Not too long ago identity theft pundits suggested identity theft would decrease over the years, yet identity theft has been the number one consumer complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission for the last 13 years. Identity theft reports were up 32% in 2012 compared to 2011, and identity theft will continue to rise as identity thieves take advantage of new social engineering opportunities.
It has been suggested that fraudsters will take advantage of the Affordable Care Act as an opportunity for conning consumers into handing over their personal information and hacking government databases. Today an identity theft expert suggested that consumers take action against the identity theft risks posed by ObamaCare, for example, by purchasing identity theft protection.
It was not too long ago when consumer advocates cringed at the mention of any for-profit consumer service advertised to prevent or protect consumers from identity theft. The primary tenet of the consumer protectionists was the notion that consumers could do-it-themselves for free. .
One objection against fee-based services that provide continuous consumer credit report monitoring was that consumers already have the right to review their credit reports once annually at no cost under federal law (See www.AnnualCreditReports.com). However, the fact is that ongoing continuous credit monitoring with activity alerts offered by retail services is not comparable to once-a-year self-checks by the few consumers that have the time and discipline to do so on their own. Annual credit report reviews do not offer the same level of detection and risk prevention as credit monitoring. Annual credit monitoring is akin to turning on your home smoke detector one day out of each year.
Today, many of the same consumer advocates that opposed identity protection services are recommending that consumers consider them. And some of the competing identity protection services that once disparaged continuous credit monitoring as useless are offering credit monitoring as an integral component to their suite of identity protection services.
An identity thief can destroy a person’s good name in a matter of minutes, so time-is-of-the-essence in detecting the fraud. Taking appropriate preventive, legal and other steps immediately are key to minimizing your personal financial risks and damage to your name. This is why continuous credit monitoring is one important feature to look for when selecting an identity protection plan.
Today, the identity protection industry offers a variety of prevention, detection and restoration features that even technically sophisticated consumers cannot do on their own. For example, some monitor tens of thousands of websites and chat rooms deep inside the Internet where the crooks buy, sell and trade stolen personal identities. Consumers do not know how to access these dark places on the net.
One important fact to keep in mind is that there is no service than can prevent identity theft. There are steps one can take including the purchase of certain identity protection services that can decrease one’s risk and the consequences of becoming a victim.
Don’t get careless with your personal information just because you subscribe to an identity protection service. You want to avoid becoming a victim because even with the best identity protection plan you are going be inconvenienced and frustrated. Victimization is going to cost you time, if not some out of pocket expenses. Many victims report that they experience psychological disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. An identity protection program can decrease some of the side effects, but no program will eliminate all.
So, which if, any, identity protection plan is right for you and your family?
The major considerations to evaluate in order of importance are:
Price: Affordability has always been at the top of this author’s list. If you see value in identity protection services and you can afford the monthly or annual service fee, than choose a plan that provides the most value for the dollar and subscribe. Prices vary widely even with the same identity protection provider. Some offer discounts when purchased through celebrity endorsements or depending on prices negotiated by resellers. Most services are priced per person, and often time the monthly fees are hidden with offers for free trail periods. Once the trial period expires a consumer could be locked into a virtual quagmire of high monthly fees. For example, one popular credit monitoring service is $20 per person and another national brand’s premium service is $25 per person that includes credit monitoring and other premium features. Read the offers carefully and determine the price before enrolling in free trail offers. Another comprehensive premium service ranges from $10 to $25 per couple, where a couple is the two adult members of the household.
Consultation and restoration services. One of the most confusing and misunderstood services offered is that associated with helping consumers resolve an identity theft issue. In evaluating a protection plan, ask who is going to help you and what are they going to do for you. How much do you have to do yourself before a guarantee or insurance to cover expert-fees (if any) kick in? Most services offer advice-only to assist you in resolving your own identity theft concern. Who are the advisors are and what qualifications or credentials do they have to qualify to navigate you through resolving your id theft issue.
At the other end of the spectrum are full restoration services where licensed investigative professionals with law enforcement backgrounds do the majority of the restorative work for you regardless of how simple or complex the identity theft issue is. Some services offer professional consultations on identity theft before, during and after identity compromise. So, for example, if you are traveling out of the country and need advice on steps you can take to protect yourself against the villains when traveling, you can pick up the telephone to receive advice and consultation from experts.
One service offers an a comprehensive legal plan as an option that can be used for anything legal including anything associated with identity theft from creditor harassment and related lawsuits to being wrongfully arrested on mistaken identity. These legal consultation and services are provided by licensed practicing attorneys.
Child identity theft protection. Child identity theft is a growing crime and the consequences of having a child start life out with financial record that has been trashed by a villain should be enough to consider protecting your children. This consideration ties into the top priority of price and affordability. Some services do not offer identity protection for children, while some offer it at a discount off the single adult price. One service offers the same comprehensive services provided to adults for up to eight children for a total additional fee of one dollar per month.
Credit monitoring. This feature has been discussed earlier in this and in another article. Most every service today offers a form of credit monitoring. Three bureau credit monitoring is preferred over monitoring of a single major credit bureau. The credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Transunion are each independent companies and do not exchange your credit information with one another. Most creditors, especially the local ones, only report to the credit bureau that dominates their geographical region, for example, Transunion is predominate in the Midwest. Consequently, if you have a service that monitors one bureau, a fraud alert that would have been reported through that bureau would be missed if the identity protection plan provides monitoring through a different credit bureau.
Credit monitoring also serves another financial purpose. Credit monitoring alerts you to errors made on your credit report. A government report issued earlier this year claimed that as many as 40 million Americans had a mistake on their credit reports, and as many as 20 million had significant mistake. Significant mistakes on your credit reports can cause you to pay higher interest rates on loans, prevent you from obtaining a mortgage or car loan, and affect your ability to get a job or obtain a security clearance.
Most recently, some services provide access to one or more credit scores and credit reports. With these identity protection plans you can review your credit score and credit report online at any time at no additional cost. Such a benefit is a convenient perk, but not a necessity.
Internet monitoring. There are tens of thousands chat rooms and internet sites hidden deep inside the Internet (the Deep Web, Deepnet or Invisible Web) where criminals buy, sell and trade, child pornography, arms, drugs, assassins, prostitutes, terrorism, and stolen identities including Social Security numbers, credit cards and bank account numbers. The Deep Web the largest black market ever to exist.
In part 2 of this article we’ll continue discussing Internet monitoring, the Deep Web and several other common benefits you should evaluate before purchasing identity protection services. Click Subscribe next to the reporter’s picture to receive a notification when part 2 is published, and to contact the author, click on the author's name at the top of this article or click here to obtain the author's recommendations.