Credit Sesame's main business is offering free financial advice, which is supported by ads and commissions on credit-card referrals. It also offers identity protection with its Platinum plan, which costs $20 a month.
The Platinum plan can monitor for all sorts of intrusions, let you know about potential problems and spend up to $1 million to make things right.
But that insurance plan covers only your legal and other expenses related to identity theft; it doesn’t reimburse you for losses. Some other identity protection services, such as IdentityForce, LifeLock and Identity Guard, will.
There's also no family identity-protection plan, and Credit Sesame's website displays a lot of irritating ads for credit cards and loans, no matter how much you pay each month. It's also hard to reach the service via telephone in an emergency, as its phone numbers are buried deep in the website.
I signed up for and used Credit Sesame Platinum for three months in the fall of 2017, along with five other identity-protection services. But I found it very difficult to cancel my Credit Sesame paid subscription, and finally had to ask my credit-card company to stop the payments.
Overall, the free tier of Credit Sesame might be good for the average consumer who seeks casual financial advice. But if you need serious identity protection, try a dedicated service like IdentityForce instead.
MORE: Best Identity Theft Protection
Cost and What's Covered
Credit Sesame's basic offering is free. It provides credit monitoring (pictured below), your TransUnion credit score once per month and $50,000 of identity-theft insurance, but it doesn't include telephone customer support.
At $10 a month, the Credit Sesame Advanced package adds live telephone support, daily credit scores and credit alerts from TransUnion, monthly credit scores from Equifax and Experian and monthly full credit reports from all three bureaus.
Credit Sesame Platinum offers a payment of up to $1 million for legal and investigative costs following identity theft. But it will not reimburse you for losses incurred.
The $16-per-month Credit Sesame Pro plan monitors and includes alerts from all three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and adds 24/7 phone support, at least in theory.
In truth, Credit Sesame doesn't make it easy to find a phone number for the company, and even implies it doesn't have one. Tom's Guide found one support number buried in the answer to a FAQ, and a different number through the Better Business Bureau. When asked whether there was an official helpline, a Credit Sesame representative provided a third number.
To save you the trouble, if you're a paying Credit Sesame customer and urgently need to report an incident of identity theft, call 1-866-720-0893. Alternately, you can call 1-855-799-9111 and press 3. Either of those should give you at least some peace of mind.
At the top of the heap is the Credit Sesame Platinum Protection plan, which for $20 a month adds lost-wallet protection and monitoring of public records, Social Security numbers and the dark web. The identity-theft insurance cap rises to $1 million.
Because Credit Sesame's basic service is free, the website interface is full of ads. Unfortunately for paying customers, those ads don't go away with the premium plans. Nor does Credit Sesame offer special packages for minors, senior citizens or groups, so the costs of its premium plans can add up quickly if you've got a big family.
Like most of the identity-protection services I tried (except LifeLock), Credit Sesame has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. It even had some positive user reviews, which are unusual because most customers only go to the BBB to complain. The most frequent type of complaint involved the complicated setup process.
Credit Scores and Monitoring
Credit Sesame Platinum showed me my scores from the three major bureaus, but, annoyingly, I had to dig a few screens below the surface of the user interface to see them. The service prominently displayed the composite VantageScore 3.0 credit score, but made me click on Reports to see the individual agency scores.
I much prefer the convenience of having these numbers front-and-center when I look over my credit and identity status. (VantageScore only approximates the FICO score, which is what financial institutions actually look at when considering you for a loan.) The service scans the dark and open portions of the web, as well as public records, looking for any indication that my data might have been compromised.
To do this, Credit Sesame uses my Social Security number (pictured above), email address, health insurance number and other identifiers to look for evidence of misuse. Credit Sesame also looks for changes of address and payday-loan action (pictured below).
In the upper right of the website interface was a Trending link that showed my credit history over the time Credit Sesame had been monitoring it, alongside my total debt load. Below the credit scores were four recommendations for increasing my credit limit or lowering payments. Unfortunately, each was associated with a come-on for a new credit card
Insurance and Services
Credit Sesame Platinum offers a payment of up to $1 million for legal and investigative costs following a verified incident of identity theft. However, Credit Sesame will not reimburse you for losses incurred.
Because Credit Sesame's basic service is entirely free, the website interface is full of ads. And those ads don't go away with the premium plans.
The payment cap matches that of LifeLock, but it pales in comparison to ID Shield's $5 million payment cap. Unlike Credit Sesame or ID Shield, however, LifeLock, IdentityForce and Identity Guard will compensate you for losses as well as expenses.
Credit Sesame offers no security software with its Platinum plan. That isn't a deal-breaker, but it's worth mentioning that some rival services offer password managers, anti-keylogging software or antivirus software.
MORE: Best Antivirus Software and Apps 2018
Notifications and Alerts
As is the case with LifeLock and ID Shield, Credit Sesame puts alerts in your face should something go wrong. Alerts appear on the web interface (for PCs and Macs) or via the phone and tablet apps. They can also be sent via email or via text messages to a phone.
Like many of its peers, Credit Sesame Platinum has lost (or stolen) wallet protection. One call to Credit Sesame's support line (once again, 1-866-720-0893) can cancel all your credit cards and start the process of getting new ones.
Over the three months that I used Credit Sesame, the service sent me more than 70 notifications and alerts – easily the most of the six identity-protection services Tom's Guide tested. Most were easily ignorable, like the ones that suggested I sign up for more credit cards, but others were useful and interesting, such as the one that showed me how to rebalance my debt.
Like most identity-protection services, Credit Sesame strangely offers no option for two-factor authentication (2FA), a simple procedure that greatly strengthens the security of customer accounts by making logins from any new device enter a code sent to the registered user's mobile phone. At the time of this review, only IdentityForce and ID Watchdog offered 2FA.
At nearly 20 minutes, Credit Sesame Platinum's setup process was tied with IdentityForce for the longest setup time of the six ID protection services I tried. By contrast, LifeLock took six minutes; the average time was 12 minutes.
The first step was to go to the Credit Sesame website and create an account. After I entered my name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, the service got to work. (By contrast, ID Shield wants only the last four digits of your Social Security number.) Credit Sesame then checked on my information and asked me to answer three questions for later authentication.
Credit Sesame automatically gets set up as a free service that shows your current TransUnion credit score when you log in. To upgrade to a paid plan, I had to choose among Advanced, Pro or Platinum plans and pay for a subscription with a credit card. When that was done, I added my credit and debit card, bank account, driver's license, passport and medical plan numbers.
When everything was set up, the interface showed me a map of my neighborhood, with any nearby registered sex offenders noted (pictured above). I was able to adjust the scope of the search right down to the block I live on.
Credit Sesame provides 24/ 7 support for its paid plans. There are also tips for improving your credit score and being a more secure person -- digitally, at least.
Right after I finished setting up Credit Sesame Platinum, I emailed the company's tech-support people asking if my identity might have been compromised in September 2017's Equifax data breach. I received a generic reply that explained what had happened in the Equifax breach and linked to an article about what to do.
When it came to ending the paid subscription, Credit Sesame was easily the most exasperating of the six identity-protection services I tried.
I couldn't find a phone number on the web interface (and the site justifies that); I emailed the company four times over the course of a week, and received no reply, although the company continued to email me credit card ads.
(The Better Business Bureau lists a contact number of 800-422-8579, which is different from the helpline number. Tom's Guide called it on a weekday afternoon and got a taped message asking to call back during "office hours.")
I eventually had to have American Express, which issued the card my subscription was being charged to, investigate and stop the monthly payments. Nearly two weeks later, Credit Sesame finally sent me an email acknowledgment that the service had been canceled.
Contacted by Tom's Guide about this, a Credit Sesame representative said that I had contacted the company about canceling my subscription using a different email address than the one I had signed up with and was hence put into a lower priority queue.
However, my name and the email address I signed up with were in the body of the email. This explanation indicates that Credit Sesame didn't even read my message.
Interface and Utilities
Credit Sesame has one of the brightest and most colorful interfaces of all identity-protection services. But with a lot of white space and a bright green ribbon at the top of each page, it also suffers from trying to squeeze too much information onto a page. In other words, be ready to do some scrolling up and down.
The web interface also exhibited sluggish response on at least two occasions, leading to frustration on my part. At one point, it was stuck loading a page and I had to close the window, start again and log back in.
I really liked the analysis of my total debt level, how much I pay for my mortgage and my current debt-to-income ratio.
The main Credit Sesame overview page showed my current Vantage 3.0 credit rating, and was only one click away from the three credit agency scores.
Credit Sesame lacked a flexible simulator for tips on improving my credit, but I really liked the My Credit Analysis section at the top of the page. That provided five pieces of specific credit information, such as the average age of my accounts.
Perhaps because Credit Sesame's core business is offering consumer financial advice, it does a deep data dive on criteria that other identity-protection services ignore. For example, it examined the number of my accounts that the credit bureaus monitored and showed me a two-year payment history for each. I really liked the analysis of my total debt level, how much I pay for my mortgage and my current debt-to-income ratio.
Unfortunately, the service's My Recommendations and Borrowing Power categories were just fronts for more credit card ads. In fact, the profusion of offers reduced the site's credibility in my eyes and made it seem too opportunistic for a service I was paying for.
Credit Sesame's 7.5MB phone and tablet apps are even brighter than the web interface, with an Overview page featuring a circular credit-score reporter. On my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone, I saw main headings for My Credit (details of my credit score as well as my debt versus my credit limit), Tips (the percentage of my credit limit being used) and Borrowing (my ability to borrow money). Unfortunately, like the web interface, the app's pages were maddeningly riddled with ads for credit cards and loans, making Credit Sesame seem too mercenary.
A pull-out menu took me to a variety of services plus a settings screen, which provided the ability to change my password and fine-tune alerts. There was also a Goals section for motivating me to buy, renovate, rent or refinance a home.
I liked Credit Sesame Platinum's excellent monitoring and alerts, as well as its general financial advice and its $1 million coverage of expenses you might incur while repairing your identity.
But Credit Sesame's constant ads for loans and credit cards were annoying and intrusive, and I was really irritated when I couldn't find a phone number to call to cancel my subscription. God forbid you should be out of town with an identity-theft emergency and no internet access.
For dedicated identity protection, you should try LifeLock or Identity Guard instead.
Credit: Tom's Guide