A very good friend of mine's identity was stolen about a decade ago, and she was put through the wringer for years trying to clear her name.
Is identity theft protection worth it? And if so, which company's service is best? I am truly not affiliated with any of these companies—unlike most of the "unbiased" reviews on the topic—so, please, read on.
A very good friend of mine had her identity stolen about 12 years ago, and she was put through the wringer for years trying to clear her name. She even had an FBI agent assigned to her to help her wade through all the processes of getting rid of credit cards and other debt fraudulently created under her name. When you ask her about it, she sighs heavily and shudders, over a decade later.
So we know the threat is real, and with more and more information online and within reach of criminals all around the world, the threat is growing. (At the end of the article, I share a tip she told me her FBI agent told her to prevent fraudulent credit card use.)
Let's go over some of the leading ID theft protection services. At the end of this article, I'll give you my recommendations. (Note: I am NOT affiliated with any of these companies or services):
- Identity Guard
- ID Watchdog
LifeLock is easily the largest and most well-known purveyor of identity protection services. However, it's a company shrouded in controversy and questionable business practices, so it's not necessarily the best choice out there. The company's CEO, Todd Davis, famously gave out his social security number out to the public a few years ago and challenged anyone to try to assume his identity fraudulently (criminals did—13 times through May 2010—which just goes to show you, that you shouldn't exactly court fraud in your name, no matter how well protected you think you are!).
In addition, one of the founders of the company was jailed for unpaid casino markers, and the company has been sued for deceptive advertising by Experian (later settled) and fined $12 million by the FTC for the same. The company is endorsed by a few right-wing media personalities like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson.
Let me remind you that I'm not affiliated with LifeLock or any other identity protection company on this page!
So let's get to the service itself.
- Cost: $99-110/year ($99 if you can find an affiliate code), or $10 per month
- What's included: (See chart at below for a comparison with other services.) Identity theft insurance ($1 million), recovery services, fraud detection across thousands of databases, monitoring of credit card, quarterly fraud alerts by "big 3" credit reporting agencies, removal from junk mail lists and preapproved credit card offers.
- What's not included: Ongoing credit card monitoring, internet protection (from phishing attacks, etc), and compensation/lost wage coverage. The following services require their "command center" service which costs an additional $55 per year: monitoring of: public records, court records, sex offender registries, file sharing networks, name and alias usage, payday loans.
- BBB (Better Business Bureau) Rating: B (due to FTC action against the company)
Consumer Reports wrote a review of this company doesn't paint a particularly flattering picture. You're basically paying for the credit bureau fraud alert renewals every three months, and for requesting no preapproved credit card offers from the credit bureaus, or junk mail from the Direct Marketing Association. The latter two you can do so for free. You also get insurance, but that insurance is subject to exclusions and unclear wording, including for "consequential damages, including lost wages."
Identity Guard, owned by Intersections, Inc., offers a similar suite of identity theft protection services as LifeLock.
- Cost: $18 per month ($15 using an affiliate discount), which comes out to $216 (or $180) per year
- What's included: Identity theft insurance ($1 million), lost wages compensation ($1000/week up to 4 weeks maximum), recovery services, fraud detection across credit bureaus, zone alarm and keystroke logging (Internet/Web fraud)
- What's not included: Junk mail list and preapproved credit card removals; monitoring of court records, public records directories, or sex offender registries.
- BBB Rating: A+
So, this is a similar set of protections, with a few added features (primarily wage replacement under the insurance policy, and some anti-phishing protection while you're online). With these, you pay a bit more—about $100 more per year. You might derive a bit more peace of mind knowing that the company hasn't been sued by the government for misleading advertising.
ID Watchdog, owned by Identity Rehab Corporation, says it focuses more on detection and resolution of identity theft, rather than providing insurance like the previous two profiled services, LifeLock and Identity Guard.
- Cost: $20 monthly or $180 annually
- What's included: Initial scan to see any existing or potential cases of fraud with your name or ID; quarterly credit bureau alerts; monitoring if any recent additions to your snapshot were made without your consent (i.e., fraudulent); assistance in resolving fraud and keeping your record clean.
- What's not included: Insurance and wage replacement coverage
- BBB Rating: A (most complaints relate to billing; all resolved)
If you don't need or think insurance is not particularly useful, ID Watchdog might be an alternative worth checking out. However, it is quite a bit more expensive, and it's not clear that it offers anything remarkably different from its competitors to warrant the higher cost. The service implies that it offers more hands-on assistance in resolving fraud issues.
Debix adds an interesting wrinkle to the usual panoply of fraud monitoring and amelioration services: the company gives you a special Debix phone number to use instead of your own number. When a call comes in from a potential scammer, Debix will check with you to see if you've authorized the request or action, and, if not, gives you an easy way to get Debix to take action.
- Cost: $10 per month
- What's included: Quarterly fraud alerts with the big 3 credit bureaus; a phone number to use with any transaction that could potentially be fraudulent; insurance ($1 million); recovery assistance.
- What's not included: Initial snapshot and monitoring of other databases (public records, terrorist watchlists, sex offender registries, etc.), removal from junk mail lists and preapproved credit card offers.
- BBB Rating: A (4 complaints over prior 36 months; 3 resolved)
Debix's approach is a unique one, one that allows you to accept or deny credit application offers through your phone. The inclusion of insurance and some sort of recovery assistance (as usual, the latter is quite unclear about what that includes) makes this a relative bargain at $10 per month.
With the tagline "total vigilance," TrustedID offers a fairly full spectrum of similar ID theft detection and protection services as its competitor, including a $1 million insurance policy. The only thing I can see which differentiates it from its competitors is the addition of health insurance fraud detection (checks to see if someone is using your health insurance benefits). The company also offers a family plan option.
- Cost: $15 individual, $28 family (billed monthly); $125 individual, $240 family (billed annually); you can try the service free for 14 days
- What's included: Monitoring of fraud (healthcare insurance, credit card, bank account and SSID scanning), quarterly fraud alerts with credit bureaus; insurance ($1 million); recovery assistance; junk mail list removal; anti-phishing software (online); lost wages compensations (4 weeks' or $5,000, whichever is greater)
- What's not included: Virtually nothing, except Debix's OnCall phone service
- BBB Rating: A (18 complaints, 15 resolved, over prior 36 months)
TrustedID offers an impressive spectrum of services, and a substantial discount if you want to cover your spouse, children, and other relatives living in your home.
ProtectMyID is owned by Experian, one of the "big three" credit bureaus. In addition to a familiar set of features, ProtectMyID also detects and reports to you any address changes in your monitored accounts. Unsurprisingly, the cost includes an annual full Experian credit report. Hawked by right-wing populists Laura Ingraham and Lou Dobbs, so it has a bit of the "sell your gold!" feel about it.
- Cost: $10 per month (pricing not prominently displayed until you sign up); 10% discount for seniors
- What's included: Monitoring of fraud (healthcare insurance, credit card, bank account and SSID scanning), annual Experian credit report; insurance ($1 million); recovery assistance; lost wages compensation (4 weeks' maximum at $1000/week max)
- What's not included: Junk mail list removal; anti-phishing software (online)
- BBB (Rating: A- (53 complaints, 40 related to customers not getting a refund as requested)
In terms of their offerings, ProtectMyID seems fairly comprehensive, but their high complaint level and the lack of transparency on pricing seem troubling.
GuardDog ID offers varying levels of options and pricing. The GuardDog ID Superior package is most similar to the offerings of its competitors, although it offers less-expensive, less-feature rich packages as well (down to the bare-bones Essential, $3 per month).
- Cost: $20 per month. Essential ($3), Advanced ($10) and Premium ($15) are lower-cost options if you're willing to forgo some of the features in the Superior package detailed below.
- What's included: Monitoring of fraud (healthcare insurance, credit card, bank account and SSID scanning), fraud alerts from credit bureaus; insurance ($1 million); recovery assistance; lost wages compensation (4 weeks' maximum at $500/week max)
- What's not included: Not much, except Debix's unique OnCall phone service.
- BBB Rating: A- (few complaints, but in business less than 3 years)
GuardDog ID is a good option for people who don't necessarily need the full range of identity theft protection services, and would like to save a bit of money that way. That said, their lowest-price option is basically useless, so for any utility at all, you'll be paying something similar to its competitors which might offer a better bang for the buck.
|Company||LifeLock||Identity Guard||ID Watchdog||Debix||TrustedID||ProtectMyID||GuardDog|
Credit bureau fraud alerts
Insurance ($1 million)
Public record monitoring
Sex offender registry monitoring
Tip From a Friend
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that my friend had the help of the FBI to track down and clean up her credit record as a result of fraud. One great tip he gave her that I've been using since:
On the back of your credit card in the signature field, write PLEASE CHECK ID! (This is assuming you carry your ID with you when you use your credit card.) The merchant should ask you for your ID, giving a potential thief reason to not use your card or for the merchant to hold the card, or report it to the police or card issuer.
Lots of options! If you are worried about ID theft and want to pay for a little peace of mind, there are a few options that might appeal to you, depending on exactly the type of services that you might find useful.
I hesitate to make any specific recommendations, since a lot depends, for instance, on the sorts of exclusions and restrictions you find in the insurance policy and wage compensation provisions, something that's often buried deep in the fine print and subject to changes. It's also impossible to know what specific features might appeal to you: you might not need anti-phishing help, but insurance might be a critically important part of the package for you, for instance.
I would review the companies above to see that the offering you choose gives you the protection you need, and be sure to ensure that the same features are still being offered when you visit the companies' websites.
Another option is not using any one of these services - either another new company, or taking charge of monitoring your credit report, checking public databases, unsubscribing yourself from junk mail lists, etc. Ultimately, it's a decision of whether you'd like to do these things yourself, or have a third party take care of them for you.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Zaton-Taran from California on February 09, 2017:
I wish I'd seen this article before someone stole my credit cards and opened up an account via which to defraud Walmart. This identity theft was an absolute nightmare, and I spent several days in jail on a bench warrant. I HATE identity thieves.
Barb on March 11, 2015:
I know for a fact that I am a victim of the Anthem breach . It is a lifelong sentence as I see it . You cannot change your birthdate or Social Security number and it is now out there for sale most likely . Just which protection is the best one under these circumstances ? How can these health companies not use encryption with sensitive data ?!
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on February 09, 2015:
Thank you. Once your personal data has been compromised, you might just have to be more vigilant about your personal data being abused by criminals. I hope your data wasn't part of that terrible data breach!
librariegrrl from Passaic, New Jersey on February 06, 2015:
I found your article "Best Identity Theft Protection - Reviews (really unbiased!)" an excellent resource. I was wondering if you can comment or post an update in light of the Anthem Cyber Attack (2/5/2015) which potentially impacts 80 million subscribers. I feel that I am one of many scrambling to protect my identity in a breach that revealed social security numbers and identifying info that may be used for decades into the future. ( see: http://www.anthemfacts.com). Thank you again for your clear and unbiased article.
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on January 30, 2014:
Bladnir: That's the unfortunate truth. No safeguard is foolproof, but the goal is to minimize risk and raise the number of hurdles that a fraudster has to jump over to use your ID or accounts.
Bladnir on January 30, 2014:
Re the tip to put "please check ID" in the signature field:
Chances are if a criminal has the cc, she also has the ID; back when I worked with the secret service, the stats were that something near 98% of the general public couldn't reliably distinguish between a real and a fake ID anyway.
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on July 02, 2013:
Yes, I actually do both, Jay: sign my card AND write "please check ID!!!".
Jay Dano from New Hampshire on July 02, 2013:
With regard to "see I.D. " instead of signature, the USPS (in my neighborhood anyway ) does NOT recognize that and will refuse your card unless it is signed.
lesliebarker from Washington on June 25, 2013:
This is such an amazing resource! I've been using Identity Guard for a while now. I first found out about them from Comcast because they were offering free service to members in my area (Seattle) and I love it so much I upgraded so I could use more of the paid services. I agree with JCales post that its worth the investment ID theft, bogus purchases, and crappy credit card services make this more important than ever. Fixing a damaged credit report is so timely (so I've heard) that I too agree it's like insurance.
Joy from United States on March 01, 2013:
Great stats in the hub. Thank for sharing. This hub will help me for my next hub :) Thank you
bellabecka on October 27, 2012:
Doe anyone know is there any site on the Internet that gives to you "totally free" with no fee or membership charged to your card for a free Credit Score? I thought that there was a law passes, wherein you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report and credit score once a year. That means no charges whatsoever. If any one knows can you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
C Nelson on January 21, 2012:
I would also like to see a way to
Monitor stock accounts, especially those like at Schwab etc. where on line trades are possible
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on June 17, 2011:
Thanks for these resources to prevent identity theft. Voting this Up and Useful, and linking it to my password hub.
Anjili from planet earth, a humanoid on December 31, 2010:
Thanks for your informative hub. Keep up with the good job
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on November 21, 2010:
Thanks, seajack. :)
seajack on November 21, 2010:
Good info,you mention trusted id has health monoriting but chart shows it doesn't?
SJKSJK from delray beach, florida on November 12, 2010:
This is a very informative hub. Thanks for this information. I will definitely use it.
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on November 04, 2010:
Thanks, Simone & Jcales :-)
jcales on November 04, 2010:
I think if you have lots to lose why not get one of these companies for $100+ a year. You can call it business insurance.
$100 a year or possibly go through months or years of headaches trying to clean up your credit file.
Stop it early rather than 1 to 5 months down the road being frugal. Crooks are smart so you gotta be proactive. A friend just had his stolen and he works in the finance industry. It can happen to anyone. You can put alerts on your credit acct to have merchant call you first before extending credit, paperless billing. BUT they still send you a statement every now & then.
I've called Chase and Capital One asking why I receive a statement when I am on paperless billing for 5 years. They just say, "sorry" . $10 a month is a good deal.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on November 04, 2010:
Wow, this is an AWESOME overview! The comparisons are really helpful. I feel like I'm the type that would rather run all those checks independently, but should I decide I want to have someone else do the work for me, I'll be consulting this guide FIRST!
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on November 04, 2010:
Thank you, Donna Lee.
donnaleemason from North Dakota, USA on November 04, 2010:
Wow, very concise, well done
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on November 03, 2010:
Thank you for the kind feedback, Vic.
vic on November 03, 2010:
This is an excellent hub. Thank you.