Welcome to the CNET 2019 directory for the best identity theft protection and monitoring services. Herein, we've compared the top identity monitoring services, which can help you monitor and protect your identity, as well as assist you in recovering if you're a victim of identity theft and fraud.
Unfortunately, you may need one of these protection services soon, if you don't already. That's because identity theft is a massive and growing problem, with more enormous data breaches hitting victims with increasing regularity. In 2016 alone, there were more than 15 million US identity fraud cases, with identity theft victims losing more than $16 billion not to mention untold damage to credit reports. The was the icing on a very bad cake -- one that got in the months that followed. More recently, the Starwood Marriott breach compromised the personal information of more than 380 million guests, including .
In this directory, we'll look at some of the best identity theft protection services for helping you manage and protect your identity at various price points. Before we get started though, we should tell you that you don't necessarily have to spend $10-$30 a month for the best identity theft protection. The US government offers identitytheft.gov, a service that can help identity theft victims report and recover from identity theft.
We'll jump straight to the top choices for the best identity theft protection services for ID monitoring, credit monitoring and more, but read to the end to see additional important information and facts about identity theft.
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- Identity Guard
- Complete ID
- ID Watchdog
- Identity Fraud
- Intelius Identity Protect
- Privacy Guard
- McAfee Identity Theft Protection
More buying advice
- How much? Pricing compared
- Not recommended: Equifax and TrustedID
- Additional information: Identity theft: What you need to know
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 protection services. While he did experience numerous instances of identity theft based on those Social Security number postings, LifeLock's services helped him recover.
The company offers a wide range of protection services, 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 and identity thieves. 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 protection services range from $9.99 per month to $29.99 per month and offer reimbursement of $25K to $1M, depending on the monitoring plan. The lower-priced protection services monitor credit only from one bureau. The $29.99-per-month plan monitors all three major credit bureaus. You can pull credit reports 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 and fraud alert services are all marks in LifeLock's favor, despite its past stumbles.
The base UltraSecure program for IdentityForce is $149.50 per year. Its UltraSecure+Credit program, which provides you with your credit reports and score, is $199.50. 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 websites to protect you from identity thieves. 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.
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. Their service monitors the customer's personal information, including their credit files, DOB and SSN.
Identity Guard offers a clear summary of its insurance terms. The company offers a basic plan at $79.99-per-year, but it provides no credit monitoring. If you want monthly credit report updates, that jumps to $159.96 per year and includes credit monitoring from three credit bureaus and a monthly credit score. Their most comprehensive plan is the Identity Gaurd Premier plan, which costs $200.04 per year and includes annual credit reports.
- 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.
- Base price: $149.95/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 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 all the other commercial identity monitoring services 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 a credit report or credit score information, but if you sign up for the premium $219-per-year service, you can get a copy of your credit report and your credit score. The catch? 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.
- Base price: $99.95/yr.
One of Identity Fraud's stand-out features is price. It has the second 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 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.
- 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 credit bureaus, reports from all three bureaus 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 financial institutions and 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 it 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.
- 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 protection services offered by its competitors. It offers daily credit monitoring, a key value in protecting against identity thieves, 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.
- Base price: $69.99
- Offers trial version
McAfee's identity theft protection service is the least expensive we've seen for a year of coverage. They do have a $0.99 trial for the first month, but you can get a full year for $69.99, which is substantially less expensive than the other players we've discussed here.
They offer a slick "cyber monitoring" service that constantly scans for credit activity and alerts you if something unusual happens. The company does monitor your Experian credit file but doesn't connect to either TransUnion or Equifax.
As with most other vendors, they offer to reimburse up to $1M for identity recovery and (unless you're in New York state), they'll also return up to $10,000 in stolen funds. As an added benefit, if you lose your wallet, the company will do its best to reissue "a variety of contents from IDs and credit cards to concert tickets."
McAfee is probably best known as an anti-virus company founded by itseponymous founder, John McAfee. In 2011, Intel bought the company and renamed it Intel Security Group but by 2017, McAfee (now known as McAfee, LLC) was back out on its own, having been spun out to TPG Capital (although Intel still owns a minority stake).
We're telling you all this because the company's DNA is very clearly antivirus. A pre-sales call to the company asking about their identity theft program first resulted in complete confusion about how many devices we wanted antivirus installed on, and then, once transferred to the "identity theft department," culminated in our editor attempting to explain to the rep what credit reporting agencies did and why you'd care about them.
That doesn't mean the product itself is bad. Fortunately, just about all of this service is automated and there's never been any question about McAfee's software chops. If their automated systems see odd behavior for one of your tracked accounts, those alerts may be your first and best protection when you need to secure your credit.
What about Equifax and TrustedID?
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. In the months that followed, we learned that things may have somehow even been worse than originally known.
And the company's hamfisted response to each data breach made matters worse: At one point, the company was also vulnerable to hackers.. And the site it set up to provide free credit account monitoring after the data breach was originally
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 protection services listed above would be a better option.
The base prices of each service are presented below, from lowest to highest. Note that the more expensive ones almost always offer additional perks, such as more frequent credit reports from credit bureaus.
ID monitoring yearly pricing
|service||base yearly price||offers free trial?|
|Complete ID (Costco members)||$107.88||no|
|PrivacyGuard||$119.88||$1 for 14 days|
|Intelius Identity Protect||$239.40||yes|
|Complete ID (non-Costco members)||$239.88||no|
*offers 60-day money back guarantee
Identity theft: What you need to know
These are some key things to keep in mind about the best identity theft protection and ID monitoring services.
Early detection is the key. If you're signing up for one of these protection services, it's less about preventing the initial breach -- that's somewhat out of your hands, unfortunately. Instead, it's about getting a heads-up as soon as possible on suspicious activity to prevent you from needing to do a credit freeze or more. Whether your credit card has charges on it you never incurred, or you suddenly discover that loan collectors are trying to collect amounts you never borrowed, thanks to thieves halfway across the country -- or thieves halfway around the world -- who opened a credit card or applied for a loan in your name, seeing the suspicious activity early on is the name of the game. The scary fact is that these breaches can cost you a lot of money.
Knowing how your personal information is being used is a big step to keeping yourself safe. There are identity theft protection companies that can help you monitor your personal information, get notified if your accounts and personal information are being misused by thieves and if you should get a credit freeze, and even get you reimbursement after the fact.
None of these protection 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 activity and 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 protection services can help.
Read the fine print. Finally, because each of these protection 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.
Originally published March 2, 2018 and updated frequently.