August 21, 2008
When identity theft comes to mind, you probably think the best protection for you is credit monitoring. After all, it’s been the good old stand-by for the last 20 years. The three credit bureaus have made a lot of money selling us our information so that we can see what’s on our credit reports. Only in 2004 did the US government mandate that everyone was entitled to a free credit report once a year from each credit bureau. They had to do a roll-out across the country that first year. I live in the South, so I was able to get my first free one on June 1, 2004. That was great not to have to pay for it!
Checking your credit report for errors helps to find any fraudulent accounts someone has opened in your name. It also lists your addresses, so you can see if someone has filed a change of address under your name in an attempt to intercept your mail. Plus, it’s good to see what’s showing on your report because there could be errors in your real accounts that need fixing.
Credit monitoring is great if you’re wanting to improve your credit history and score. The better your credit is, the lower your interest rates will be on a car loan, mortgage and even credit cards. But it’s not intended to be the last word in identity theft protection.
Identity theft involving credit is really only a small portion of all the ways a thief can steal your identity. It only shows up on your report after someone has opened a new account. There are other ways your identity can be stolen and you won’t see them in a credit report. For instance, if an illegal immigrant uses your social security number to work, his income will be credited to you. Of course you won’t be putting it on your tax return. Eventually, the IRS will find it and send you a nasty little letter informing you of unpaid taxes plus the penalties. We all know how much fun it is to deal with the IRS.
There is an identity protection plan that monitors all three credit bureaus and gives you your credit reports and scores. But this plan goes way farther than that. It uses patented scanning technology to watch for your personal information and account numbers being traded, bought or sold on the black market. It also monitors public record information to be sure no one is impersonating you. You’ll get instant alerts letting you know there’s a potential problem. You get help replacing the contents of your wallet if it’s stolen, too. Sweet.
If your identity is stolen, the credit bureaus won’t give you a bit of help. It’s not their job. But this identity protection company will be there for you with TONS of expert help and advice. You also get a $20,000 identity theft insurance policy to cover any expenses like hiring an attorney.
Now you might think this plan is going to be much more expensive than a 3-in-1 credit monitoring service. It’s not. It’s only $11.99 a month. That’s less than Equifax’s 3-in-1 Gold plan! This plan is Identity Guard Extra Caution. It also comes with a free month and you can cancel at any time.
If you’re thinking of signing up for credit monitoring, take a look at this plan first and see if it could be a better choice for you.
August 15, 2008
In my efforts to fight identity theft, I like to think I can do everything myself. I’m pretty resourceful and can find all the information I need to get stuff done. So I figured there was no way I was going to pay some company to protect my identity.
The first thing I wanted to learn about was the difference between a fraud alert or security freeze. To be honest, I’d never even heard about either of them until that crazy guy started putting his social security number on the side of a truck! I decided a fraud alert would be better for me right now and besides, it was going to cost me $30 to do the freeze and another $30 if I ever wanted to get new credit. I was planning to buy a house within the next 6 months, so I needed to have my files available to lenders.
I had already opted-out of getting junk mail years ago. I saw the phone number for that in a magazine article and immediately grabbed my phone – really, I did. Plus I was already pretty good at getting my free annual credit reports and spacing them out through the year. I shred stuff, I check my credit card statements every month, I did what the FTC recommends – faithfully.
But I still got blindsided one day. I was about to buy a house and had been keeping a close eye on my credit score which was pretty good. All of a sudden, it had dropped by almost 150 points and I almost peed my pants. Someone had used my name and social security number to turn on electricity in a city I had never lived in then skipped out on the last bill. I never knew about it until it was turned over to a collections agency and by then, my credit score gotten tanked.
No matter what you do, this type of thing doesn’t get cleared up in a week or two and my credit score was going to be low for quite a while. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t me who skipped out on a bill for an account that I hadn’t opened. My score was still awful at the time I needed to get a new mortgage. All I could do was plead with banks to look at my credit history but too many pencil pushing pinheads only looked at my score. So I had two choices, I could put off buying the house I wanted until I got everything straightened out or I could pay a higher interest rate. Both lousy choices.
After that, I decided maybe some identity protection was a good idea. I wanted to find the best identity theft protection I could but it still had to be affordable in my budget.
The thing that was most important to me was a company who would actually fix the problem for me if my identity ever was mis-used again. Trying to fix it on my own and having to ask the collections rep what to do was not something I ever wanted to repeat.
LifeLock and ID Watchdog are the only two companies I could find that do the restoration work for you. Others have helplines and resources available. But I was now at the point of wanting to turn it all over to an expert to take care of it for me if it ever happened again. It’s so time-consuming and frustrating to do it myself. As in "All of our operators are busy at the moment. Please hold for the next available operator". Then you have to listen to the worst music in the world for the next 20 minutes only to get cut off and have to start all over again.
Besides the restoration services, both of those companies have scanning features that watch out for your info being used. ID Watchdog has a long, long list of places they look every month plus their sherriff spokesperson looks so tough and mean – like he could get the job done. But it costs $19.99 a month. That was a little steep for me. So I looked a bit closer at LifeLock’s services. I did a ton of research and here’s what sold me. With over a million people enrolled now, only a little over 100 have ever had a problem with identity theft. LifeLock fixed their problem right away for them. At $10 a month, that was more in my price range. One of the LifeLock reviews I read had an offer that lowered the price to $9 a month and a free month to test drive it.
So this has been the story of how I decided I did need the protection, the company I chose and why I chose them. I can tell you that I feel much more comfortable now with one less thing to worry about.