You may have heard of identity theft, seen some tv ad on the subject or found that various companies offer identity theft services such as protection, monitoring, and insurance. But what exactly is identity theft monitoring, do you need it, and is it worth it?
Common Features of Identity Theft Monitoring
Identity theft monitoring is also sometimes called identity theft protection and the features and functions differ by company. However, most companies offer variations on these core features.
Most identity theft protection services offer a form of credit monitoring that alerts you if a criminal or scammer tries to open a credit card in your name, takes out an auto loan, or tries to use your name to rent an apartment.
Some of these services extend into traditional credit history services and will provide you with regular updates to your credit score, which can be an additional benefit.
Some services will also monitor your credit card and bank account activity to spot suspicious transactions. Features can include alerts on transactions higher than a certain amount that you set or transactions occurring in a completely different location than you’re in. While this is something you can set with your own bank and credit card companies for free, you might find this useful if you have multiple accounts to monitor.
Personal details monitoring
Most services scan the internet across public sites and the dark web to see where your personal details like your name, address, and social security number are being used. If your info is found on the dark web or your social security number is being used on a site you’ve never been on before, it may be a sign of identity theft or a prelude to something worse.
Data breach alerts
An identity theft monitoring or protection service will also alert you whether a new data breach is tied to your details, whether it’s your name, email, or address. This information is incredibly important as it will give you the time needed to move faster than a hacker—the sooner you can change a breached account’s password (and change any account with the same password), the safer you’ll be.
Identity Theft Insurance and Support
This is the industry’s best selling point when it comes to identity theft monitoring and protection. These services will offer up to $1M insurance (the standard for most companies) if you lose money due to identity theft. While the coverage and terms will vary across companies, the insurance is what will help you recover lost funds and get back to a sense of normalcy. Companies will also provide assistance and guide you through the recovery process if you do end up suffering an identity theft attack.
Is Identity Theft Protection Worth It?
Before we can answer that, we should note that identity theft protection is a bit of a misnomer. None of the features we covered actually defend, protect, or prevent identity theft. They just provide you with information and alerts to let you know if your identity is being stolen or is at a high risk of being stolen. This then allows you to take preventative or corrective action. Being able to do that quickly, rather than doing so after you find out weeks or months later, is really what you’re paying for.
So, is it worth paying for these services?
Some aspects of these services are available from other sources, often for free or lower costs:
Data breach monitoring and ‘Dark Web Alerts’ are offered by several companies (credit card companies included). Firefox offers it for free for anyone with an account, and HaveIBeenPwned.com was the first to offer these kinds of alerts and does it for free. Of course, not all monitoring services cover the same data sets.
You can also place a credit freeze to prevent some of the ways someone can use your stolen identity. Each of the major credit reporting companies offer it for free and you can set up security and fraud alerts with them.
The value in dedicated Identity Theft services come in the comprehensive bundling of their services, the inclusion of insurance (when included) that offers some financial support in case you are a victim, and in the remediation services offered where companies help you undo the damage that can take place when/if your identity is actually stolen and when existing accounts are taken over or new accounts are created in your name.
Like most insurance, it’s not worth much if you don’t use it, but can be a lifesaver if you do find yourself in that situation.
Do you need identity theft protection and monitoring?
We hate to say it depends – but it depends. The more going on in your life – more accounts and assets, the higher your public visibility due to a job or other social activity, and the more you value not suddenly having an unexpected mess on your hands, the better these services look.
Price should also be a factor, and often these services are bundled with other financial or security products – in which case, who wouldn’t enjoy a little extra protection for little or no cost. If this doesn’t apply to you or you think you only have a small footprint in terms of visibility or asset risk, then consider using one of the free services before signing up for identity theft monitoring. Start small, then you’ll know whether you need to take a bigger step.