Product Review: Are identity theft monitoring services worth it?
Yes, identity theft services can be well worth the investment, especially if you ever become a victim. Imagine that your Social Security number is part of a national breach like Anthem or the Office of Personnel Management. Or it’s stolen out of your tax preparer’s office, scavenged from your trash or skimmed from your iPad as you surf on a free Wi-Fi connection. In most cases, you have no idea that your digital identity has fallen into unethical hands, usually those of organized crime, who replicate and resell it in seconds.
Next, your identity is used by an undocumented worker to get a job, and now you owe taxes on their earnings. A second user applies for credit in your name and skips town, leaving behind your decimated credit score. Another uses your SSN to drain your health insurance benefits and append the wrong blood type to your medical file. You have no idea that any of this is taking place behind the scenes until the day that the tax bill arrives in the mail, you are denied medical coverage and a collection agency shows up at your door. Because the discovery process doesn’t happen for an average of 18 months after the initial theft, your losses are substantial and your innocence difficult to prove. Obviously, I’ve combined many forms of ID theft here into a single scenario, but everyone of them is real and common.
If I told you that there are ways to automatically detect the exposure of your SSN online (allowing you to request its removal), to prevent the trafficking of your ID on the dark side of the web and to be notified about even the smallest use of your credit profile by criminals, would you be interested?
Every one of these preventative measures is possible, and detecting the abuse of your identity is made much more convenient and less time consuming by identity theft services that monitor your ID online. Are they a perfect solution? There is no such thing as a perfect solution, and if someone says there is, they are working too hard to sell you something. The key to protecting your identity is to layer on many forms of prevention and detection, thus persuading the criminal to move on to another target. One key layer is provided by identity monitoring services.
Monitoring your identity is much like installing a burglar alarm to protect your home – it’s a no-brainer if you are willing to invest a little to attain much more peace of mind. The most common question I get asked after my speaking engagements is which service I use personally. I have to say, despite their clever marketing, I am not a huge fan of the most popular providers, because they promise too much and deliver fewer tools than some of the better options. The identity theft services provided by the credit card companies are even more limited and less effective. I recommend doing your homework and comparing the different features of the various services.
Here are some features you’ll want your identity theft service to include:
- Convenience: The identity theft monitoring service should email you any time a red flag appears (changes to your credit, mailing address, bank accounts, loans, etc.) , so that you don’t have to do any extra work to keep track of your identity.
- Depth of Monitoring: Utilize a company that monitors your credit report at all three credit reporting bureaus (a tri-bureau report), which is vital, because the bureaus often don’t share information as much as they claim to share.
- Cyber-Agent Scanning: If you are worried about your private information being circulated in criminal chat rooms, carding sites, newsgroups and other digital venues where cyber criminals buy, sell and trade your data, make sure your product scans known rogue sites and alerts you to problems.
- Breadth of Reporting: Your identity monitoring service should also scan non-credit loan applications in case someone is using your identity to run a pay-day loan scheme.
- Public Document Surveillance: Your service should monitor your public records on the internet (court documents, legal agency filings) in case your information is published for any reason by the government or your Social Security number is found in public records.
- Restoration Services: It is vital that the identity theft monitoring service you choose provides restoration and repair if your identity is stolen. In fact, this is probably the most useful and effective part of the monitoring services, as it makes it much easier to recover from ID theft if you are a victim.
- Dashboard Access: I like the services that provide one easy to monitor dashboard across all aspects of your identity – that way, if something is a threat, you see it with a big red warning sign.
If a company promises you identity theft services or credit monitoring for free, run the other direction. Like anything else, identity theft services are an investment, and paying nothing means you are getting nothing other than having your name and valuable information sold to other marketers. Remember, you are protecting a digital asset (your identity) that is worth more than all of your bank accounts, mortgages, investments and net worth combined. Spending a little to save a lot is like immunizing yourself against the disease of identity theft before it strikes.
John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.