that offer fraud alert placement. This is an important feature to have because many that get identity protection services believe their identity has been or could be stolen. A fraud alert signifies to lenders that you have that thought in your head — if your identity protection provider doesn’t offer fraud alert placement, you should learn How to Place Fraud Alerts and do it yourself.
Lost / Stolen Wallet Assistance
If your wallet or purse gets stolen, it’s an invaluable time to be relying on identity protection services. Most of these companies have a lost / stolen wallet assistance feature that saves a lot of time and hassle. The company will take liability for notifying the various card issuers you deal with. Even stuff like document and identity replacement might be middle-manned by your identity theft protection service provider. Furthermore, there are some identity theft protection companies that will take things a step further — and even refund the cost of your purse or wallet, if it was stolen.
Sex Offender Registry Reports
Just like with court record scanning, it’s possible a sex offender will use your information to avoid persecution. In this scenario, the fraudster knows the scary consequences of getting caught — and having a clean identity to fall back on could be a real lifesaver. You definitely don’t want to own that identity thief’s reputation; if your name wrongly ends up on the sex offender registry, even in a different state and with a different mug shot, you want it fixed right away — and the only way you can do that is if you find out immediately, which is what sex offender registry reports make possible.
Stolen Fund Replacement
This is a newer feature at most identity theft protection companies. It basically covers the victim for any fraudulent transactions that could’ve otherwise been their liability. For example, if a fraudulent transaction comes out of your bank account or investment account, or if a false tax return gets filed to cash out your refund, the stolen fund replacement feature will cover your financial liability.
Aside from These Identity Protection Features, There’s Credit Monitoring Too …
Features Found in Credit Monitoring Services
You will also find many identity theft protection services get paired with credit monitoring features. This is unique from what a true credit monitoring program offers — as they are more tailored towards those who are looking to build or restore their credit. When you look at identity theft protection with credit monitoring, you are really getting only some of the key features that are found in a quality credit monitoring program.
Some of the more popular credit monitoring features that help prevent identity theft are as follows:
Credit Inquiry Alerts
If anyone tries to pull your credit report it is likely because they want to see how you would qualify for financing. If you don’t already have a security freeze in place, look into freezing your credit file now. This will allow you to only permit new lenders to pull your file after you authorize them to do so. Your information won’t be released by the major credit bureaus beforehand. Therefore, you can put a stop to new account fraud — but even with just credit inquiry alerts intact, you could catch an identity fraud attempt as soon as it happens to you.
Monthly Credit Score Tracking
If you are lucky, the identity protection plan you have will include monthly credit score tracking. This gives you the ability to see your credit score, which gets updated once a month. Many identity theft protection companies will only give you one score per quarter or each year. So getting one a month is well worth it … and many invest in identity theft protection services just because it includes their credit reports and scores; it’s a win-win scenario overall!
Disclaimer: Just because it says monthly credit score tracking, it doesn’t mean that you are getting what you think. Some companies use a proprietary score instead of your FICO score, so figure out what you’re actually reading first. If it says, “tri-bureau credit score,” then you are in the clear.
Tri-Bureau Credit Reports & Scores
Tri-bureau refers to, “three bureaus,” and every time you see it on the Web it’s a reference to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These are the three top players in the credit-reporting industry, and they’re by far the largest agencies around. Fourth place for consumer credit files is Innovis, but you don’t have to worry about your file with them. There are also business credit bureaus, but these are only used for reporting business credit accounts.
So tri-bureau credit reports refers to your credit report from the three major bureaus, while tri-bureau credit scores would be your scores from the three of them. In most cases this term will be attached to a time-descriptor, such as, “monthly,” or, “quarterly,” and the meaning there is obvious. If you’re going to invest in identity protection with credit monitoring, you are going to want to get your reports and scores at least every three to four months — but a monthly update would be perfect.