The best identity theft protection services can help you detect, prevent and recover from instances of identity theft. They also monitor your credit files and often offer advice on how to keep your credit scores high.
Identity theft cost consumers $56 billion in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. About $13 billion of that was due to "traditional" identity fraud in which information is stolen without the victim's knowledge. Another $43 billion was due to identity-fraud scams, such as a phone call or email message telling you that your Social Security number is in jeopardy.
Whatever the method, the end results of identity theft can include credit-card fraud, misuse of Social Security numbers and full-on impersonation. You often won't even learn of the theft until you're denied a loan, your credit cards are rejected or your tax refund doesn't show up.
The best identity theft protection services can give you a heads-up. They monitor your credit-bureau files, keep an eye on your bank and credit-card accounts and detect whether your name or Social Security number is being used by someone else.
They can also give you free legal advice and assistance, and can reimburse you to the tune of $1 million for damages, court costs and legal fees relating to identity theft that happens on their watch.
We've signed up for and used several of the best identity protection services. We'll tell you which ones send you too many alerts, which ones send you too few, and which offer extra features like scanning court records, trawling cybercriminal marketplaces, and telling you if a sex offender has moved in nearby.
We also tell you which of the best identity protection services make it easy — or difficult — to cancel a paying subscription.
The best identity theft protection services really are worth paying for, especially if you know your personal information may have been compromised due to a data breach or other leak.
However, there are several things you can do yourself to protect your identity and monitor your credit, and they don't cost a thing:
- Frequently check your bank and credit-card statements
- Go to annualcreditreport.com for free yearly credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
- Ask the credit-reporting agencies agencies to put a free credit freeze on your files
The trade-off is that taking such preventive measures can be time-consuming, which is why it may be worth paying for an identity theft protection service to handle it all.
For the cost of a monthly or yearly subscription, these services will keep a close eye on your personal information and your credit files, and will alert you of suspicious or fraudulent activity.
- Best antivirus software: Make sure to keep malware out of your machines
- Best password managers: Lock down your online accounts
- Best internet security suites to protect all your devices
What are the best identity theft protection services?
For each service that we reviewed, we signed up using real names and information and used the service for three months, keeping track of how many alerts we received and how useful the alerts were.
We bothered customer-support representatives to see how quickly they would respond to questions, and we tested credit-score simulators to see how easy — or difficult — it might be to improve our scores.
After all that, we've come to the conclusion that the service that provides the best balance of identity theft protection and credit monitoring is IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit.
It offers the best all-around coverage, with comprehensive monitoring of your financial activity and personal information, quarterly updates of your credit scores and quarterly reports from all three credit bureaus. Alone among the services we reviewed, it offers two-factor authentication to protect your account.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus had the best interface, provided the most comprehensive monitoring of personal accounts and let us start a credit freeze straight from our LifeLock account. But it's not generous with credit reports or credit scores and is more expensive than most other services.
If you're more interested in monitoring your credit reports and scores than in protecting your identity, then MyFICO Premier may be best. It gives you tons of credit information each month, including the FICO scores that lenders use to decide whether to extend you credit. But MyFICO is a bit short on identity-protection features.
The best identity theft protection service you can buy
IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit offers excellent identity protection and a lot of credit-monitoring information for a reasonable price, making it the best identity theft protection service overall.
Credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus are refreshed quarterly; most types of financial accounts are monitored, including investment accounts; and the $1 million identity-restoration insurance covers travel expenses and childcare as well as lost funds and lost wages.
IdentityForce even scans court records and cybercrime forums for mentions of your name and Social Security number, alerts you when registered sex offenders move into the neighborhood and has a one-click button to initiate credit freezes.
It also includes an excellent credit-score simulator, anti-keylogging software for Windows, security features (including unlimited VPN service) for its Android and iOS apps and best of all, two-factor authentication to protect your account. Few other identity theft protection services offer this basic security feature.
In our day-to-day use of IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit, we got a fair number of alerts. IdentityForce also told us when were were approaching our spending limits. Account setup and subscription cancellation were both easy and painless.
Read our full IdentityForce review.
LifeLock is one of the priciest identity-theft-protection services we've reviewed. Yet you get what you pay for: Its top-tier service, LifeLock Ultimate Plus, monitors the most kinds of personal data, including investment and retirement accounts, payday lenders, credit cards and people-search websites. It even makes sure your phone number isn't stolen.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus offers a new Equifax credit score every month, lets you initiate a TransUnion credit lock straight from the user interface and includes Norton 360 antivirus software, which also comes with a password manager and VPN service. LifeLock will help cover your losses if your identity is stolen on its watch, and its insurance coverage goes up to $3 million while rival services cap out at $1 million.
The downside is that even the most expensive LifeLock plan isn't that great at credit monitoring. It gives you full credit reports only once a year, no different from what you can get for free. Nor does it provide a credit-score simulator or two-factor authentication to protect user accounts.
In our three months of using LifeLock, we got nine alerts notifying us of credit inquiries and possible credit-card overspending. Setting up and cancelling LifeLock was easy.
Read our full LifeLock review.
MyFICO Premier is simply the best credit-monitoring service we've used. It offers full credit reports and credit scores from all three major credit bureaus every month. Even better, it's the only service that provides the FICO scores used by most lenders to assess credit-worthiness. If monitoring your credit is your primary interest, look no further.
In terms of identity theft protection, however, MyFICO Premier offers only the basics. It's the opposite of LifeLock in that respect. MyFICO does watch for activity in court records, bank accounts, credit cards and the "dark web," but you'll get no alerts of data breaches or property-title changes, no monitoring of address changes, medical records or investment accounts, and no security software.
MyFICO's top plan is even more expensive than LifeLock's and costs twice as much as IdentityForce's top plan on a yearly basis. But if you're angling for a big loan and need to massage your credit score, paying top dollar for MyFICO Premier may well be worth it.
Read our full MyFICO review.
Identity Guard Ultra's killer feature is its use of the IBM Watson artificial-intelligence platform, which scans the internet for broad patterns that might indicate your identity has been stolen.
Identity Guard offers an Experian credit score monthly, and its various individual and family plans are all moderately priced. Among the best identity theft protection services we've reviewed, Identity Guard is the only one that will give you a heads-up if someone else files a tax return in your name.
Since we last reviewed Identity Guard's top plan, it has added monitoring of credit card, bank and investment accounts, which goes a long way to closing the feature gap with IdentityForce and LifeLock.
It also watches out for data breaches, fraudulent use of medical records, fraudulent property-title changes and mention of your name in payday loans; has browser extensions and anti-phishing mobile apps to prevent data leaks from your own devices; and offers a Social Insight report to flag when you're oversharing on social media.
However, Identity Guard still doesn't offer sex-offender notifications and gives you three-bureau credit reports only once a year, which you can also get for free.
We got five alerts from Identity Guard over our three-month testing period. Cancelling our subscription hit a server snag, but eventually worked, and we got a confirmation immediately.
Read our full Identity Guard review.
Once an also-ran among identity theft protection services, IDShield now competes on the same playing field with IdentityForce and LifeLock. Despite a moderate price hike, IDShield is a good identity theft protection bargain, especially for families, though its credit monitoring is rather skimpy compared to other services.
IDShield monitors bank and credit-card accounts, social-media accounts like Facebook and LinkedIn and alerts you of data breaches and sex offenders. It also offers one-on-one privacy consultations and cyberbullying alerts, but we'd like to see it add a credit-improvement simulator.
IDShield's three-bureau monitoring keeps an eye on all the major credit agencies and gives you a monthly credit score based on your TransUnion credit file. However, it doesn't give you any credit reports, unlike all the other services we've reviewed here.
In our testing, IDShield was skimpy with the alerts, missing a sex offender in the neighborhood that another service noticed. IDShield was also quite difficult to set up, although our experience might have been unique. To cancel our subscription, we had to email tech support, which confirmed the cancellation the next day.
Read our full IDShield review.
PrivacyGuard Total Protection has the best set of useful tools among identity theft protection services, including credit and mortgage simulation calculators and free Norton Security antivirus software.
PrivacyGuard offers monthly credit scores from all three bureaus as well as a monthly "blended" credit report that combines information from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you're primarily interested in credit monitoring, that's pretty good. Like most of these services, PrivacyGuard also offers up to $1 million in compensation in case your identity is stolen and scans the "dark web" for your personal information.
PrivacyGuard can help you initiate a credit freeze and provides secure browser extensions for Windows, and was remarkably easy to set up. But the breadth of PrivacyGuard's monitoring is somewhat limited, as there are caps on how many credit cards and bank accounts can be watched over.
Over three months of using PrivacyGuard, we got only three alerts, for credit inquiries and a possible identity duplication. But we also got "All Clear" reports every month, which were reassuring. Setting up PrivacyGuard was remarkably easy, and while we had to call tech support to cancel our subscription (and decline an offer of a rate cut), that took only 5 minutes.
Read our full PrivacyGuard review.
Despite its name, IdentityIQ Secure Max puts more emphasis on credit monitoring than identity protection. For a relatively reasonable rate, it offers full credit reports and scores every month plus a very useful credit simulator. IdentityIQ also covers up to three children at no additional cost.
In terms of identity protection, IdentityIQ Secure Max scans the dark web for your personal information, watches your bank and credit-card accounts, and keeps an eye on court records and address changes filed with the U.S. Postal Service.
But it ignores investment accounts, payday loans, property-title changes and medical records, which the best identity theft protection services have made standard features. And it's annoying that IdentityIQ sends advertising notifications to your phone.
Over three months of using IdentityIQ Secure Max, we got six alerts, including one that seemed erroneous. Setup and cancellation were both painless.
Read our full IdentityIQ review.
Latest identity-protection news and alerts
— Carnival, the world's largest cruise-ship operator, was hit by its second data breach in 18 months.
— More than a billion user records related to CVS Health were exposed online.
— Volkswagen of America said 3.3 million customers had sensitive data exposed or stolen.
How to choose the best identity protection service for you
The five services we review above have a lot in common. All monitor your files with all three of the major credit-reporting agencies and let you know when something alarming pops up. All watch the "dark web" and other areas of online criminal activity for mention of your name, Social Security number, and credit-card and bank-account numbers.
In addition, each of these services sends you alerts via email and SMS text messaging. All have iOS and Android mobile apps.
And if your identity is stolen while you're paying one of these services to watch it, each will spend up to $1 million doing the dirty work of restoring your good name and credit, including reimbursement for lost wages and stolen funds.
But the best identity theft protection services vary in how often you'll get credit reports and scores, and which bureaus you'll get credit scores from. Not all the services monitor your bank, credit-card and investment accounts.
Last but not least, only IdentityForce among these services offers two-factor login authentication to protect your account. It makes no sense that the others don't, considering the sensitivity of the information they handle. It would be pretty ironic to have your identity stolen from an identity theft protection service.
How we test and rate the best identity theft protection services
Our testing and analysis of the best identity theft protection services focused on how well each one monitored credit information, financial activity and personal information. We rated each service for how frequently it provides credit reports and credit scores. (Free annual credit reports don't include your credit score.)
We also gave extra weight to services that offer tools to help you improve your credit score. We penalized services that do not give you credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
We also rated each service for the number of credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts that it monitors. We paid attention to whether or not a service provided email or SMS notifications for large changes to an account balance or large expenses on a credit card.
We penalized services that didn't allow us to add personal information beyond our Social Security number, such as our driver's license number, phone number or multiple email addresses. Each of those numbers can also be used to steal your identity. We gave extra points to services that detected any compromised personal information.
Our testing period lasted three months in early 2019. During that period, our reviewer used his credit cards and bank accounts as usual. He opted into email, SMS and phone alerts (when applicable) from the services and regularly checked his credit reports to monitor any changes.