With much of the business and social activities shifting online, identity theft and fraud have never posed a more realistic risk.
You share sensitive personal information when you apply for a loan, take out a new insurance policy, create online accounts, and even when you seek a job. Unfortunately, despite businesses’ efforts to protect your data, fraudsters often manage to access it… and don’t hesitate to misuse it.
Yet, specialized services are offering an additional layer of security.
But is identity theft protection worth it?
Do the advantages outweigh the costs?
And when should you consider getting one?
This article answers all the questions you may have, starting from the different types of identity theft to the best solutions out there.
So read on!
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a term that refers to the criminal activity of obtaining financial and other personal information and credentials. These may include Social Security Number, birth date, credit card, or bank account information.
With this data, identity thieves can:
- make unauthorized transactions and purchases,
- apply for credit,
- get medical services,
- file taxes,
- commit other types of fraud.
Ultimately, identity theft leaves victims susceptible to damage to their finances, credit score, and reputation.
There are ten most common ways your identity can be stolen. Let’s take a look at each!
A data breach is when an unauthorized person gets access, uses, or takes information from an organization or business. According to statistics, in 2019, there were 3,950 data breaches globally.
Criminal activity, system failures, accidents, and employee negligence can all open doors to data vulnerability. There’s hardly any modern business that hasn’t fallen victim to such attacks. Even industry giants aren’t spared.
In 2014, eBay reported that a data breach had exposed the details of 145 million account holders. Fortunately, the online auction site stored users’ financial data separately, so no credit card information had been compromised. The investigation showed the hackers had used the credentials of three corporate employees to access eBay’s network.
Browsing and sharing information through well-known, established websites usually poses little to no risk. But a compromised website that’s in the hands of hackers exposes you to different types of identity theft. Luckily, some browsers alert you when trying to access a risky website. Make sure you don’t ignore such warnings!
Also, never click on links embedded in an email. That’s how internet predators get you. Instead, type the link into your browser. And read the URL carefully. Fraudsters often create malicious pages with spelling similar to that of reputable websites. So a simple mistype can lead you to a risky place.
Cybercriminals use malware to obtain personally identifiable information (PII) and steal identities. This is malicious software containing viruses, spyware, adware, or ransomware.
The most common way people fall victim to malware is by participating in contests, polls, and surveys. Such often occur during holidays or events like Black Friday, the Super Bowl, Cyber Monday, March Madness, and tax day.
The fraudsters also mimic legitimate companies with fake domains that can infect your device.
Credit card theft
Credit card theft is one of the easiest forms of identity theft. Data breaches and physical robbery are some of the most common ways credit card information gets exposed and stolen.
Are you still asking yourself “should I get identity theft protection”? Perhaps these credit card fraud statistics will convince you to do so.
Skimming devices are tiny, malicious card readers hidden within legitimate cash machines. Thieves typically install them on fuel pumps or ATMs located outside buildings or in poorly lit areas.
The skimmers are hard to notice as they don’t prevent the ATM from functioning. Yet, criminals typically use low-grade glue to attach them. So, avoid using any machine with loose card readers. Also, keep your eyes open for any suspicious holes, pieces of metal or plastic.
Phishing and spam attacks
Email, text messages, and other forms of electronic communication are more than convenient means to steal sensitive information. It’s a getaway for different types of identity theft.
It’s not uncommon for scammers to send a fake email. That looks like it’s from a bank or other reputable source with a link to a spoof website mimicking the original one. The message usually asks you to provide details such as SSN, password, or credit card information. Never share such sensitive information unless you’re sure of the website’s legitimacy.
A long time before the internet, thieves would go through the mail to obtain information from bank statements. And they continue to do so.
Your best ID theft protection is to shred any old mail with personal information that can leave you vulnerable.
Smartphones hold a treasure of information such as your emails, notes, text messages, and much more. Thus, it makes you highly vulnerable to identity theft, especially if you don’t use passwords or fingerprints to access apps. These are all cheap identity theft protection measures you can start implementing right away.
When you use devices on a public WI-FI network, hackers can intercept your data and use it against you. So, you should be extra cautious. Don’t shop online and disable the auto-connect option when using a public network.
Dark web marketplaces
The dark web is a network of websites inaccessible by standard browsers. It’s an ideal place for fraudsters as it enables them to hide their identities and criminal activities. If your personal information ends up on a dark web marketplace, it can be sold to other criminals.
Types of Identity Theft
With technological advancements, there are more ways than ever before for different scammers and criminals to access your private data.
These are the ten most common types of identity theft and frauds to be aware of:
Account takeover happens when somebody obtains access and takes control of one or more of your accounts without your permission. Criminals use the account just as you would, with the potential to make fraudulent transactions.
Debit or credit card identity theft
Debit and credit card identity theft refers to instances when someone uses your card without your consent. A criminal can make unauthorized transactions even without access to your physical card. All that is needed is your credit card number, security code, and PIN.
In these instances, it’s more than useful to have identity theft coverage. The assistance can help you reclaim your financial identity and repair credit reports.
Online shopping fraud
When shopping online, you should be especially mindful of your data as criminals can hack website accounts to access saved card information and make purchases. A common way they do it is when shoppers connect via an unfamiliar Wi-Fi set up by hackers. The network serves as a way to obtain information from anyone who uses the connection. In other instances, hackers compromise the shopping website to access accounts or redirect shoppers to a fake website.
So if you’re an avid online shopper, having good identity protection is paramount.
Social Security Number identity theft
Social security number is one of the most potent tools. Together with other personal information, it enables thieves to open fraudulent accounts under your name. This can leave you with a badly affected credit score and delinquent accounts showing up on your credit reports.
Names, addresses, or other information you’re not familiar with showing up on your credit reports could be a sign of fraud. If you notice any, it’s time to get professional ID fraud protection.
Tax identity fraud
Tax identity fraud happens when someone uses your personal information and SSN to file a tax return and then collects a refund in your name.
If you become a victim of tax identity theft, you need to fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS.
Driver’s license identity theft
You may not think that losing a driver’s license is much of a big deal. But it’s not an uncommon way people become ID theft victims.
With address, driver’s license number, and other sensitive information, a driver’s license is a gold mine of data for identity thieves. Once in the hands of a criminal, driver’s license data can be falsely used to avoid citation during a traffic stop and even result in an erroneous arrest warrant.
Child identity theft
Family members often perpetuate child identity with access to information such as birthdays, SSNs, addresses, etc. It enables them to open fraudulent accounts, take out loans, apply for government benefits, or use other ways to accumulate debt in the child’s name.
A good way to protect your child and family is opting for an identity theft protection family plan. Freezing your child’s credit report can also prevent further damage and protect against future attacks.
Senior identity theft and scams
Seniors are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to becoming identity theft victims.
It’s essential to warn the elderly in your life about scammers calling and pretending they’re from the IRS or Medicare office. Such con artists ask for passwords and personal information and then misuse it. Also, it’s not uncommon for fraudsters to call and pretend they’re grandchildren in trouble asking for money.
Mail identity theft
Usually, con artists will intercept debit and credit cards to make unauthorized charges, steal checks out of mailboxes, and alter and cash them. In addition, any mail that contains banking information, account statements, banking information, and other PII can be stolen and used to your detriment. If you fail to do your diligence and guard this information, even the best identity theft protection software will not be able to prevent identity theft.
Biometric ID theft
Biometric ID theft happens when a person’s physical or behavioral characteristics get stolen or spoofed to unlock a device. Although difficult to do, fraudsters can obtain a copy of your fingerprints or a high-resolution picture of you and use it to fool a biometric device.
Needless to say, with biometric ID data, hackers can gain access to digital wallets and a wealth of private information.
How To Protect Your Identity
Luckily, there are ways you can guard your personal information and prevent serious problems that come with a stolen identity. Some ways to ensure you have the best identity theft protection setup in place include:
- Password-protecting your devices and adding an authentication step
- Securely storing and safeguarding your social security number
- Freezing your credit
- Being alert and aware of phishing and scamming schemes
- Destroying private records and statements on paper
- Using a digital wallet — an app with a secure, digital version of credit and debit card
- Checking your credit card reports and other financial and medical statements to detect any suspicious activity
- Emptying your mailbox quickly, locking it, or getting a P.O. box
- Using ID theft protection
Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth It?
Identity theft comes at the top of US consumer complaints, and the reported cases have only doubled between 2017 and 2019.
The threat is real, as are the consequences with thousands of dollars, many hours of work, and immense stress needed to resolve the issue.
If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft or are at high risk of it without adequate identity theft monitoring? Going for an ID protection service may be the best thing to do.
How does identity theft protection work?
Identity theft protection companies typically offer all or most of the following services:
This feature doesn’t prevent thieves from taking over your accounts. Yet, it does track the information on your credit report helping you detect and discover fraud.
Identity theft monitoring services monitor your PII on websites, public records, credit applications, and other places such as the dark web. These services alert you of any suspicious activity that may be a sign of identity theft.
Identity restoration is an assistance where an ID protection company helps you recover from identity theft. Depending on the provider, you may be assigned a personal caseworker to handle the details.
Identity theft insurance
Identity theft insurance helps you reimburse certain costs related to identity theft, although not necessarily all the stolen money.
How much does identity theft protection cost?
You can expect to pay anywhere from as low as $10 or as high as $30 per month. It depends on the scope of services you’d like to have available and the plan you choose.
Typically, if you opt for an annual plan, it costs less than paying for services every month. A higher fee usually entails more services, better identity theft coverage, and insurance.
Best Identity Theft Protection Services
To better understand what exactly ID protection services entail and at what cost, you can compare our reviews of the best identity theft and fraud protection services. They will perhaps bring you closer to the answer to the question: is identity theft protection worth the money, and which one, if any, you should get.
Here, we’ll focus on two of the top providers — Identity Guard and McAfee Identity Theft.
Both companies offer significant levels of identity protection. Yet, if you’re a social media enthusiast, you may benefit more from Identity Guard’s cyber-related software and services. They include an anti-phishing app, a safe browsing extension, and a social insight report that recommends improving your online image when necessary.
Various identity theft protection reviews make a case of Identity Guard’s robust IBM Watson AI theft monitoring abilities as a special force to reckon with regarding identity theft protection. Identity Guard also offers a range of plans that fit different budgets and have varying levels of security.
Should you opt for one of the Identity Guard’s identity protection plans, as a Spendmenot reader, you can use our Identity Guard link to sign up and receive a discount.
McAfee’s offering, as part of the company’s antivirus and identity theft protection package, also has its own set of strengths. Knowing how antivirus software is one of the few ways you can protect your identity, choosing the McAfee identity protection solution makes sense.
Further comparison of identity theft protection services reveals how both Identity Guard and McAfee offer identity theft insurance at a maximum of $1 million and credit reports. Yet, only McAfee offers lost wallet assistance and SSN monitoring. On the other hand, none of the companies features medical ID protection.
Bottom Line: Is Identity Theft Protection Worth It?
Even the best identity protection can only do so much. Generally, it’s more of an early warning system, more reactive than preventive. It enables timely action to prevent severe damage and financial loss that can arise from identity theft.
So, is identity protection worth the money?
To finally answer the question, ask yourself whether you’re willing to freeze your credit, monitor your data. Also, to what degree your habits and lifestyle make you susceptible to identity theft?
If you’re not ready to take the time to do these things on your own and you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, it would be wise to pay for credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. And if you do so, make sure to choose a plan that comes with identity theft and financial fraud insurance.
Knowing your data is monitored, guarded, and insured will give you peace of mind during your business, shopping, and social media activities online. Most importantly, identity protection services will help you prevent financial loss, debt, bad credit, and even criminal charges stemming from a stolen identity.
Yes, someone can steal your identity with data from your passport: name and surname, birth date, passport number, date of issue and expiry, nationality, and sometimes the scan bar found at the bottom of your passport. There are identity theft examples where this data helped criminals create fake passports and use them to impersonate people at borders, open bank accounts, and enter tightly-guarded places such as embassies
Although identity theft with name and address is not possible, this information can be used as a getaway to the case of stolen identity in several ways. Thieves can search your name and address through publicly searchable databases or websites that charge as little as a dollar with reports containing your phone numbers, employment history, marriage and divorce records, etc.
Furthermore, fraudsters can use your name and address as security answers when calling customer service to find out more details about your accounts and commit different types of fraud. If thieves know your name and address, they can also use it to change your address and redirect mail to another address of choice or send fake mail such as counterfeit bills, lottery-win notices, and change-in-service notifications.
Financial identity fraud usually involves a criminal obtaining personal information such as Social Security Number, a credit or debit card number, or a driver’s license number through deception or theft. It can lead to a disastrous outcome for the victim: significant financial losses, debt, empty accounts, poor credit, and liability for crimes the impersonator committed.
Financial identity theft is the most common form of identity theft where an identity thief is trying to get a loan, card, credit, or buy things by pretending to be someone else.
So, is identity theft protection worth it? If you’re still unsure, perhaps the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) statistics will help you decide. Of the 2.2 million fraud cases reported in 2020, 34% had money lost. It translates into $3.3 billion related to fraud complaints, a $1.5 billion increase from 2019.