Do You Really Need Identity Theft Protection?
It often feels like identity theft is happening to everyone these days.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 1.4 million identity theft claims in 2021 [*] — more than double the number of claims from just two years ago.
The impact of those crimes is staggering. Americans lose billions each year to fraudsters, and analysts now predict that identity theft protection will become a $25 billion industry in the coming years [*].
But this raises a serious question: While we all know the importance of safeguarding our sensitive information, should we pay for an identity theft protection service to help us stay safe?
Identity theft protection promises peace of mind by safeguarding your identity from criminals. Yet many people question its value.
If you’re on the fence, this guide will help you understand who should get identity theft protection, what it can (and can’t) do, and which service is right for you.
How Bad Is Identity Theft in 2022?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your information for personal or financial gain. This could include your name, Social Security number (SSN), birthdate, etc.
Unfortunately, scammers have figured out more ways than ever to acquire the information they need to steal your identity.
For one, identity thieves can steal your wallet and gain access to your credit cards, debit card, and ID. They can also dig through your mail for documents that contain your SSN. They might even trick you into giving up sensitive information through phishing emails and phony calls.
Scammers can also buy your information off the Dark Web for just a few dollars.
(It’s hard to believe, but valid SSNs, health insurance information, and even passports can be found on Dark Web marketplaces for as little as $5 [*].)
These stats are scary. But the truth is that identity theft has become an unfortunate, everyday side effect of our digital lives.
The average American now has over 100 online accounts and ten connected devices [*]. In addition to a thief stealing your wallet, every account, social media post, and email that you open could allow an identity thief into your life.
As one former identity thief told the New York Times [*]:
“The reason that people aren’t being victimized is because there simply aren’t enough criminals to take advantage of all that information that’s out there.”
Do You Need To Pay for Identity Theft Protection Services?
The honest answer is no, you don’t necessarily need identity theft protection services.
Even though identity theft is at its worst recorded level, news and consumer review sites are quick to point out that you can do almost everything an identity theft protection provider does by yourself.
Most identity theft protection services do two things very well:
- Monitoring: Identity theft protection services monitor your online accounts (including your bank account), credit file, SSN, driver’s license, home title, and other sensitive pieces of information for signs of fraud.
- Alerts: If anything suspicious is found, the provider will send you a notification so that you can secure your account and shut out the fraudster. Unfortunately, however, not all providers can alert you in time to prevent identity theft.
While monitoring and fraud alerts are valuable ways to protect your identity, they don’t do anything you can’t do on your own.
10 Ways You Can Monitor Your Identity On Your Own
Rather than pay for an identity theft protect service, you could always:
- Get a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and check for signs of fraud like new credit inquiries.
- Manually check your credit card and bank statements every day for fraudulent transactions.
- Manually set up a credit freeze with all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) to stop scammers from opening new accounts or taking out loans in your name.
- Regularly check public records across the country to see if someone has tampered with your home title, committed crimes, or ended up on the sex offender list using your name.
- Contact the Social Security administration and IRS to see if someone has taken out benefits in your name or committed tax fraud.
- Manually use a Dark Web scanner to check if any of your account passwords or sensitive data have been leaked in a data breach.
- Sign up for data breach notifications to see if any company you have an account with has been hacked.
- Research and download antivirus software on all your devices.
- Always follow best practices to avoid phishing sites and scam emails.
- Protect your online accounts by enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) and using a password manager.
Why You Should Consider Identity Theft Protection
Even if you don’t need to pay for identity theft protection, there’s a simple reason why you should still consider signing up: you’re busy.
In all likelihood, you have countless other tasks, interests, and concerns that take priority over checking your credit, monitoring who’s using your SSN, and securing your online accounts each day.
An identity theft protection service does all of the work for you.
There are many options to compare and contrast. And when things get complicated, it’s human nature to choose convenience over security.
For example, one recent survey found that 91% of people know that reusing a password puts them at risk of identity theft. Yet 66% always or mostly reuse the same password [*].
But if we’re all at risk, why pay for a service that can only alert you about identity theft? Isn’t that like someone telling you you’ve been in a car crash after the crash has already happened?
The best identity theft protection services also offer generous insurance policies to cover losses from identity theft along with 24/7 support provided by experienced fraud resolution specialists who are able to walk you through an identity theft recovery plan.
This means you'll find out faster if you're a victim; and if you are, you can count on the dedicated assistance of experts to help you recover your identity.
For a limited time — you can get 50% off your Aura membership. Take advantage today.
Here’s How To Know If You Need Identity Theft Protection
- You think you or your family are already at risk. You could be at high risk if you have a lot of online accounts, haven’t established daily practices to protect your sensitive information, or have noticed warning signs of identity theft. Younger people are also frequently targeted by identity thieves. If you have kids who are online regularly or are going off to college, they can benefit from family identity theft protection.
- You’ve already been the victim of identity theft. According to studies, 30% of identity theft cases are repeat victims [*]. If you’ve already been a target once, there’s a good chance you’ll be targeted again.
- You know you won’t exert the effort to monitor or freeze your credit. Credit monitoring is an essential part of identity theft prevention. If you know you don’t have the time to scrutinize every transaction, you might want to sign up for identity theft protection services.
- You want to protect your assets (home, savings, credit score) with identity theft insurance. The more assets you have, the more you become a target for identity thieves.
- Your information is already available to hackers on the Dark Web. Use a free Dark Web scanner to see if your information was leaked in a data breach and is putting you at risk.
What Do Identity Theft Protection Services Actually Do?
All providers offer some combination of monitoring and alerting features.
But modern tools are moving from purely reactive measures — alerting you after identity theft has happened — to proactive ones that help prevent theft in the first place.
Here are some of the core features you should expect to find in an identity theft protection service that’s worth paying for:
Identity monitoring is at the heart of every identity theft protection strategy. This is when a provider monitors your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to see if it’s being used by scammers.
Identity monitoring also searches databases and records, including:
- Dark Web monitoring: Discover if your sensitive information was leaked in a data breach and is for sale on the Dark Web.
- Sex offender list: See if a criminal has taken over your identity and committed sex crimes.
- Home title: Check homeowner registries to see if someone is trying to alter your home title and commit deed fraud.
- Criminal and court records: Check across the country to see if anyone has used your identity during a traffic stop or when committing a crime.
- Payday loan applications and wire transfers: Receive alerts if your identity is being used for high-risk transactions.
- Change-of-address: Find out if someone is trying to change your address with USPS. (Scammers do this to gain access to your mail and steal your sensitive information — and unfortunately it’s easy for them to do by simply filling out a Change-of-Address form.)
- Data broker lists: Get removed from lists that brokers sell to telemarketers and scammers. This can help reduce the number of spam emails and robocalls you receive.
Identity monitoring is often your first line of defense against fraudsters. The sooner you can catch them misusing your identity, the quicker you can shut them down.
If you’re thinking about identity theft protection, you’re most likely worried about preventing credit card fraud or loan fraud. Credit monitoring services monitor your financial information for changes. This includes monitoring your credit file, credit card, and bank accounts.
Providers regularly monitor the three main credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion). The best identity theft protection services monitor all three major credit bureaus for any signs of fraud.
Credit monitoring can help detect:
- Changes to your credit reports or credit limits.
- Fraudsters applying for free credit in your name.
- Fluctuations in your credit scores.
- Fraudulent credit accounts opened in your name.
- Unauthorized loans or credit card applications made in your name.
In 2020, 67% of Americans said they didn’t monitor their credit reports [*]. A credit monitoring tool can help you stop scammers before they take hold of all of your assets.
Online account monitoring and protection
Today, most of your sensitive information can be found and accessed online. From banking information to sensitive emails, scammers can do serious damage if they gain access to your accounts.
Identity theft protection monitors your online accounts for signs that they’ve been compromised.
Some services even include a password manager. This tool generates unique passwords for your accounts and then stores all of them in a secure place (so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them).
A password manager will also alert you if any of your passwords are at risk from hackers, and can even auto-update your old passwords on some sites.
Antivirus and network protection
Identity thieves have become more sophisticated in implementing their cyber attacks.
Scammers will often send you spam emails or texts that contain an attachment. If you open it, your device will be infected with malware — software that can steal your sensitive data, account usernames, and passwords.
All-in-one identity theft protection services like Aura come with device security tools, including:
- Antivirus software. Protect your devices from malware and other viruses that can steal your personal information.
- Virtual Private Networks (VPN). Secure your networks from hackers spying on you or intercepting your data on sensitive sites. (Wi-Fi networks, both at home and in public, are notoriously easy to hack.)
- Phishing alerts. Get alerted if you’re entering a “spoofed” site that could potentially steal your credentials or install malware on your device.
Blocking out hackers is one of the few proactive ways that you can protect yourself from identity theft.
Family protection (child identity theft, elder fraud, etc.)
Family identity theft protection plans help you monitor the more vulnerable members of your family. You can track your child’s SSN for signs of identity theft and monitor the credit of your elderly parents or grandparents.
Identity restoration and fraud resolution
If the worst happens and you become the victim of fraud or identity theft, digital security providers can help you recover.
Many providers include 24/7 U.S.-based support teams and White Glove Fraud Resolution specialists that can help you by:
- Providing guidance on how to recover from fraud.
- Facilitating a three-way call with bank or government agencies to help you navigate identity theft recovery.
- Sending identity theft reports to creditors on your behalf.
- Disputing fraudulent accounts and charges on your accounts.
- Recovering lost documents or IDs (such as when your wallet is stolen).
Identity theft insurance
Identity theft insurance provides coverage and reimbursement for costs associated with identity fraud. Providers offer a wide range of coverage, from a few thousand dollars to $1 million or more. Identity theft insurance typically covers:
- Legal fees
- Stolen funds
- Lost wages
- Travel expenses
- Elder care, spousal care, and child care
- Certified public accountant costs
You may have identity theft coverage as part of a general insurance policy. However, identity theft insurance coverage is usually more comprehensive.
What Identity Theft Protection Can’t Do
Identity theft protection can help protect your family’s online and financial accounts, PII, device security, and cover losses due to fraud. But no provider can prevent all types of identity theft and fraud.
In fact, in 2015, LifeLock entered into a $100 million settlement with the FTC over deceptive claims about its ability to protect its customers’ identities.
How Much Does Identity Theft Protection Cost?
Total costs vary for identity theft protection services. But many providers offer an entry-level package that costs around $10–$12 a month. This should include key features such as identity monitoring, credit monitoring, and $1,000,000 in insurance coverage.
Many providers also offer a free trial period and a money-back guarantee to allow you to try out their services and see if they’re right for you.
The 5 Top-Rated Identity Theft Protection Services of 2022
If you’re ready to consider an identity theft protection service, there are more options than ever to choose from. However, some don’t offer the same levels of protection and monitoring as others.
Here’s our list of the 5 top-rated identity theft protection services from sites like Security.org, U.S. News, IdentityProtectionReview.com, and more.
Here’s what the reviewers at Security.org wrote about Aura:
“One of Aura’s real strengths is that it draws information from so many different sources in order to keep your identity safe. Aura is constantly checking Dark Web sites, data broker lists, public records, and new account records, looking for your name, Social Security number, address, and other identifying information. You can be certain that if someone has hijacked your identity, Aura will catch them.”
- Highest-rated identity monitoring and protection that covers your PII, credit cards, home title, SSN, bank and investment accounts, payday loans, IDs, and more.
- The industry’s fastest fraud alerts (up to 4X faster than the competition).
- Proactive identity theft protection features including a password manager and auto-update on some compromised passwords.
- Three-bureau credit monitoring with a one-click credit lock of your Experian credit file.
- Device and network protection against malware and hackers through advanced antivirus software along with a military-grade VPN (Virtual Private Network).
- Affordable pricing plans (starting at $12/mo) with no renewal increases (unlike other providers such as LifeLock, where the renewal price can be anywhere from 40–70% higher).
- No feature differences across plan types. Every Aura member gets the same high level of protection.
- Simple and easy-to-use interface that works on all your devices (desktop and mobile app).
- Family Plans cover up to five family members including children and adults.
- 14-day free trial and 60-day money-back guarantee.
- $1 million identity theft insurance coverage (for every adult member included on your plan) and 24/7 access to a team of U.S.-based White Glove Fraud Resolution specialists.
- Some features aren’t yet available for Mac desktop or Chrome users.
- Only monthly credit scores (VantageScore).
2. Identity Guard
Identity Guard is another highly-rated identity theft protection service that is now owned by Aura. Together, the two brands offer some of the most comprehensive, advanced, and user-friendly identity theft protection on the market.
While Aura offers all-in-one protection — including antivirus and device protection — Identity Guard focuses on protecting your identity from existing and new threats.
Identity Guard differs from other providers in its use of artificial intelligence (AI). Identity Guard is powered by IBM’s Watson AI platform, enabling it to constantly search for new threats against your identity.
Identity Guard pros:
- Trusted brand name and reviews. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) rates Identity Guard an “A+” (compared to LifeLock’s “F”), while Trustpilot gives it a 4.4 (compared to LifeLock’s 2.3).
- Comprehensive protection of your credit card, SSN, bank and investment accounts, and Dark Web monitoring.
- Predictive risk alerts based on advanced machine learning, powered by the artificial intelligence (AI) of IBM Watson.
- Some of the most affordable pricing plans.
- Dedicated fraud resolution specialists and premium-level customer service.
- Social Insight Reports that help you manage your social media accounts.
Identity Guard cons:
- Only customers on the higher-tiered plans get access to credit report monitoring.
- No free trial.
- No three-bureau credit agency reporting with the basic plan.
IdentityForce has over 40 years of experience defending against identity theft and is available for both individuals and businesses. IdentityForce combines many of the top features of other providers, including identity monitoring, insurance coverage for financial losses, and identity recovery services.
- 14-day free trial with their starting plan, UltraSecure.
- Family Plan options.
- Near real-time alerts for fraudulent activity.
- $1 million insurance coverage.
- Excellent social media monitoring.
- Expensive starting plan compared to most providers (and only two plan options are offered).
- No refunds for cancellations.
LifeLock by Norton is one of the more popular identity theft protection services. After being acquired by Symantec (the makers of Norton), LifeLock became an all-in-one digital security solution that includes antivirus software and a VPN.
Unfortunately, LifeLock has had its fair share of bad press lately. LifeLock’s digital security features can cause serious device slowdowns. But even worse, Norton is facing harsh criticism after including cryptomining inside its antivirus software, and then skimming the profits.
- Antivirus software and a secured VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect your devices from malware.
- Dark Web monitoring to identify vulnerable accounts.
- ID verification monitoring.
- Payday loan monitoring.
- Sex offender registry monitoring.
- $1 million insurance coverage (for lawyers and experts to help with your case only) if you’re the victim of identity theft.
- $100+ million FTC lawsuit: LifeLock was the subject of multiple FTC lawsuits for deceptive marketing claims [*].
- Sky-high renewal costs: After your first year as a LifeLock customer, the cost of an annual plan jumps anywhere from 40–70%.
- Family Plan pricing: LifeLock’s Family Plans cost an extra $5.99 per child, which could add up quickly if you have a large family.
📚 Related: Aura vs. LifeLock: Which is right for you? →
5. ID Watchdog
ID Watchdog is a more family-oriented identity theft protection provider owned by Equifax.
ID Watchdog claims to offer protection beyond credit card fraud to include tax-related identity theft, child identity alerts, and social account monitoring to help prevent cyberbullying. The company claims to monitor "across billions of data points" to search for signs of potential fraud.
ID Watchdog Pros:
- Child-specific identity protection with family-focused features.
- Access to dedicated resolution specialists.
- $1 million in identity theft insurance.
- The mobile app offers more control and convenience.
- Plans can be customized for consumers and businesses.
ID Watchdog Cons:
- Only two available plans.
- The family package covers only four kids.
- You have to upgrade to a Premium plan for social media and financial account monitoring.
Is Identity Theft Protection Worth It? It’s Up To You
Here’s the bottom line: You can do almost everything an identity theft protection service does on your own.
But the question is: Do you want to?
Last year alone, a new identity was stolen every six seconds. If you spend a lot of time online, know you won’t put in the work required to monitor your finances and accounts, or think you’re already at risk, a protection provider could be a highly valuable resource for you.
Not only will you enjoy peace of mind knowing your accounts are being protected and monitored — you’ll also have a team of experts on your side 24/7 searching for new threats and ready to help you if the worst happens.