How safe is your identity?
Consider this: ID theft accounted for 21 percent of the 1.3 million consumer complaints received in 2009 by the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network. If there is good news to be had, it’s that the cost to the individual consumer dropped to $339 from $440 in 2008.
Does this mean you should you pay to protect your ID?
This is a choice you’ll have to make for yourself. Not all ID theft services are created equal. Before rushing to sign on with just any service, check out their BBB Business Reliability Reports and then consider these six questions:
Can the service really protect you? No ID theft service can guarantee that you won’t become an ID theft victim. Guarantees are promises about what the service will do if you are victimized.
Does the service monitor more than credit reports? Many types of ID theft don’t show up in credit reports, so paying just to have them monitored — something you can do yourself for free — is of limited value. Look for services that scan commercial databases, public records and rogue Web sites that sell stolen credit cards and Social Security numbers. Also check options for receiving alerts; some services only send alerts by e-mail, others offer more alternatives.
Does the service help if you become a victim? Most ID theft services only provide advice about the steps you’ll need to take, while others take an active role in helping resolve problems.
What about ID theft insurance? Insurance generally reimburses for lost wages if you must take time off from work without pay to resolve an ID theft problem, long-distance calls, postage, notary fees and other miscellaneous expenses. It usually does not cover stolen money.
What are the costs and terms? Many services offer “free trials,” during which you can test features. But unless you have an identity-theft problem immediately, you can’t fully test the service during the trial period. Pay attention to terms of the trial offer. Usually consumers must cancel before it ends to avoid charges. Some services charge month-to-month, others require payment upfront. Read the terms and conditions carefully to understand the cancellation policy.
What steps have you taken to protect your identity?