Identity theft protection is a worthwhile investment that can help protect you if your personal or financial information is stolen. When you enroll in a plan with a service provider, they will monitor sensitive information online and on the dark web and alert you right away if fraudulent activity is suspected. Many providers also feature a suite of tools, including identity theft insurance and live assistance, to assist in the unfortunate event you become a victim of identity theft.
Identity Theft Statistics in the U.S.
In 2021, the U.S. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 2.8 million fraud reports from consumers, resulting in $5.8 billion in financial losses. The culprit: imposter scams and online shopping scams.
What’s even more alarming is that the financial impact on consumers was 70 percent more than the figure for 2020. Furthermore, these statistics reflect a dangerous trend in the world of identity theft — it’s currently on the rise and doesn’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down.
So, while there’s no surefire way to prevent it from happening to you, it’s a good idea to purchase some form of coverage to protect yourself.
What Are the Types of Identity Thefts and Frauds?
Before shopping for a service provider, keep reading to learn more about the types of identity theft and fraud to be on the lookout for and factors to consider when comparing identity theft plans.
- Account Takeover Fraud: Identity thieves get unauthorized access to your account and funnel money out of it.
- Financial Fraud: It involves the theft of your debit or credit card and other private information to make fraudulent purchases or open debt products, like credit cards, loan accounts or payday loans. Financial fraud can also occur if someone files a tax return to get a tax refund or secures a mortgage in your name, or transfers the title to a property without your permission or knowledge.
- Government Benefits Fraud: It occurs when someone uses your personal information to collect state or federal government benefits, like unemployment or Social Security.
- Personal ID Fraud: If someone steals identifying information (i.e., name, phone number, email address, date of birth or Social Security number) and uses it, personal I.D. fraud occurs.
- Mail Identity Theft: This form of theft refers to the seizure or tampering with your mail to perpetrate fraud.
- Online Shopping Fraud: Thieves commit online shopping fraud by hijacking your payment information and using it to make purchases.
- Senior and Child Identity Thefts and Scams: Criminals prey on seniors or use the identity of minors to commit fraud.
- Biometric ID Theft: A fraudster steals a high-resolution picture of you or your fingerprints and uses it to bypass a biometric device that’s used to verify your identity.
- Synthetic Identity Theft: It refers to a scheme involving the thief merging fake and factual personal information to create a new identity used to secure debt products.
- Medical Identity Theft: This form of identity theft occurs when your information is used without your knowledge to enroll in a health insurance plan, receive medical services, fill prescriptions or submit fraudulent claims to insurance providers.
- Phishing: The consumer is contacted via text message or email by a fraudster pretending to represent the financial institution, retailer or service provider they do business with. In the message, you’ll be asked to click on a link and input sensitive personal or payment information to resolve an issue with your account. There are also instances where consumers are asked to download specific files pertaining to their accounts, only to discover that they’re malicious.
Identity Theft Protection vs. Monitoring Services: What’s the Difference?
The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences to be aware of.
Identity monitoring services simply keep tabs on your personal information in cyberspace. If suspicious activities occur, you’ll be alerted in real-time and can take the necessary steps to protect yourself from identity theft or resolve the issue if it’s already occurred.
Identity protection services provide a more holistic solution if you’re serious about shielding your information from fraudsters and preserving your financial and credit health. The most comprehensive solutions include an identity credit report, Social Security number and financial fraud monitoring along with dark web surveillance and identity theft insurance. And in the unfortunate event that your identity is stolen, you’ll likely have access to a dedicated fraud resolution specialist that can advise you on what to do next—more detailed information on each of these features is in the section below.
What to Look for to Find the Best Identity Theft Protection Service for You
Beyond affordability, here are some other factors to consider when evaluating the best identity theft protection companies:
Credit Monitoring and Alerts
Does it include three-bureau (i.e., Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) credit monitoring services? Will you receive real-time alerts via text message or email? Is a mobile app available on Android and iOS to access your online dashboard and review additional information about alerts you may receive?
SSN and Financial Fraud Monitoring
Will the service provider monitor the web for any mention of your Social Security number or financial information, like your bank account number(s), credit card number(s) or debit card number(s)?
Dark Web Surveillance
Is dark web surveillance included in the identity protection plans you’re considering? Does the service provider offer it free of charge or as an add-on for an additional fee?
Identity Theft Insurance
How much insurance coverage does the service provider offer if your identity is compromised? How does it compare to other plans you’re considering?
Is it the best identity theft protection for families? Do the services extend to your spouse, children or other family members? If so, is the service affordable? Is there a limit on the number of children you can enroll in the plan? If you’re looking to get coverage for your parents or an older relative, is it the best identity theft protection for seniors?
Dedicated Fraud Resolution Support
Will you have access to a dedicated fraud resolution specialist if needed? Is customer service available 24/7 or only on select days during regular business hours?
Consider Experian IdentityWorks
Experian IdentityWorksSM is an all-in-one solution to help protect you from identity theft and shield you if your personal data, financial information or other sensitive data is compromised. You can choose from the IdentityWorksSM Plus or IdentityWorksSM Premium plan.
Both cover one adult and offer identity theft monitoring protection, Experian CreditLock, credit monitoring, real-time alerts and access to your credit scores. Below are the differences between the two:
- Dark web monitoring: included with both plans
- Identity theft insurance: up to $500,000 for Plus plans and $1,000,000 for Premium plans
- U.S.-based fraud resolution specialist: included with both plans
- Lost wallet assistance: included with both plans
- Identity theft monitoring and alerts: included with both plans
- Experian CreditLock: included with both plans
- Experian credit report and score monitoring: IdentityWorksSM Plus plan only
- Three-bureau credit report and score monitoring: IdentityWorksSM Premium plan only
- Additional FICO scores (auto, bankcard and home): IdentityWorksSM Premium plan only
You can get started right away with an IdentityWorksSM plan with a 30-day free trial. Then, if you wish to continue, the cost for one adult is just $9.99 or $19.99 per month for the Plus and Premium plans, respectively. To learn more, visit Experian.com for a detailed description of each of the offers as well as other options that may work for you.
How Much Does Identity Theft Protection Typically Cost
Expect to pay between $7 and $50 per month, depending on the level of coverage you select. Family plans also cost more than individual plans since they cover several individuals.
Signs of I.D. Theft: How Do You Know If Your Identity Is Stolen
Below are some common signs that your identity has been compromised. Be mindful that this list is not all-inclusive but covers some of the key indicators to look out for if you suspect someone has stolen your personal information to commit fraud:
- Your credit report includes accounts you didn’t open. If you check your credit reports from the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – and notice they include debt products, like loans or credit cards, you didn’t apply for or open; you’ve likely been victimized by fraud.
- You notice unfamiliar hard inquiries in your credit file. Hard credit inquiries are generated each time a credit application is submitted and can drop your score by two to five points. If you didn’t apply for a credit card or loan account, though, and you notice a hard inquiry on your credit report, it’s possible that a thief is using your name to apply for debt products.
- Your credit score dips unexpectedly. Alerts from the major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – indicating that your credit score has dropped can be another sign that your identity has been stolen if you haven’t applied for credit, opened new accounts or increased the balances on your credit cards.
- Your bank statement includes charges you don’t recognize. It’s possible that fraudulent charges can be made to your bank account without you noticing for some time if you fail to check your transaction history online each day.
- You receive correspondence in the mail regarding an unfamiliar account. Some thieves will open credit cards or loans in your name, start using them and forget to change the mailing address in the online portal. Consequently, you could receive letters in the mail regarding accounts you didn’t open, which is another red flag and a surefire sign that your identity has been stolen.
- You spot unfamiliar charges on your credit card statement. Fraudsters don’t need your physical credit card to make purchases. Instead, they can hijack your information through rigged payment terminals or through online data breaches and either input your credit card data to initiate transactions online or create a physical card using your data to commit credit card fraud.
- You start to receive communications from collection agencies. Whether it’s by phone or postal mail, correspondence from debt collectors regarding delinquencies on unfamiliar accounts is another tell-tale sign of identity theft.
- You’re notified of a purchase you didn’t authorize. Many banks, credit unions and credit card companies have systems in place to automatically detect unusual account activity and notify the account holder right away. In the event that you receive an email alert, text message or automated phone call inquiring about a purchase you didn’t authorize, you could be a victim of identity theft.
- You have trouble getting approved for credit. You recently applied for a credit card or loan product, thinking you’d get approved. But to your surprise, you’re turned down due to credit issues or a low credit score you didn’t know you had. This, too, could be a sign that your credit rating is being adversely affected by fraudulent accounts, and you should check your credit reports immediately.
- Your attempted transactions fail at the point of sale. If you swipe your debit or credit card and it’s denied due to insufficient funds, you may be a victim of identity theft if stolen funds were used to make fraudulent purchases before you attempted your transactions.
- You get a medical bill for services you didn’t receive. Some thieves go to extreme lengths to steal from others – one such instance is through medical theft or using your identity to receive medical services. So, if a strange medical bill arrives in the mail for you and you have no knowledge of the services rendered, someone may have stolen your identity. You can request your medical records and reach out to the insurance provider promptly to confirm if it’s just a simple mishap from human error or an actual case of someone receiving services and medications in your name.
- Your tax return is rejected by the IRS due to a duplicate filing. This circumstance indicates tax fraud, and it’s usually the result of a fraudster filing a return in your name to get a tax refund. The IRS and state tax authorities don’t take these matters lightly, though, and you should be able to get the assistance you need to have the issue resolved.
What To Do If Your Identity Is Compromised
Dealing with identity theft is never fun and can be downright overwhelming. Fortunately, IdentityTheft.gov has you covered with a list of steps you can take to report the issue(s) and get on the road to recovery.
Take these actions once you discover you’ve been victimized:
- Step 1: Contact the fraud department of the company where the fraud took place. Request that they freeze or close the accounts with the fraudulent transactions until further notice and update the login information to prevent unauthorized access.
- Step 2: Place a fraud alert on your credit report with one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. The credit bureau you place the fraud alert with must notify the other two, and they will follow suit. It’s free and lasts for one year or longer if you choose to renew it.
- Step 3: Get free copies of your credit report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. As the name implies, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each credit bureau annually. Once you have the reports in hand, read each page, highlight any fraudulent accounts you notice and refer to step one listed above for the next steps.
- Step 4: File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This can be done online or via phone at 1-877-438-4338. In turn, the FTC will provide you with a recovery plan to help you move forward and an official Identity Theft Report.
- Step 5: Report the fraud to your local police department. While you’re not required to complete this step, a police report can help you plead your case when filing disputes and working with the credit bureaus to get the fraudulent information removed from your credit report. The other involved parties or companies where the fraud was perpetrated should also be provided with a copy of the police report. But before you pay a visit to the local police department, gather your government-issued I.D. (containing a photograph), a copy of your Identity Theft Report from the FTC, documentation showing the theft that occurred and proof of address (i.e., monthly mortgage statement, lease agreement, utility bill).
Even after you’ve taken these steps, other actions may be required based on the type of fraud that was committed. Follow these tips from IdentityTheft.gov to help resolve the issue:
- Bank accounts: Get a copy of your ChexSystems report. In case you aren’t familiar, it’s a document that details your checking account history. You can request your free report by calling 800-428-9623 or visiting the website. Identify any fraudulent accounts listed and contact the bank or credit union to report them and inquire about the next steps to have the accounts closed.
- Bankruptcy: If a fraudulent bankruptcy is filed on your behalf, reach out to the U.S. Trustee in the region of the filing in writing. It may also be in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you since navigating the grievance process can sometimes be challenging.
- Government benefits: If someone received Social Security benefits in your name, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/olg or call 1-800-269-0271 to file a report. For other types of fraud related to government benefits, contact the federal or state agency directly to learn more about the fraud resolution process.
- Rental housing: Notify the landlord of the rental home or apartment what has occurred and ask what screening services they use when potential tenants apply for housing. Contact the screening service directly, tell them you’ve been victimized by identity theft and inquire about the actions you should take to file a report.
- Investment accounts: Contact your account manager or investment broker to notify them of the fraud. They will advise you on how to move forward with handling the fraudulent account.
- Mobile or landline phone accounts: Request a copy of your Data Report from the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange online at www.nctue.com or by calling 1-866-349-5185. File complaints with the companies listed that you’ve never opened accounts with. You can also contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by calling 1-888-835-5322 if you need additional assistance getting your complaint resolved.
- Student loans: Call the Department of Education Office of Inspector General if you’re a victim of federal student loan fraud. If you have private student loans, contact the school you attended and the loan provider to notify them of the fraud.
- Utility accounts: Contact the utility provider to file a complaint. But if you don’t have much luck getting the issue resolved, your state’s Public Utility Commission is another useful resource.
If you’re dealing with tax or medical identity theft, here’s what to do instead:
- Tax identity theft: Refer to the letter received by the IRS for instructions on how to proceed. Also, fill out and submit the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) by fax mail – the submission information is noted on the form – and place fraud alerts on your credit reports.
- Medical identity theft: Contact the medical provider directly to request your medical records, review them and note any errors. Submit a grievance in writing through certified mail with a return receipt. Be sure to include a copy of the Identity Theft Report from the FTC, and send this to your insurance provider’s fraud department as well.
Now that you’ve notified all the appropriate entities of the fraud and taken the first step in the recovery process, IdentityTheft.gov suggests some additional actions. These tactics can help you get your credit and overall financial health back on track:
- Close fraudulent accounts: If you haven’t already done so, ask that these accounts be closed immediately. Put the request in writing and include an explanation of what has occurred. Also, be sure to provide a copy of the Identity Theft Report from the FTC and ask the company to provide written correspondence once the account has been closed.
- Dispute fraudulent charges: Again, this step should have been completed when you initially alerted the company of the fraud. Otherwise, write a letter detailing the situation and ask that the fraudulent charges be removed. Before you send it off, include a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Report. You can also call the company’s fraud department first, as they may be willing to resolve the issue for you by phone.
If your credit report reflects fraudulent activity, it’s vital to file disputes with the appropriate credit bureau (s) promptly, as it’s likely dragging your credit score down. You’ll need to write a letter that includes your name, address, Social Security number and description of the identity theft. Below is information on how to contact each of the major credit reporting agencies to start the dispute process:
- Mailing address: P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
- Phone number: 1-888-397-3742
- Website: https://www.experian.com/disputes/main.html
- Mailing address: P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348
- Phone number: 1-800-525-6285
- Website: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-dispute/
- Mailing address: Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
- Phone number: 1-800-680-7289
- Website: https://www.transunion.com/credit-disputes/dispute-your-credit