Updated with clarifications of lost-wallet-protection and account-cancellation features. This review was originally published June 26, 2019.
PrivacyGuard monitors all three credit bureaus, gives you a monthly "merged" credit report and offers up to $1 million to restore your credit and reimburse lost funds in case of identity theft.
It also has some of the best utilities and extras in the business, including Norton antivirus protection and credit and mortgage calculators. The service can help you initiate a credit freeze, but it can't start one with the tap of a button as LifeLock can.
PrivacyGuard doesn't offer two-factor authentication to help protect your account. But you do need to enter the last four digits of your Social Security number when logging in.
Nevertheless, PrivacyGuard Total Protection can't quite compete with IdentityForce UltraSecure + Credit, which offers more comprehensive identity monitoring and similar credit-file information for about the same price. That's our pick for best overall identity theft protection service.
In early 2019, I registered and paid for PrivacyGuard's Total Protection package, along with four competing services. I used them all for nearly three months with daily monitoring of alerts and reports.
PrivacyGuard cost and what's covered
PrivacyGuard offers a basic plan that focuses on identity protection, a more expensive plan that focuses on credit monitoring, and a premium plan that combines the two. There's a two-week trial period for any of the three plans that costs all of $1, but there's no discount for paying for a year up front.
PrivacyGuard's ID Protection plan starts at $9.99 a month, matching LifeLock's basic Standard plan. It aims to prevent identity theft by scanning the open and dark web for signs of your personal data.
The company provides up to $1 million in restitution to help get your lost money and digital identity back. There's no credit monitoring with this plan at all, but that might be fine if you own your own home and don't plan to get new credit cards or a new car.
By contrast, the Credit Protection plan ($19.99 per month) focuses on credit monitoring and provides access to a "merged" credit report, updated monthly, that combines information from your files at the Big Three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. That's not quite the same as the official credit reports from each bureau, but it will tip you off to anything new.
You'll also get VantageScore 3.0 credit scores based on each bureau's files every month. VantageScore scores are used by some lenders to assess creditworthiness, but they're not as widely used as the rival FICO credit-scoring model. There are also excellent credit simulators and financial calculators to make every dollar count.
PrivacyGuard's flagship Total Protection plan costs $24.99 per month and combines the ID Protection and Credit Protection plans. As with LifeLock Ultimate Plus, you get Norton Security Online antivirus protection, but it can be used on only one Windows system, rather than LifeLock's five-system license for all major platforms.
All three plans include a "mobile secure keyboard" for iOS devices, a Digital Protection app for iOS and Android that includes a secure browser and keyboard, secure browser extensions for Windows and fraud resolution support in case of identity theft. (Full-fledged Android and iOS apps are still in development.) Only the ID Protection and Total Protection plans get the $1 million insurance, however.
At the moment, there's no stand-alone family plan to protect family members, nor any way to add family members to an existing individual account. PrivacyGuard can be set up to monitor the Social Security numbers of up to 10 children, but that's a far cry from the family plans that some other identity-protection services offer.
There's no Better Business Bureau rating for PrivacyGuard or its corporate parent, Trilegiant/Affinion Group. The companies, however, have a spotty record for service, and in 2013, Affinion paid $30 million to 47 states in cases related to unauthorized charges, and deceptive billing and collection practices. PrivacyGuard is rated 2 out of 5 stars from the Consumer Affairs website.
PrivacyGuard plan comparisons
|PrivacyGuard ID Protection||PrivacyGuard Credit Protection||PrivacyGuard Total Protection|
|Credit reports||None||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion|
|Credit bureaus monitored||None||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion|
|Frequency of credit reports||None||Monthly "blended" report||Monthly "blended" report|
|Frequency of credit scores||None||Monthly||Monthly|
|Type of credit score||None||VantageScore 3.0||VantageScore 3.0|
|Credit-improvement simulator or advice||None||Yes||Yes|
|Bank, card accounts monitored||Yes||No||Yes|
|Sex offender alert||Yes||No||Yes|
|Data breach alerts||Yes||No||Yes|
|Max. ID-theft coverage||$1 million||None||$1 million|
|Max. lost-wages payout||$1,500 per week for 5 weeks||None||$1,500 per week for 5 weeks|
|Monetary loss payout||Bundled into $1 million||None||Bundled into $1 million|
Credit scores and monitoring
As mentioned above, PrivacyGuard Credit Protection and Total Protection monitor activity at all three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and provide VantageScore 3.0 scores derived from each bureau's files.
Most identity-protection services provide updated credit reports quarterly or annually, but PrivacyGuard Credit Protection and Total Protection deliver their "merged" credit reports monthly. The company even has a countdown clock for when the next report updates will be available.
But you're limited to monitoring only up to 10 credit cards and 10 bank accounts as well as your Social Security number (which nonetheless ought to be enough for most people), and PrivacyGuard can't track your investment accounts.
PrivacyGuard scans the open internet as well as the dark web's criminal marketplaces for indications that your information is for sale. It also examines court and real-estate records and gives you an annual public-records report that shows your presence (or lack of it) online.
Total Protection has an incredibly deep array of credit simulators and financial calculators that can help maximize the use of your money, including scenario simulators for each of the three credit bureaus and calculators to try out situations like consolidating your debt or buying a car. It also offers tips to protect yourself from identity theft.
On the downside, PrivacyGuard has no two-factor-authentication option to help secure your account. Identity Force does, but it's kind of appalling that so few others do.
PrivacyGuard does ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number, which is better than just a password alone. But this can be dicey because you don't want any part of your Social Security number used too openly.
Insurance and services
PrivacyGuard will assign a dedicated case worker and give you up to $1 million to help with lawyers, court filings, getting new documents and conducting investigations in case your identity is stolen.
It promises to reimburse any lost funds that banks and credit-card issuers refuse to cover and pay you up to $1,500 per week for up to five weeks of lost wages, travel expenses and a maximum of $1,000 for child or elder-care services related to restoring your identity.
There's no lost-wallet protection per se, but PrivacyGuard's Lost & Stolen Assistance service is a good approximation and will help you cancel lost or stolen credit cards and help get new ones issued. It can also provide $1,000 of emergency cash and a one-way plane ticket if you are stuck far from home.
Notifications and alerts
PrivacyGuard Total Protection provides all sorts of alerts that your credit could be going south. It monitors your credit ratings and lets you know if anyone makes an inquiry. It also watches for new accounts and public-record mentions of your name and changes of address. In addition, you can set a purchase threshold on your credit cards to trigger an alert.
I was happy to receive an "All Clear" report from PrivacyGuard every month showing that the company was scanning for my information and found nothing. Think of the report as an extra piece of proof that everything is OK.
PrivacyGuard's personnel can help you start a credit freeze, but you need to do the bulk of the work yourself. By contrast, LifeLock lets you do this with just a click of a button.
If a registered sex offender moves into your neighborhood, PrivacyGuard alerts you with information about the offender and a map indicating his or her address.
Over the review period of more than two months, I got two credit alerts and one identity alert. None were for anything earth-shattering. In one instance, when I logged on to see an alert's details, nothing was there, but PrivacyGuard later said that was just a temporary technical glitch during an upgrade.
Of the five identity protection services I looked at, PrivacyGuard was, by far, the fastest to set up, taking all of 4 minutes.
The first online form asked for my user name and a password; oddly, the password creation field rejected punctuation marks, which would have made the password stronger. The next forms wanted my full name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and a credit card for payment.
After that, I had to go through a red-herring quiz that replayed parts of my financial life and asked me which aspects were correct. The credit-reporting bureaus use similar multiple-choice quizzes to verify your identity.
Once I passed that test, the system issued me a member number and gave me my CreditXpert credit scores. (These have since been replaced by more useful VantageScore 3.0 credit scores.) Unlike the other identity-protection services, PrivacyGuard mailed me a copy of the plan's terms and conditions. The print was a little small, but it was reassuring to get that in the mail.
PrivacyGuard only recently started using its Digital Protection iOS and Android apps, which for the moment contain only a secure keyboard and secure browser. According to the company, I and others who signed up for PrivacyGuard in early 2019 were not able to log into our accounts using the apps.
At first, the tech-support people told me that the apps were not included in my Total Protection plan. A few weeks and several emails and phone calls later, the company promised me account access via the apps. But the problem was only fixed, finally, by canceling my existing PrivacyGuard account and starting over again, which included re-entering all my personal data.
PrivacyGuard needs to not only work on its back-end infrastructure, but on its tech support as well. Technicians are available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time on weekdays, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. If you have a suspected identity takeover, however, they will respond 24/7.
There are PrivacyGuard support links and phone numbers at the bottom of most pages of the website interface. My emailed request for information on how to use the interface was responded to in a few hours with a suggestion to just call the tech-support number instead.
Interface and utilities
PrivacyGuard's web interface squeezes a lot of credit data into a long, narrow space. Overall, the site felt sluggish, with pages taking 10 to 15 seconds to load.
The main screen showed my three agency scores along the top, next to a tabulation of alerts. There were places to order credit reports and to see your credit ratings over time.
Like a trip down memory lane, I saw the last three places I had lived going back to the 1980s. Unfortunately, the Experian report showed me still employed at a magazine that went out of business decades ago, and the Equifax report said I had no employment history, but neither discrepancy was PrivacyGuard's fault.
The service's 24/7 Identity Monitoring Station is unique and shows what kind of personal information the service scans for online. Red, yellow and green icons next to each type of information indicate what you've provided and what you still need to fill in. Need to add a new account or phone number? Tap or click and that section opens.
After I finally got access to the iOS and Android apps, I logged in to my account using an iPad Pro and an Asus Zen Pad. The first time, I needed to enter my membership number, last name and a name for each device. This led to a real login page that required the account password.
As mentioned earlier, the PrivacyGuard mobile apps are still being filled out and at the moment are minimalist compared with other services'. The main screens showed my name up top, and below that were links to the service's secure browser and encrypted keypad. The browser warned of unsafe sites based on reputation.
The final link was a link out to my Privacy Guard personal page, essentially the same as I got via a browser. It displayed fine on my big iPad Pro but was not as fulfilling on a phone, as there was too much scrolling up and down.
After I had used PrivacyGuard for three months, it was time for me and the service to go our separate ways, but I couldn't find a way to cancel my PrivacyGuard subscription online. (A PrivacyGuard representative told us that you can click on Account, then End Membership.)
I had to wait to call the toll-free support line until it opened at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Once I made contact and found my membership number, I had to listen to the operator read a script extolling the virtues of PrivacyGuard and offering to cut my $25 subscription price to $20 a month.
The interaction took 5 minutes and I got an email confirmation of my subscription cancellation early the next morning.
With three-bureau credit monitoring, monthly reports and scores and its plethora of utilities, credit calculators and simulators, PrivacyGuard is a very useful identity-protection service. But IdentityForce UltraSecure + Credit offers more thorough personal-data monitoring for the same price.
Credit: Tom's Guide