With the power of IBM Watson artificial intelligence behind it, Identity Guard Premier claims it can ferret out instances of identity theft that other identity-protection services might miss. It provides annual access to credit reports and gives you a TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 credit score every month. The service can find your personal information on the open and dark web and report on how dangerous your online behavior is.
But the types of personal data it monitors are limited compared to other services. IDShield's three-bureau plans offer more credit for less money, LifeLock Ultimate Plus has more comprehensive data monitoring and antivirus software (at a hefty price), and IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit offers the best of all worlds for a reasonable price.
After signing up for the Identity Guard Premier service in January 2019, I checked into the service daily and watched as it alerted me to a variety of items. I used the service for three months. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make the cut for the list of best identity theft protection services.
Identity Guard costs and what's covered
Identity Guard offers three identity-protection plans for individuals, and you'll get two months free if you pay for a year up front. (Tom's Guide readers get an additional discount of about 20% for each plan.)
The basic Value plan costs only $8.99 a month — inexpensive for an identity-protection service. It comes with Watson AI cloud monitoring, $1 million insurance package that includes reimbursement, a dedicated case manager in case of identity theft and warnings of high-risk transactions.
It has Android and iOS apps with anti-phishing features and extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers that block known malicious sites and tracking cookies.
The next step up, Identity Guard Total, costs $19.99 a month. In addition to all the Value plan's features, it alerts you to certain changes to your credit files and bank accounts, and if someone tries to open a bank account in your name.
It also gives you a VantageScore 3.0 credit score every month, but one that's drawn only from TransUnion, leaving out the ones from Equifax or Experian. FICO credit scores are the ones that matter the most, but VantageScore 3.0 scores are a fair approximation.
You won't get any credit reports from Identity Guard Total, but you will get all three annually from Identity Guard Premier, which runs $24.99 a month. The extra $5 per month might not be worth the upgrade, however, because you can get the same reports for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. The only other extra perk with Premier is a "social insight report" that tells you how to improve your Facebook profile.
Got a lot of people in your household? Identity Guard has family versions of each plan that cover all residents of a single address. The Family Value plan is $6 per month more than the individual one, and the Total and Premier plans are $10 more, but IDShield's family plans are cheaper. (Disclaimers and disclosures regarding Identity Guard service can be found here.)
Identity Guard is not rated by the Better Business Bureau, but its parent, Intersections, has an A+ BBB score; there are 10 complaints that center on unauthorized accounts and collection issues. Identity Guard got 4 out of 5 stars from readers of ConsumerAffairs.com.
Identity Guard plan comparison chart
|Identity Guard Value||Identity Guard Total||Identity Guard Premier|
|Family plan?||$15, 2 adults & unlimited kids||$30, 2 adults & unlimited kids||$35, 2 adults & unlimited kids|
|No. of bureaus' reports||None||None||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion|
|No. of bureaus monitored||None||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion|
|Frequency of credit reports||None||None||Yearly|
|Frequency of credit scores||None||TransUnion monthly||TransUnion monthly|
|Type of credit score||None||VantageScore 3.0||VantageScore 3.0|
|Data breach alerts||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Payday loan monitoring||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Social media monitoring||No||No||Yes|
|Max. ID-theft coverage||$1 million||$1 million||$1 million|
Credit scores and monitoring
In an instant, Identity Guard Premier let me see my TransUnion Vantage 3.0 score of creditworthiness, which is helpful but only an indicator of the corresponding FICO score. Although Premier gives you all three credit reports annually, it doesn't give you three credit scores. (IdentityForce and IDShield give you all three credit reports quarterly, and IDShield and PrivacyGuard let you see new credit scores from all three bureaus monthly.)
Other identity-protection services scan the open and dark Web for your information, but only Identity Guard uses IBM Watson artificial intelligence to continuously assesses your risk of identity theft at a deeper level than any of the others. We couldn't tell if it made any difference.
Identity Guard Premier scans everything from credit bureaus to payday loan providers to the LexisNexis database to local, state and federal court records for bankruptcy proceedings. It reports changes to existing accounts and the opening of new ones, and it builds a profile based on your online use, accounts and personal habits.
It doesn't directly monitor your credit card, bank and investment accounts, but if you provide the names of the accounts you have, the Watson AI program will include those in your risk profile. Unlike many of its rivals, Identity Guard doesn't tell you when a sex offender moves into your neighborhood.
Insurance and services
If Identity Guard Premier finds your data in all the wrong places, the company will assign you a case manager, available day or night, to help you freeze your credit and help you recover your identity.
Like most other identity-protection services, Identity Guard offers up to $1 million to cover the costs of lawyers, investigators and experts you'll need during your identity-recovery process and will reimburse you for lost money that your credit card company won't cover.
The insurance also reimburses you for court fees and overnight shipping charges for new IDs and documents, unauthorized withdrawals from bank and investment accounts, up to $2,000 per week in lost wages (for up to five weeks), up to $1,000 in travel expenses and up to $1,000 to pay an accountant.
There's also a list of contacts at major credit card companies, which can help during an identity emergency or when an error shows up on a report.
Uniquely among identity-protection services, Identity Guard has a relationship with a top tax-preparation company (its representatives wouldn't tell us which one) and can alert you when your tax return is electronically filed – a valuable early-warning system if a crook files your return to get your tax refund.
Notifications and alerts
I found that Identity Guard Premier's alerts were well balanced between too many (which would have indicated overly sensitive detection) and too few (not enough protection). Identity Guard could notify me if my Social Security number showed up in an online forum, or my address had been changed in an online form or even if one of my creditors had had a data breach.
I chose to receive alerts via all available channels, which included email messages, push notifications sent to my phone and alerts in the desktop interface.
During the three-month test period, Identity Guard sent me only two alerts, one of which was for an inquiry into my credit history that was likely made by one of the other monitoring services I signed up for.
Signing up with Identity Guard took about 11 minutes. I first filled in my email address and the password I wanted to use. A second form needed my name, address, phone number, date of birth and Social Security number. Finally, I paid with a credit card and the service started a scan of the open and dark internet for my info.
I had to verify my identity by picking the correct data about my mortgage, residences and phone numbers out of red herrings. I then filled in the information for my credit card and bank accounts.
Identity Guard had me answer 32 intimate questions to build a security profile, which the service calls a Watchlist. The questions ranged from which web browser I prefer to use to my health insurance provider.
All that data was encrypted after I entered it, according to IdentityGuard. But you can't set up two-factor authentication for your Identity Guard account. It's pretty awful that most identity-protection services don't offer 2FA.
The tech-support section of the Identity Guard website provides installation help, solutions to common problems and explanations of ways your identity can be stolen.
Identity Guard does not provide 24-hour tech support. Technicians are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. In an emergency, they will get experts on the line to help you.
I sent an email to Identity Guard asking about adding a new bank account and received a call back 3 hours later that explained the procedure. That's more helpful than some other services were.
Interface and utilities
Identity Guard's online Dashboard has several boxes providing different functions; the modular interface makes it easy to add and subtract items, but it feels less integrated than other identity-protection services' interfaces.
The main screen displays Alerts (Activity, Dark Web and Threat), the TransUnion VantageScore, a link to your credit report and the Risk Assessment score that Watson builds out of your profile.
Identity Guard Premier comes with Safe Browsing extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari that can block websites with a history of tracking or phishing. There's no malware protection, but there's an anti-phishing app for iOS and Android.
Finally, there's a unique section dealing exclusively with social media. A window shows which portals you're logged into and an analysis of your social media profile that includes your most used words online and a list of your online friends.
A horizontal navigation bar links to sections for Dashboard, Alerts, Watchlist and Reports and Scores, where you can find what the dark-web scan looks for or how to raise your risk management score.
I really like the Reports and Scores section, which has not only the TransUnion VantageScore presented as a color-coded bar graph but also the reasons for the current score and suggestions to improve it. Apparently, I have too much outstanding on my credit-card balances.
Identity Guard's Android and iOS apps put my scores up front with a Reports summary that showed my TransUnion VantageScore as well as my Risk Management rating. I was able to see my current credit reports as well as active alerts.
Along the bottom are links to Alerts, Watchlist and Settings, the last of which is for changing the password and canceling the service.
Identity Guard cancellation
The process of canceling Identity Guard was the easiest of the five identity-protection services I tested. I went to My Account (upper right on the main online-interface page) and tapped Cancellation (lower left). I was notified that the cancellation would start at the end of the current billing cycle and clicked to confirm that I wanted to end the service. In 10 minutes, I received an email confirmation.
Identity Guard Premier does a good job for a reasonable price compared to the other best identity protection services, but it's neither the most comprehensive (that would be IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit) nor the best bargain (IDShield Individual 3 Credit Bureau Monitoring). If you're more concerned about identity theft than your credit rating, you need antivirus software and you have an unlimited budget, you might consider LifeLock Ultimate Plus as well.
Credit: Tom's Guide