A Guide to Identity Theft Protection
Recovering from identity theft can be a frustrating, long, and expensive experience. An identity theft protection service might be a good idea if you’re looking for ways to help protect your financial security by monitoring your personal info and helping you resolve identity theft. However, there are many services available, and you’ll want to understand how these programs work before signing up.
How do identity theft protection services work?
Identity theft protection services may work differently depending on the specific program or plan. Often, they’ll include a range of services and tools that can help alert you when your personal info is found online or someone tries to open an account in your name. There may also be resources that can help you recover from identity theft.
Some of the benefits and services you can look for include:
- Credit monitoring. A change in your consumer credit report could indicate someone opened a credit card or loan in your name, or is using one of your credit accounts without your permission. A credit monitoring service that tracks all three major credit bureaus—Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®—may be more helpful than one that only monitors your credit report at a single credit reporting agency.
- Dark web monitoring. Personal info from a data breach may be sold on the dark web, a part of the internet that’s more difficult to access than the surface web. You can share information when you sign up for an identity theft protection service, such as your Social Security number (SSN) or phone number, and get an alert if it’s found on the dark web.
- Additional identity monitoring services. Some programs also look for your information in other private databases and public records. They may be able to alert you if someone opens a bank account or takes out a payday loan in your name, or if your name appears in court records.
- Social Security number monitoring. Synthetic identity theft is when someone combines real and fake information to create an identity. Synthetic identity fraud, when the fake identity gets put to use, is an increasingly popular type of fraud. SSN monitoring may send you an alert if a new name, alias or address becomes associated with your SSN.
- Identity theft insurance.* An identity theft insurance plan can help cover eligible costs related to recovering from identity theft, such as legal fees or reimbursements of stolen funds.
- Identity resolution assistance. You may also have access to a fraud resolution expert. If you’re an identity fraud victim, they can help investigate your case and work with you to restore your identity.
- Child identity protection.** A child’s identity may be more valuable to identity thieves, in part, because parents often don’t monitor their children’s credit reports or think accounts will be opened in their names. Child identity monitoring may extend the monitoring and assistance services to your children.
Before signing up, review an identity theft protection company’s offering and plans to see what’s included and how much a subscription costs.
Discover offers its cardmembers an identity theft protection plan that includes all the services above for only $15 a month. Some other programs may charge more for certain services, such as child identity protection, or might not offer as many benefits.**
What ID theft protection detects and misses
Identity theft protection services go beyond basic credit monitoring or credit score tracking to look for your information in various databases and alert you to suspicious activity, such as a change of address. These alerts can be an early warning that an identity thief is trying to use your personal information to commit fraud, allowing you to respond to the issue immediately.
Additionally, if you’re a victim of identity fraud, an identity protection service may include different types of assistance. While restoring your identity can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, having an experienced professional on your side can help. And identity theft insurance policies may cover some of the related costs.
However, identity protection isn’t the same as identity theft prevention. The services generally focus on detection and recovery, but they can’t keep your personal information from getting stolen in the first place.
Ways to protect yourself from identity fraud
There are several steps you can take to help keep your information secure and protect yourself from fraud.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card. You don’t want your Social Security number to fall into the wrong hands if your wallet is lost or stolen.
- Destroy old documents. Thieves may go through your mail, trash and look for old documents or electronics to try and find personal information. Make a practice of destroying documents that have personal information and safely disposing of old electronics.
- Watch out for phishing. Phishing messages can trick people into sharing their personal information or installing malware on their devices. Be cautious of any emails, phone calls or texts you receive that ask for your information, request you to log in to an account or instruct you to “reset” your password. Most credit card companies and financial institutions won’t call, text or email you to ask you to verify your personal information, nor will they generally ask you to provide it in an urgent manner.
- Add a fraud alert or security freeze to your credit reports. If there’s a fraud alert on your credit report, a creditor may take extra steps to verify your identity before opening a new account. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a credit freeze is a free option that can keep creditors from accessing your credit reports as part of a new application. You can also contact each credit bureau and ask them to create and then freeze credit reports for children who are under 16 years old.
- Use unique passwords. Repeating the same username and password could make it easier for someone to take over multiple accounts. A password manager can help you create and remember unique passwords for all your accounts.
- Enable multi-factor authentication. Using multi-factor authentication can keep someone from getting into your account, even if they know your username and password. Multi-factor authentication usually requires you to use more than one method to verify your identity when logging in to an account. For instance, you may need to provide your password and username, which would be one factor, then type in a code sent to your smartphone via text, which would be the second. Multi-factor authentication can be especially important to keep your financial accounts safe from would-be cyberthieves.
Taking extra steps to keep your confidential information safe is important, but your identity and accounts could still be compromised in a data breach. Getting identity theft coverage could help you quickly respond if someone uses your information without your permission, and to help you recover if you are a victim of fraud.
* Identity Theft Insurance underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. Review the Summary of Benefits.
** Up to 10 children.
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