The best identity theft protection services can help you spot, stop and recover your identity but many of them also provide credit monitoring and show you the best way to keep your credit scores high.
Unlike with other crimes, identity theft sneaks up on you and you may not even learn you’ve fallen victim to it until a loan application is denied, your credit cards are maxed out or your tax refund from the IRS suddenly disappears.
The best identity theft protection services monitor your credit, watch your bank and other financial accounts for odd behavior and can spot when your name or Social Security number is being misused online or in the real world. They can even provide you with legal advice and may reimburse you for up to $1 million for damages while you’re an active subscriber.
Based on our extensive testing, we can tell you which identity theft protection services send you too many alerts as well as which ones scan court records, examine dark web marketplaces or notify you if a sex offender moves in next door – and which make it easy to cancel your subscription.
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The best identity theft protection service you can buy
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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 lets you know if someone's trying to steal your phone number.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus offers a new Equifax credit score and credit report every day, and scores and reports from the other two bureaus every month. It lets you initiate a TransUnion credit lock straight from the user interface and includes Norton 360, one of the best antivirus programs around that also comes with a password manager and VPN.
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 doesn't provide a credit-score simulator.
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.
Most recently, IDShield added Trend Micro's antivirus protection, password manager and VPN service to all its plans, contributing a lot of value.
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 on identity protection. It offers full credit reports and scores every month plus a very useful credit simulator. However, it has ended its policy of offering discounts for customers who pay annually instead of monthly, making it one of the most expensive plans out there.
IdentityIQ also covers up to three children at no additional cost and recently added Bitdefender antivirus software as an inexpensive add-on option, which does add to the value proposition.
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. During our testing period, IdentityIQ sent advertising notifications to our phone, but the company tells us that practice has since ended.
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.
Because it focuses entirely on online misuse of your personal information and skips anything to do with credit reports, credit scores or identity-theft insurance or assistance, Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection isn't quite on the same playing field as IdentityForce, LifeLock and the other services on this page.
But if you're not concerned about your credit report and would rather just see whether your data is being used by online identity thieves or has been exposed in data breaches, then at only $80 per year, Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection is a very affordable, flexible alternative to the pricier services.
We found it refreshing that Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection didn't need our Social Security or credit-card numbers to get started. It just wanted a few email addresses and phone numbers, plus our name.
It found several possible social-media impersonators and incidents of data misuse, but missed one well-publicized data breach — perhaps just a growing pain for this fairly new service.
Read our full Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection review.
How to protect your identity for free
Any of the services detailed above are well worth paying for if you know your personal information was compromised as the result of a data breach or data leak. However, you can also take several steps on your own that won’t cost you a thing to protect your identity and monitor your credit.
- Frequently check both 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 to put a free credit freeze on your files
How to choose the best identity protection service for you
The five services we’ve reviewed in this guide have a lot in common. All of them monitor your files with all three of the major credit bureaus and let you know when something alarming has shown up. All watch the dark web and other places cybercriminals frequent for mention of your name, Social Security number and credit card and bank account numbers.
Additionally, each of these services sends you alerts via email and text messages and all of them have mobile apps for Android and iOS.
If your identity is stolen while paying for one of these services, each will spend up to $1 million to help restore your good name and credit, including reimbursement for stolen funds and lost wages.
However, the best identity theft protection services differ in how often you’ll get credit reports and scores as well as when it comes to which bureaus you’ll get credit scores from. Not every service monitors your bank, credit card and investment accounts.
Last but not least, not every one of these services offers two-factor login authentication (2FA) to protect your account. This makes sense considering the sensitive nature 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 focuses on how well each one monitors credit information, financial activity and personal information. We also rated each service for how frequently it provides credit reports and credit scores not including free annual credit reports.
We gave extra weight to the services that offer tools to help improve your credit score and penalized any services that do not give you credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
At the same time, we also rated each service for the number of credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts they monitor. We paid close attention to whether or not a service provides 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 these numbers can also be used to steal your identity. We also gave extra points to services that detected any compromised personal information.
While our previous testing period lasted for three months in early 2019, we’re currently in the process of updating all of our identity theft protection reviews and will update this article accordingly once complete. During the testing period, our reviewer is using his credit cards and bank accounts as usual. He also has opted into email, SMS and phone alerts (when available) front he services and is regularly checking his credit reports to monitor any changes.
For more information, check out our how we test antivirus software and apps guide as well as our more general how we test page for Tom's Guide.
Free credit lock
and coming next year something similar for Equifax
nothing for Experian
David, I tried to use the link yesterday (Sept 28, 2017) for Identity Force special pricing at $19.95/month. The link takes me to Identity Force, but their price is $23.95 so either your link is not working ...or they won't honor your pricing. Can you please let me know whether you can fix this? Thanks, Colleen
Neither LifeLock'd nor ID Shield'd websites are secure or compliant as you would find that evidence on the websites as legally required.
To be certified, there must be a thurough inspection of all webpages, all client contracts, all technologies.
Both refuse inspection, based on proprietary technologies. Neither impose nor deliver the 1994 mandated security required by the IISC for securing a windows computer, device, machine.