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Best Identity monitoring services for 2018

Identity theft is a huge problem. Signing up for an ID monitoring service is the best way to protect yourself. Here's how the best services compare.

James Martin/CNET

Welcome to the CNET 2018 directory of ID monitoring services. Herein, we've compared the top identity-monitoring services, which can help you protect your identity, as well as assist you in recovering if you've experienced identity theft.

Unfortunately, it's very likely you'll need one of these services soon, if you don't already. That's because identity theft is a huge and growing problem, with more enormous data breaches hitting with increasing regularity. In 2016 alone, there were more than 15 million US identity fraud cases, with Americans losing more than $16 billion. And the 2017 Equifax breach was the icing on a very bad cake -- months later, it somehow continues to get even worse

The scary fact is that these breaches can cost you a lot of money. Whether your credit cards have charges on them you never incurred, or you suddenly discover that loan collectors are trying to collect from you amounts you never borrowed, thanks to someone halfway across the country -- or halfway around the world -- who opened a credit card or applied for a loan in your name. 

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Credit card companies will reverse fraudulent charges, but if no one notices, you could find yourself paying thousands of dollars for goods and services you never bought. Credit reporting agencies will, after some arm twisting, update your records to remove fraudulent records. Other charges are not so easy to remove, and you may need the help of experts, accountants, lawyers, or the court system to reach satisfaction.

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If someone has your Social Security number and personal info, they can begin applying for loans and credit cards in your name.

James Martin/CNET

Knowing how your personal identity information is being used is a big step to keeping yourself safe. There are services that can help you monitor your information, get notified if your accounts and information are being misused, and even get you reimbursement after the fact.

In this directory, we'll look at some of the better services for helping you to manage your identity. Before we get started though, we should tell you that you don't necessarily have to spend $10-$30 a month for a service. The US government offers identitytheft.gov, a service that can help you report and recover from identity theft. 

None of these services will monitor your actual banking activity. I have long recommended a way to protect yourself from most banking fraud, which is to examine all your accounts once a week. It's a bit of a pain, but just in my family we've found numerous fraudulent charges over the years. By doing this practice regularly, we've saved thousands of dollars. Consumer Reports recommends you do all your own monitoring, too. 

That said, if you're not the type of person who is willing or able to take the time to do the constant due diligence necessary to protect your identity, some of these services can help. Finally, because each of these services offers vastly different terms and conditions, we've included an easy link to each company's terms of service. Be sure to take the time to read all of their fine print before you sign up for another monthly or yearly fee.

CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of these products and services featured on this page.    


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Complete ID

Complete ID 

  • Offers trial version
  • Base price (for Costco members): $107.88/yr. 
  • Base price (non-Costco members): $239.88/yr. 

Complete ID is a service provided by Experian, one of the big three credit reporting agencies. The service has a special deal with Costco: Costco Executive members pay $8.99/month plus and an optional $2.99/month for child protection. Gold Star Costco members pay $13.99/month and an optional $3.99/month for child protection. Non-Costco members pay $19.99 per month.

Complete ID provides an annual credit report from the three agencies. It also offers monthly credit scores and provides a nice graph over time so you can see how your score has improved.

The service offers monitoring for unauthorized use of your Social Security number and other non-credit identity monitoring. A valuable feature is its neighborhood watch, updated monthly, which provides details on sexual predators and crimes in your area.

As with all of the services we're spotlighting, Complete ID offers $1 million in limited identity theft insurance. And unlike some of the competitors listed here, it has a clear summary of benefits.

See all Complete ID offers


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ID Watchdog

ID Watchdog

  • Base price: $179.40/yr. 

ID Watchdog describes its service as "True Identity Protection." The company's big differentiator is helping you recover after you've had an identity theft experience. It offers a guarantee of "100 percent identity theft resolution," but the fine print introduces some notable limits.

First, the company will only help you if it detects a new incident of identity fraud while you're an active customer. It doesn't guarantee you'll get back any money you lost, but it will provide access to its team of "Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialists (CITRMS)."

Like every other commercial identity monitoring service we've profiled in this directory, ID Watchdog offers a $1 million identity theft insurance policy. But that policy's exact terms, limits and benefits aren't spelled out until you complete the signup process.

The base program doesn't provide credit report or credit score information, but if you sign up for the premium $239.40-per-year service, you can get a copy of your credit report and your credit score. The gotcha? You get that report once a year. You can already do that yourself, for free, by going to annualcreditreport.com.

While the company says that it provides monitoring services, it does not specify, anywhere in its terms and conditions, how often it performs checks for each type of service it monitors.

See all ID Watchdog offers


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Identify Force

IdentityForce 

  • Offers trial version
  • Base price: $179.50/yr. 

The base UltraSecure program for IdentityForce is $179.50 per year. Its UltraSecure+Credit program, which provides you with your credit report and score, is $239.50. We liked how the credit score monitoring not only watches all three reporting agencies, but provides a visual tracker that lets you examine your credit rating over time.

IdentityForce monitors quite a lot beyond credit information. It checks for public information record changes, address changes, court and arrest records, payday loan applications, and checks for identity information on a variety of illicit identity-sharing web sites. The company also monitors sex offender registries to see if your name is associated with such things. We also like that it tracks SSNs for new usages or associations with new names.

The company did not disclose frequency of service monitoring (beyond credit reporting agencies). That said, we liked how the company has an interesting credit score simulator which can help you understand how different balances, payments and balance transfers might have an impact on your credit score.

See all IdentityForce offers


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Identity Fraud

Identity Fraud 

  • Base price: $99.95/yr. 

One of Identity Fraud's stand-out features is price. It has the lowest entry-level price of any of the services we explored. The company also offers a business cybercrime protection service called BizLock.

Identity Fraud's personal service is $99.95 a year, with a bump to $159.95 per year for credit reporting and monitoring. Like all our other contenders, Identity Fraud offers $1 million in identity fraud insurance (except for those in New York state, where the limit is $25,000 in coverage), with a $0 deductible. And we like that Identity Fraud's insurance benefits are clear and easy to find.

The company does provide a credit score, but it's limited only to data from TransUnion, one of the three credit-reporting agencies. The company will send you a monthly "no news is good news" email if your identity has had a quiet month. It also offers lost wallet services, along with identity resolution and prevention assistance.

See all Identity Fraud offers


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Identify Guard

Identity Guard 

  • Base price: $239.88/yr.    

The big pitch for Identity Guard is that it utilizes IBM's Watson. Earlier versions of Watson have done everything from winning at "Jeopardy" to helping doctors diagnose cancer. The version of Watson powering Identity Guard is, as you'd expect, focused on identity theft.

Identity Guard's use of Watson involves building a corpus of knowledge and continuing to feed it information from many different sources, including social networks. There's no doubt the Watson-enabled service can help advise you on identity management, but whether it has access to your personal information and history, or just the overall industry, is not yet clear.

Identity Guard offers a clear summary of its insurance terms. The company offers a basic $239.88-per-year plan that provides quarterly credit report scores and updates. If you want monthly credit report updates, that jumps to $299.88 per year.

See all Identity Guard offers


Intelius

Intelius Identity Protect 

  • Offers trial version
  • Base price: $239.40/yr. 

Intelius picked up points because it allows members to pull a new credit report every 31 days. Most services provide credit reports only once a year. While the monthly reports represent only one of the three reporting agencies, triple-bureau reports can be purchased.

The company also offers its own Intelius Identity Protect score, which is not a FICO score, but is similar and can be used to gauge how your credit would perform for loans and other financial transactions. As with many of our other services, Intelius provides record-monitoring services.

The company allows you to monitor two addresses, two phone numbers, three credit or debit cards, and two bank account numbers, providing broader coverage than some of its competitors. Furthermore, it offers clear details (PDF link) on its $1 million identity theft insurance coverage.

We also like how the company offers a junk postal mail opt-out service itt calls "Junk Mail Reduction," designed to reduce the number of credit card offers you get, and therefore the number of pings against your credit records.

See all Intellis Identity Protect offers


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LifeLock

LifeLock 

  • Base price: $119.88/yr.
  • 60-day money back guarantee     

LifeLock has come a long way since the days when it was subject to multiple Federal Trade Commission investigations (settled in 2015) and various lawsuits from customers and credit reporting agencies. In 2017, it became a subsidiary of Symantec, purchased for $2.3 billion.

You may recall the ads where LifeLock's founder posted his social security number everywhere, as a statement in his confidence about LifeLock's services. While he did experience numerous instances of identity theft based on those postings, LifeLock's services helped him recover.

The company offers a wide range of plans, including LifeLock Junior (for monitoring your kids) and LifeLock Senior (for monitoring your parents, 65 and older). This service is unique to LifeLock and it's important.

When my octogenarian parents became seriously ill, I was suddenly responsible for all their financial affairs. This type of situation can be a mess. Because the elderly sometimes suffer from dementia, they are at a much greater risk of being targeted by financial scammers. The ability to monitor and be notified if there is a substantial change in an elderly parent's finances may be the difference between that person keeping or losing his or her life savings, or even home and medical care.

LifeLock's plans range from $9.99 per month to $29.99 per month and offer reimbursement of $25K to $1M, depending on the plan. The lower-priced plans monitor credit only from one bureau. The $29.99-per-month plan monitors all three bureaus. You can pull a credit report once a year, but the service will provide you with a credit score monthly, based on Experian data.

SSN and credit alerts, dark web monitoring, alert on crimes committed in your name and credit card activity alerts are all marks in LifeLock's favor, despite its past stumbles.

See all LifeLock offers


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https://www.privacyguard.com/

PrivacyGuard

PrivacyGuard 

  • Offers trial version
  • Base price: $119.88/yr 

PrivacyGuard offers a 14-day trial program, but instead of it being free, you have to pay a buck. So while you can still see if you like the program, the company loses all the friction-reducing benefits of trial-to-live conversions by requiring users to jump through that dollar hoop at the beginning of the relationship. Go figure.

Beyond the slightly shoot-themselves-in-the-foot trial program, PrivacyGuard provides many of the usual credit and identity monitoring services offered by its competitors. It offers daily credit monitoring, a key value in identity monitoring, and a frequency level sorely lacking among many of the company's competitors.

Privacy Guard's base $9.99-per-month program does records scans. A $19.99-per-month program does credit scans. A $24.99-per-month program does both. Like most other vendors, Privacy Guard offers a $1M policy. Prior to signing up, the company provides some information about the policy's benefits and limitations, but not enough for it to be useful for making a purchasing decision.

PrivacyGuard updates credit scores monthly, and monitors public records and Social Security Numbers. It also offers a yearly public records report, which provides all of the public records information it's found into one clear document.

See all PrivacyGuard offers


What about Equifax and TrustedID?

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Equifax

Ah, Equifax. If you already have an ID monitoring service, it may well be because of this company, which is the poster child for bad security. One of the big three credit reporting agencies, Equifax had no less than five major data breaches in 2017, affecting nearly every American who has a credit history. Months later, we're learning that things may have somehow even been worse than originally known.

And the company's hamfisted response to the breaches made matters worse: At one point, the company was directing users to a fake help site. And the site it set up to provide free credit account monitoring after the various breaches was originally also vulnerable to hackers.

Heads rolled, executives left, and the company's reputation is in tatters. And yet, thanks to a tepid response from the federal government, it's unclear if anything has really changed. Equifax remains one of at least three companies -- Experian and TransUnion being the other two big ones -- that passes judgment on whether we're all credit-worthy. 

For better or worse, many people took advantage of Equifax's offer of a free year's membership to TrustedID, its commercial identity theft service? But that offer -- originally available to anyone with a Social Security number -- has ended. (It required that you register by January 31, 2018.)

The service provides a copy of your Equifax credit report, a lock on your Equifax data by third parties (with some exceptions), credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus, monitoring of your SSN on what Equifax calls "suspicious" websites, and a very limited $1M identity theft insurance policy.

We understand if you took advantage of the offer while it was free. That said, we just can't recommend doing business with a company that has demonstrated such contempt for security protocols -- let alone customers. Any of the alternative services listed above would be a better option.