The best identity theft protection services can help you prevent, detect and recover from identity theft.
More than 14 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2018, losing $16.8 billion, Javelin Strategy & Research found. The crimes involved ranged from credit-card fraud to misuse of Social Security numbers to full-on impersonation.
Are the best identity theft protection services really worth paying for? Yes, particularly if you know your personal information may have been compromised due to a data breach or other leak.
- Best antivirus software: Make sure to keep malware out of your machines
- Best password managers: Lock down your online accounts
There are a few things you can do yourself for free to protect your identity. You can frequently check your bank and credit-card statements and go to annualcreditreport.com to get a yearly credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), and have the credit agencies put a freeze on your records.
(Through April 2021, you can get free weekly credit reports from each of the Big Three at annualcreditreport.com.)
But such vigilance can be time-consuming, which is what makes a paid identity-protection service an appealing option. For a monthly fee, which can vary widely, these services will monitor your personal information and alert you if suspicious or fraudulent activity is occurring. All of them will also help you restore your credit if your identity is stolen.
What are the best identity theft protection services?
Based on our three months of testing, which involved signing up and paying for each service, bothering their customer-support representatives and putting personal information into their credit-score simulators, we've concluded that the best identity theft protection service, for the second year in a row, is IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit.
IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit offers the best all-around coverage, with comprehensive monitoring of your financial activity and personal information, and quarterly updates of your credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus.
Alone among the services we reviewed, it offers two-factor authentication to protect your account. The only thing IdentityForce lacked was investment-account monitoring, and that's now been added as well.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus had the best interface, provided the most comprehensive monitoring of personal accounts and lets you initiate a credit freeze straight from your account.
But LifeLock isn't very generous with credit reports or credit scores and is much more expensive than other services, although it offers an attractive bundle with Norton Security antivirus software.
The best bargain of the bunch is IDShield Individual 3 Credit Bureau Monitoring, which offers a monthly credit score for half what LifeLock charges.
The best identity theft protection service you can buy
IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit provides very good identity protection and a lot of credit information for a reasonable price, making it the best identity theft protection service overall.
Your credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus are refreshed quarterly; most types of your 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.
It even scans court records and cybercrime forums for mentions of your name and Social Security number and alerts you when registered sex offenders move into the neighborhood.
IdentityForce also includes an excellent credit-score simulator, anti-keylogging software for Windows, security features for Android and iOS, and, best of all, two-factor authentication to protect your account. Few other identity theft protection services offer this basic security feature.
Read our full IdentityForce review.
LifeLock is the priciest of all the services we reviewed. But its top-tier service, LifeLock Ultimate Plus, monitors the most kinds of data, including investment and retirement accounts, payday lenders, credit cards and people-search websites.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus also offers a new Equifax credit score every month, lets you initiate a credit freeze straight from the user interface and offers attractive bundles with Norton Security antivirus software. It also promises up to $1 million in case your identity is stolen.
The downside is that even the most expensive LifeLock plan gives you full credit reports only once a year.
It's also strange that for a service that's so full-featured, LifeLock doesn't provide a credit-score simulator or a family plan, which many competing services offer, or two-factor authentication to protect user accounts, which more identity theft protection services ought to have.
Read our full LifeLock review.
Once an also-ran among identity theft protection services, IDShield has greatly improved its plans' features, and it now competes on an even playing field with IdentityForce and LifeLock. Despite a moderate price hike, IDShield is a good identity theft protection bargain, especially for families.
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 recently added one-on-one privacy consultations and cyberbullying alerts. But we'd like to see it add a credit-improvement simulator and a two-factor authentication option to better secure your account.
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.
Read our full IDShield review.
Identity Guard Premier's big selling point is its use of the IBM Watson artificial-intelligence platform, which watches online for broad patterns that might indicate a stolen identity but which a human might miss.
Identity Guard also offers a TransUnion credit score monthly, and its various individual and family plans are all moderately priced. It offers up to $1 million in insurance coverage if your identity is stolen, and, perhaps uniquely among identity theft protection services, will give you a heads-up if someone else files a tax return in your name.
But Identity Guard doesn't directly keep an eye on your credit-card or bank accounts, which might be a crucial omission for some customers. Nor is there sex-offender notification or investment-account monitoring. And you'll get three-bureau credit reports only once a year, which you can also get for free.
Read our full Identity Guard 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. (LifeLock offers Norton AV too, but you pay extra for it.)
PrivacyGuard offers credit scores from all three bureaus monthly, as well as a monthly "blended" credit report that combines information from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Like many similar services, it offers up to $1 million in compensation in case your identity is stolen and scans the "dark web" for your personal information.
It can also help you initiate a credit freeze and provides secure browser extensions for Windows, and PrivacyGuard 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.
Read our full PrivacyGuard review.
Latest identity-protection news and alerts
— Stolen personal data can fetch up to $1,500 in hacker forums, a new study finds.
— The FBI issued a warning about fake online shopping sites that scam customers.
— U.S. interior-design website Havenly confirmed a data breach that affected 1.3 million users.
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. 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.