Best identity theft protection
Identity fraud just isn't going away, and it continues to be a growing concern. If you're (quite rightly) concerned about falling for one of the many scams that have been doing the rounds on the internet, then our guide to the best identity theft protection tools will help you put your mind at ease.
Millions of people every year are hit by ID theft - the number of victims in the US alone in 2017 is thought to be in excess of 16 million people. These scams varied in their methods, but pretty much every one depended on a criminal assuming the stolen identity of someone else in order to withdraw money, take out loans, make payments and more.
However, there are ways to help protect yourself, with the best identity theft protection services offering tools to help you spot potential scams. The best identity theft protection services we list here all offer access to credit reports that can help you easily keep track of your financial accounts.
The best protection isn't cheap – you could pay $30 (£20) a month – but don't let that put you off. Some companies offer basic tools for free, and there are plenty of low cost, high value plans for UK and US citizens to choose from.
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Comprehensive ID theft protection with some unusual extras
IdentityForce Inc. is a Massachusetts-based corporation which provides identity theft services for individuals, businesses and government agencies.
Protection starts with access to credit reports from the top three agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Web access, iOS and Android apps enable checking your details at any time.
A comprehensive monitoring network offers near real-time alerts for issues including searches on your credit report, changes of address, accounts being opened in your name, fraudulent use of your social security number, your details appearing in court records or on the sex offender register, and your data being sold on the dark web. If a problem is found you'll be speedily alerted via SMS and email.
There are some interesting bonus features. PC-based anti-phishing and anti-keylogger software tries to keep malware at bay and prevent hackers stealing your data, while a Social Media Identity Monitoring suite scans your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google+ streams for malicious links, hacked and imposter accounts, and more.
No service can offer a 100% protection guarantee, but if you do become an identity theft victim, IdentityForce has a capable identity restoration team to get your life back in order, and an insurance policy will refund you up to $1 million for ID theft-related losses and expenses.
Symantec's powerful ID theft protection all-rounder
Founded in 2005, LifeLock is a US-based identity theft protection company which was recently purchased by Symantec for $2.3 billion (£1.6 billion).
The service provides in-depth monitoring of credit and loan applications, court and criminal records, USPS change of address requests and any data exposed on more than 10,000 websites, looking out for any signs of others using your details.
If a potential issue crops up, smartly designed mobile apps give you alerts of what's going on. Should someone apply for an auto loan in your name, for instance, you don't just get to hear about it a few days later when your credit report updates: instead, the app sends you an immediate notification asking if this application was yours. Say no and LifeLock's support team jumps into action to investigate.
If a thief manages to bypass your defenses anyway, LifeLock's ID recovery specialists will help you get your life back. Unlike some services, that doesn't mean they'll advise you who to call – they'll do the heavy lifting for you, making those calls, filling in forms and more. In really serious situations, you're covered by up to $1 million for losses and expenses due to identity fraud.
Unsurprisingly, all this power doesn't come cheap. LifeLock's high-end Ultimate Plus account costs $29.99 a month, 50% more than similar products from IdentityForce and ID Watchdog. That said, there is currently an offer which gives you 10% off your first year of subscription, meaning that during this time you will only pay $26.99 monthly.
It's hard to beat LifeLock's features and functionality, though, and the service does offer good deals in some areas. The starter LifeLock Standard plan gives you social security number and credit alerts for $9.99 a month, and again with 10% off in the first year currently, it will run you to $8.99 monthly in that initial 12 month period.
Quick and easy protection for beginners in the US
One of the biggest names in consumer credit reporting, Experian now maintains information on more than a billion businesses and individuals worldwide.
The company's IdentityWorks is a capable service for those in the US, offering access to their credit report and score, raising alerts when there are any significant changes, and keeping a careful eye on the dark web for any signs of the user’s personal data.
Available for as little as $8.33 when billed annually for a single individual on the IdentityWorks Plus, it provides with an affordable entry to all-year identity protection. Two adults and up to 10 children will pay only twice that amount.
You don't have to be a financial geek to understand what's on offer, as Experian has gone to unusual lengths to make everything accessible and clear. While just about everyone claims they can show you your credit report, for instance, the Experian site offers a sample report to show you exactly what you'll get.
If you do sign up, you'll discover a straightforward web console that presents your details in as simple a way as possible, although experts can drill down to payment histories and other details in a few clicks.
CreditExpert doesn't offer any particularly surprising features, and its price is much the same as the other big names at $19.99 a month. Its ease of use is a major plus, though, and a 30-day trial provides a risk-free way to check out IdentityWorks's abilities.
PrivacyGuard ID Protection is a service that aims to monitor how your identity is used, so you can be kept updated in the event of an unauthorized change so you can protect against identity theft.
Additionally, the service also provides help and support to resolve any potential identity theft issues, so you can keep your ID safe.
There are a number of ways in which PrivacyGuard ID Protection monitors your identity use, not least by tracking events linked to your social security number (SSN), as well as monitoring public records.
As well as support, there's also insurance built into the plan, which covers you up to $1 million in the event of costs and losses to you through identity theft.
There's a fourteen-day free trial available, after which the PrivacyGuard ID Protection service costs $9.99 per month.
PrivacyGuard also provide a credit protection service for $19.99 per month, which monitors credit use and scoring, is is available for $19.99 a month after 14 days. Both the ID protection and credit protection can be combined into a singe Total Protection package for $24.99 per month.
How identity theft protection works
There are a number of identity theft protection tools and software services out there. Commonly they will require a monthly subscription, and that will allow the company to automatically keep a check of your records on databases.
A key areas they will usually check is credit scoring, as someone stealing a users personal details will often apply for a credit card or loan, which the identity protection service should flag up for you to confirm that you have indeed made such an application.
If not, this means both that you can cancel the application and ensure that your credit rating is not affected, while also taking steps to protect yourself from further use of your private details.
However, some services do not do an adequate job of making such checks or issuing such alerts, so it's important to ensure that the service you're considering for identity theft protection does have reviews that state it is both reliable and trustworthy. You can do this by looking for customer feedback and reviews on the Better Business Bureau website or at Trustpilot.
Ultimately, though, a lot of identity theft protection depends on your own actions. Simple steps such as having a good and up to date anti-virus to protect your computer against intrusion and data theft, and also use a paper shredder to ensure confidential documents are destroyed before they are recycled.
Also, if you suspect that your identity has been compromised, do ensure you make checks, and if confirmed, take steps to protect yourself.
Identity protection requires both proactive and reactive approaches, but hopefully subscribing to any of the featured software above will help provide peace of mind and keep you safe from fraud and theft.