An actor, portraying a victim of identity theft, bewails the damage done and the hours spent putting back the pieces of a ruined credit history, working to get bank charges and penalties waived and getting their good name back. While many of these stories may depict actual events, advertisers are using fear to motivate consumers to buy their protection service or product.
And although there are some legitimate actions that can help prevent someone from stealing your identity, any sales pitch that suggests they can guarantee against the theft is not being honest and should be avoided. One method that slips past the best attempts to protect your identity is data breaches from a major retailer or bank. The responsibility for securing against these threats is companies, financial institutions and banks.
What is often omitted from ID protection service sales pitches is what you actually get for your money. Your identity can be stolen in a variety of ways that can be defended against – phishing, malware, stolen mail and even from sensitive documents in your trash.
Each identity protection company offers different services to guard your personal information. There are two questions you should ask yourself before signing up. Is what they’re providing beneficial and can and will you do it on your own? If you see a benefit, yet know you won’t follow through with the necessary steps on your own, it’s time to select a company. Here’s what you need to look for when choosing an identity protection service?
- Is the company doing more than observing of your credit reports? If that’s the entire provision of the service, go elsewhere. Monitoring your own credit reports is easy, as federal law mandates a free annual copy from the three major credit reporting agencies for consumers who request them. A reputable identity protection services company will not only monitor your credit report but have sophisticated means of scanning public and court records, monitor against medical benefit fraud, and actively search known “bad neighborhoods” which feature websites that sell stolen Social Security Numbers and stolen credit card numbers, places that are less available to the average consumer.
- Are you paying for advice or assistance? Some services merely provide advice, if you are in the unfortunate situation of becoming a victim. Look for a one that provides recovery assistance and advocates for you as you deal with financial institutions and creditors. Also, be sure the company is independently securing your credit reports and not requesting the free reports you are entitled to by law.
- Is it worth the investment?Some people claim that the peace of mind is worth the price, but if you’re only paying for credit report monitoring, save your money and do it yourself. While many banks provide their customers with a variety of protection services for a monthly fee, these are typically report monitoring only.You may already have some credit card monitoring protection without being aware of it. For example, some AAA auto-club chapters or credit card providers may offer some level of credit monitoring as part of your membership. Some services require an annual payment upfront and may not provide a pro-rated refund if you cancel before the term expires. Read the fine print for the cancellation policy.
One last step to ensure that you’ve chosen the best service is to do a web search for complaints against the company. Contact the Better Business Bureau and ask if there are deceptive practice complaints. And remember that much of your security is in your hands.
About The Author: Noreen Ruth writes for several popular finance websites. She is interested in educating consumers about using credit responsibly and about legislative action that will affect their ability to borrow the money they need. She has contributed hundreds of articles to various online sites that provide content to educate consumers on credit card offers, debt consolidation services, loans and other finance related topics.