Best Identity-Theft Protection 2017

More than 17 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The crimes against them ranged from simple credit-card fraud, to misuse of Social Security numbers, to full-on impersonation.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to protect your identity, such as frequently checking your bank and credit-card statements, receiving free credit reports three times a year or asking the credit agencies to put a fraud alert on your records.

But such vigilance can be time-consuming, which is what makes a paid identity-protection service an appealing option for many. For a monthly fee, these services will monitor your personal information and alert you if suspicious or fraudulent activity is occurring.

Based on our more than three months of testing, the best identity-theft-protection service is LifeLock Ultimate Plus. LifeLock offers comprehensive monitoring of your financial activity and personal information, and provides monthly updates to your credit scores and reports. The service also delivers extensive email and SMS notifications. No other service provided protection that was as robust.

MORE: Identity Theft vs. Credit-Card Theft: What's the Difference?

Are identity theft protection services really worth the cost? Yes — particularly if you know your personal information has been compromised due to a data breach or other leak. You can (and should) keep a close eye on your credit-card statements and other financial information, and can normally obtain a credit report for free, but it might take lots of your time and energy to determine whether someone has opened a line of credit in your name if you aren't using one of these services.

Identity Alerts and Threats

— At least eight Chrome browser extensions have been corrupted by attackers who obtained the developers' account credentials through phishing emails. Two of the extensions have been patched, but six others may not have been. ADVICE: Read our story to see if you have any of the affected extensions, and disable them if you do.

— The iOS application SMS Touch has been around for ages, but you might want to stop using it. A new report claims that SMS Touch sends its users' email addresses and passwords through the internet in plaintext when users sign in, and that the "text" messages that SMS Touch sends across the globe are unencrypted as well. ADVICE: Switch to WhatsApp to send messages across devices and platforms securely.

— Up to 14 million Verizon customers may have had their personal information compromised, including names, street addresses, telephone numbers and account PINs. The data was stored on an unprotected cloud server run by NICE, an Israeli firm that handles customer service for many large companies. ADVICE: If you've called Verizon customer service since Jan. 1, 2017, change your account PIN immediately.

How We Tested and Rated

Our testing and analysis focused on how well each service monitors three main areas: your credit reports, your financial activity and your personal information. We rated each service for the amount of information that each provides about your credit report and whether or not they display your credit score. (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 display your credit report for all three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian), or that charge you a fee to see your credit score.

We also rated each service for the number of credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts that it monitors. We paid particular attention to whether or not the service provides email or SMS notifications for the following events: if there were large changes to our account balance or if we incurred large expenses on our 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 can also be used to steal your identity. We gave extra points to services that detected any compromised personal information.

MORE: How to Protect Your Identity, Personal Data and Property

Finally, we gave a service extra points if it provided tools and utilities, and penalized services that did not offer any identity-theft insurance policy.

Our testing period lasted three months. To test the services, we made large purchases using our credit card and moved large amounts of money into and out of our bank account. We also opted into email, SMS and phone alerts (when applicable), and regularly checked our credit reports to monitor any changes.

LifeLock Ultimate Plus: Best Overall

LifeLock Ultimate Plus has the priciest plan we've reviewed, but it also provides the most comprehensive protection, with robust monitoring of your personal information and financial activity, monthly credit reports and scores from all three credit bureaus, and frequent email and SMS alerts. LifeLock recently added a traditional $1 million identity-theft insurance policy, similar to those of its competitors, and the company will also spend up to $1 million on legal fees, application fees and other expenses to restore your identity.

Read the Full Review for LifeLock Ultimate Plus

Credit Scores and Reports: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion
Financial Activity Alerts: Email and SMS
Identity Protection Alerts: Email, SMS and Phone
Insurance: $1 million (LifeLock will also spend up to $1,000,000 in restoration)

IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit: Runner-Up

IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit was a close contender for our Editor's Choice award because it provides excellent protection at a reasonable monthly rate. IdentityForce offers monthly credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus, robust personal-information protection and a host of helpful utilities, such as a credit-score simulator and anti-keylogging software. However, it doesn't provide quite the same level of financial-activity monitoring as LifeLock, and it rarely sent us email or SMS notifications.

Read the Full Review for IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit

Credit Scores and Reports: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion
Financial Activity Alerts: None
Identity Protection Alerts: Email and SMS
Insurance: $1 million

 

Identity Guard Platinum

Identity Guard Platinum is an excellent identity-theft-protection service. It offers monthly tri-bureau credit scores and reports and a bevy of utilities such as a credit-score analyzer, anti-keylogging software and an antimalware suite. However, Identity Guard Platinum is almost as expensive as LifeLock Ultimate Plus, yet provides less-robust personal-information protection and financial-activity monitoring. For that price, we recommend LifeLock Ultimate Plus.

Read the Full Review for Identity Guard Platinum

Credit Scores and Reports: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion
Financial Activity Alerts: Limited
Identity Protection Alerts: Email and SMS
Insurance: $1,000,000

LegalShield ID Premium

LegalShield ID Premium originally cost as much as LifeLock Ultimate Plus, but offered only a fraction of the features. It provided only your monthly TransUnion credit score and report (Equifax and Experian weren't included) and didn't offer financial-activity alerts. Furthermore, the service didn't include an identity-theft insurance policy. In the event that you're the victim of identity theft, LegalShield would provide unlimited consultation with Kroll, a corporate investigations firm, but you won't be reimbursed if any money is stolen from your accounts.

[Editor's note: Since our review first ran, LegalShield has been rebranded as IDShield, and its premium pricing lowered. IDShield representatives told us that the company guarantees full "identity restoration" with all three major credit-reporting agencies, although only TransUnion is actively monitored. We'll have a full review of IDShield in our upcoming roundup of identity-protection services.]

Read the Full Review for LegalShield ID Premium

Credit Scores and Reports: TransUnion only
Financial Activity Alerts: None
Identity Protection Alerts: Email
Insurance: None

ProtectMyID

Despite its affordable price, ProtectMyID from Experian falls short of the competition. Unlike the other identity-theft-protection services we reviewed, ProtectMyID charges you a fee to see your credit scores and reports. The service's personal-information and financial-activity monitoring is rudimentary compared to those of other services. On the positive side, ProtectMyID will alert you if a credit report is issued in your child's name.

Read the Full Review for ProtectMyID

Credit Scores and Reports: None
Financial Activity Alerts: None
Identity Protection Alerts: Email and SMS
Insurance: $1,000,000

More About Identity Theft:
Identity Theft Victim? Here's 6 Things You Need to Do
What to Do If Your Social Security Number Is Stolen
What to Do After a Data Breach
How to Avoid Tax-Refund Identity Theft