According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Victims of Identity Theft report, about 17.6 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2014. This theft resulted in more than $15.4 billion in direct and indirect losses. While services—such as credit monitoring—can be convenient, some experts advise that these products don’t do anything one cannot do oneself.
Consider the following before you purchase identity theft protection:
Credit Monitoring – A central offering of ID theft protection services, monitoring alerts you to potentially fraudulent new accounts listed within your credit report. Unfortunately, monitoring does not prevent crime; it just notifies you of its discovery. And because a service may not monitor all three of the major credit reporting bureaus, it’s possible they may miss some fraudulent accounts.It makes more sense to monitor your credit on your own. You can request one free credit report from all three reporting agencies each year at annualcreditreport.com. Unless you already suspect fraud, you can easily spread out your coverage by checking a different report every four months—providing yourself with a year of monitoring at zero cost.
Identity Theft Insurance – While this might sound like a worthwhile investment given the growing incidence of identity theft, most consumer experts agree that this type of insurance is not worth the cost. It won’t return your stolen money. All it will really do is cover out-of-pocket expenses associated with repairing your identity—things like postage, copy fees and, if you’re really lucky, time away from work spent dealing with the theft.Before you even consider purchasing identity theft insurance, check to see if you have coverage through another policy. Such riders may be included in some homeowner and renter’s insurance products.
Credit Freeze – One of the best tools for identity theft protection is something you have to do on your own. When you initiate a credit freeze at all three reporting agencies, you must give your authorization before anyone can check your credit. It generally costs about $10 per agency, but it will greatly reduce the chances that a thief will be able to open a fraudulent account in your name. Fraud alerts are another option. They require creditors to verify identification before granting credit. Though they are free, you must remember to renew each alert every three months.
According to ConsumerReports.org, American consumers spent $3.5 billion on identity theft protection products in 2010 (the most recent data available). Before you commit to annual fees in the range of $120 to $300, you might want to consider doing it yourself.