Identity theft is one of the modern age’s most pervasive and expensive financial problems.
According to the 2016 Identity Fraud study released by Javelin Strategy & Research, $15 billion dollars was stolen from 13.1 million American consumers in 2015, the latest year for which we have statistics. Over the six years from 2010-2015, identity thieves took $112 billion total from victims across the country.
While the credit card and banking industries are working to thwart identity thieves, both through chip-and-pin technology on credit and debit cards and through transaction monitoring and email alerts to consumers, ID thieves are learning how to work around such precautions.
In particular, there has been an uptick in new account fraud as a result of these sorts of protections. New account fraud occurs when a thief opens a credit card or other account using a victim’s name and personal information. Such fraud can be more difficult to detect and stop.
Identity theft may be a fact of modern life, but it does not have to ruin your credit, your finances, or even your day. You can protect yourself from identity theft and its aftermath. Here is what you need to know about staying safe from identity theft:
Understanding the Types of Identity Theft
We have a tendency to focus on credit card and banking fraud when we think about identity theft. But thieves are interested in more than just your good credit or your bank account. They will also use other aspects of your identity to profit or protect themselves in many different situations:
- Social Security Fraud—If a thief steals your Social Security number, he or she can use it to fraudulently obtain various types of benefits in your name, such as disability, workman’s compensation, or health benefits. In addition, a thief could use your Social Security number to conceal income, file for tax refunds, obtain student loans, or obtain food stamps.
- Medical Identity Theft—Thieves can use your identity to access medical services or products, such as prescription drugs.
- Employment Fraud—An identity thief who is either not a legal U.S. resident or who has a criminal history might use a fake or stolen ID in order to obtain a job under your name. Often, victims of this type of identity theft find out about it when they receive a W-2 from an unknown employer.
- Criminal Identity Theft—Someone holding your identification could commit a crime using your name. If the crime is not serious enough to warrant the police jailing and fingerprinting the thief, then you may receive a notice to appear in court for violations you are not responsible for.
- Financial Identity Theft—This is the kind of identity theft and fraud we think of most often. This occurs when a thief either uses your existing credit card or other account, or uses your information to create a new account under your name.
Identity Theft Protection Services
There are several programs available to consumers to help protect them from identity theft and help them clean up the aftermath of a security breach. Here are four of the major players and what they offer:
With detection, LifeLock monitors over a trillion data points on a daily basis to help pinpoint any suspicious usage of your identity to get loans, credit, or services in your name.
The company then uses its patented LifeLock Identity Alert system to notify you of the usage of your information via text, phone call, or email. You will either verify the transaction as legitimate or flag it as fraudulent.
Finally, if your information has been compromised, LifeLock will help you restore your identity. You have access to U.S.-based Identity Protection Agents and Restoration Specialists 24/7 to help you recover your identity. The company offers a $1 million guarantee: If you become a victim of identity theft, LifeLock will spend up to $1 million to hire experts to help your recovery.
LifeLock offers three coverage tiers. Standard membership, which costs $9.99 per month, offers the three layers of protection above, as well as a $25,000 stolen funds reimbursement amount. Advantage membership, at $19.99 per month, includes $100,000 stolen funds reimbursement, and LifeLock will also monitor bank and credit card activity alerts, as well as alerts on crimes in your name. The ultimate plus membership costs $29.99 per month, offers $1 million in stolen funds reimbursement, and includes all three credit institution reports, additional online monitoring of investments, and credit inquiry alerts.
One major downside to LifeLock is that it does not offer any family plans, so if you have multiple family members under one roof that you would like to sign up, you will have to pay a separate monthly fee for each one.
Zander Insurance Identity Theft Protection
Promoted by Dave Ramsey, the Identity Theft Protection from Zander Insurance offers one of the most comprehensive protection services for consumers worried about fraud. Zander covers financial fraud, Social Security fraud, tax fraud, benefits fraud, employment fraud, medical ID theft, criminal activity, and ID theft of a child.
Specifically, if you sign up with Zander, the program will monitor and alert you when your personal information is at risk. You will receive instant notification via email or text alert to your smart phone, computer, tablet, or email address if your sensitive information is at risk.
The program will also provide you complete and unlimited restoration of your loss should your information become compromised. What this means is that Certified Identity Theft Specialists are available 24/7/365 to work on restoring your identity and fixing any problems caused by a thief.
Finally, Zander offers customers up to $1 million in reimbursement and stolen funds protection. That reimbursement coverage includes out-of-pocket costs you might incur in the wake of a loss, such as postage, gas mileage, lost wages, and travel expenses.
Zander’s Identity Theft Protection costs $6.75 per month or $75 per year for an individual, and $12.90 per month or $145 per family, which includes you, your spouse and/or your dependents.
Costco Complete ID
Costco offers more than just giant bottles of olive oil—it is also a great place for Costco members to get identity theft protection through the Costco Complete ID program.
This program offers you annual credit reports, monthly credit score updates, internet surveillance of suspicious activity, Social Security and non-credit identity monitoring, payday loan monitoring, full identity restoration, and 24/7 member service support. In addition, Costco Complete ID offers $1 million in identity theft insurance.
If the program detects any suspicious activities, it notifies you and provides you with clear explanations of what you need to do next in order to fight any fraudulent activity.
Costco Complete ID is available to Costco Executive members for $8.99 per month. Executive members may also add child protection to their plan for an additional $2.99 per month. Costco Gold Star members can access Complete ID for $13.99 per month and add child protection for $3.99 per month.
While most identity theft protection services are reactive—letting consumers know that their data has been compromised after it has happened—Civic is hoping to be proactive in preventing identity theft. It does so by alerting users with either a push notification to their smartphone, or via text or email, when their Social Security number is being used at the time of a transaction. This gives the user and opportunity to deny the transaction as it is happening.
Civic is able to offer this service through its Identity Protection Network, which is a network of businesses that collect personal data. The network includes members like banks, healthcare organizations, financial services, and other organizations that ask for Social Security numbers. These partners alert Civic users when their Social Security number.
Civic has also partnered with TransUnion to provide users with real-time alerts when there is a change to their credit report.
Like other identity theft programs, Civic also offers $1 million in identity fraud coverage, as well as 24/7 expert support in the event that you do experience identity fraud.
Civic is currently free, but it will be transitioning to paid subscriptions in early 2017. However, the company is committed to maintain a basic level offering for free to anyone who wishes to join, and anyone who joins before the onset of paid subscriptions will be able to keep their free, full membership.
DIY Identity Theft Protection
Identity theft protection programs offer peace of mind, as well as the services of experts who can help you recover in the event of identity theft. However, much of what these programs do are things you can do on your own. Specifically, the Federal Trade Commission suggests that consumers protect themselves by doing the following:
- Monitor your credit reports. You can get a free credit report once per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. If you want to space out your monitoring, you can plan on getting one report every four months.
- Review your financial statements at least once a month. You will see fraudulent activity before it can hit your credit report.
- Review the explanation of benefits statements that you receive from your health insurer to make sure that no one received treatments in your name.
- You may place a credit freeze on your credit with the three credit bureaus, which means you will have to “thaw” your credit any time you need to use it. There is a small fee to freeze and unfreeze your credit, ranging from $3 to $10 per credit bureau.
- If you believe your identity has been compromised, or is at risk of being compromise, you can place a free 90-day fraud alert on your credit report, which will tell potential creditors and lenders to contact you directly and verify your identity before opening any new accounts in your name. Such fraud alerts can be renewed after the 90 days have elapsed, and you may remove it at any time.
It’s also important to realize that the federal government offers resources for victims of identity theft. IdentityTheft.gov provides consumers with personal and interactive recovery plans. These plans will walk you through each necessary step, generate the pre-filled letters, affidavits, and forms you will need to send to the various companies and agencies to clear your name, and provide you with advice on what to do if you’re affected by specific breaches of data.
Protect Your Identity and Rest Easy
Identity theft can cause major headaches for any victim, so it’s smart to protect yourself before you’re faced with compromised data. Whether you use an identity protection program or simply take intelligent precautions on your own, keeping an eye on your data is a necessary part of being financially responsible in the 21st century.