The best identity theft protection services can help you prevent, detect and recover from identity theft.
Americans were victims of identity theft 13 million times in 2019, losing $16.9 billion, Javelin Strategy & Research found. The crimes involved ranged from credit-card fraud to misuse of Social Security numbers to full-on impersonation. Account takeovers were up 72%, and identity thieves are opening more checking and savings accounts under other people's names than ever before.
The fact is, you often won't learn your identity has been stolen until it's too late. You'll be denied a loan, or can't rent a new apartment, or can't get a new phone, and you won't know why. You'll get menacing calls about debts that aren't yours. You'll get strange bills in the mail. Or you'll discover that someone else has collected your tax refund.
Identity theft protection services can help you prevent all this from happening by monitoring your credit-bureau files, watching your bank and credit-card accounts, and telling you when your name or Social Security number is being misused.
They can also help you recover from identity theft by providing free legal assistance or reimbursing you up to $1 million for the time and money you spend filing paperwork and going to court.
We've used and tested five of the best identity theft protection services, and we can tell you which ones send you the most alerts, which ones are best at catching unusual credit-card activity and which ones make it easiest — and hardest — to cancel a subscription.
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.
However, there are several things you can do yourself for free to protect your identity:
- Frequently check your bank and credit-card statements
- Go to annualcreditreport.com for free yearly credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (through April 2021, you'll be able to get these weekly)
- Ask the agencies to put a free credit freeze on your files
But such vigilance can be time-consuming, which is what makes a paid identity-protection service an appealing option.
For a monthly or yearly fee, these services will monitor your personal information and credit files and alert you of suspicious or fraudulent activity. All of them will also help you restore your credit if your identity is stolen.
- Best antivirus software: Make sure to keep malware out of your machines
- Best password managers: Lock down your online accounts
What are the best identity theft protection services?
Our three months of testing involved signing up with each service, bothering their customer-support representatives and putting our personal information into their credit-score simulators. After all that, we've concluded that the best identity theft protection service is IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit.
It 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.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus had the best interface, provided the most comprehensive monitoring of personal accounts and let us initiate a credit freeze straight from our account. But it's stingy with credit reports and credit scores and is much more expensive than other services.
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.
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, including about requests for our credit files, but weren't always told who was making the requests. 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 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 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. Like most of these services, it 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, the same as you can get for free.
And 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. Nor does it have two-factor authentication to protect user accounts, which all identity theft protection services ought to offer.
In our three months of using LifeLock, we got eight alerts notifying us of credit inquiries and possible credit-card overspending. Setting up LifeLock was easy, but we encountered resistance from tech-support and sales reps when we asked to cancel our LifeLock subscription, and it took a week for the cancellation request to be confirmed.
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 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.
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.
Identity Guard Premier's big selling point is its use of the IBM Watson artificial-intelligence platform, which scans the internet for broad patterns that might indicate a stolen identity.
It offers a TransUnion credit score monthly, and its various individual and family plans are all moderately priced. Perhaps uniquely among identity theft protection services, it 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, the same as you can get for free.
We got only two alerts from Identity Guard over our three-month testing period, but its tech-support personnel were helpful. Cancelling our subscription was super-easy and we got a confirmation in 10 minutes.
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 Security too, but charges you extra.)
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. Like most of these services, it offers up to $1 million in compensation in case your identity is stolen and scans the "dark web" for your personal information.
PrivacyGuard can also 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.
Latest identity-protection news and alerts
— Video-game maker Capcom said personal data of 350,000 customers and employees was stolen.
— Hackers stole personal data and passwords from 46 million players of the Animal Jam kids' online game.
— The feared Mount Locker ransomware now targets TurboTax tax returns.
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.