Protecting your identity online is more important than ever. According to Consumer Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) processed 1.4 million fraud reports in 2018 alone. With numbers like those, everyone should consider credit monitoring and identity theft monitoring, two services that help keep your information safe. Keep reading to learn what these services are, how they benefit you, and what you can do to protect your digital life.
What is credit and identity theft monitoring?
Often, these two terms are used interchangeably. However, they’re actually two separate services that can be combined to provide comprehensive protection of your identity. As the name suggests, credit monitoring is a service that alerts you whenever a change is made to your credit report, such as a new account being opened in your name.
Identity (ID) theft monitoring is there to alert you to security breaches that wouldn’t show up on a credit report like someone else opening up a bank account in your name. Depending on the service, the monitoring company may also help you reverse any damage in the event that your identity gets compromised.
Who needs these services?
While everyone can benefit from services like these, some groups are a higher risk for ID theft than others and should strongly consider getting added protection. In particular, anyone who has previously had a problem with identity theft should take extra precautions. Put simply, once your information has been compromised, there’s no way of guaranteeing that it won’t fall into the wrong hands again.
Children and the elderly are also considered to be easier targets. For their part, children are thought to be “clean slates” by identity thieves who are looking to apply for credit cards or other loans. Senior citizens, on the other hand, have a harder time recognizing and responding to scams, according to the FBI.
Should you invest in monitoring or go DIY?
Even if you’re not part of one of the groups mentioned above, you may still be wondering whether it’s worth it to go with a professional monitoring service or to do your own DIY surveillance. Each method has its own pluses and minuses. You’ll ultimately have to decide which makes the most sense for you.
For those who don’t want to have to worry about staying on top of their reports, professional monitoring may be a better choice. These services take care of all the upkeep for you and may even help you repair the damage if your identity gets compromised. However, you do have to pay a fee for this convenience and you’ll need to read the fine print in order to know for sure which services your membership entails.
In contrast, doing DIY monitoring will come at a much lower cost. In exchange, though, you’ll have to be vigilant about checking your accounts for signs of fraud and feel okay about being left to your own devices if there is suspicious activity.
Best practices for keeping your digital life safe
While credit monitoring and identity theft protection are useful tools to have at your disposal, there are also proactive measures you can take to ensure that your information stays safe.
- Regularly monitor your reports and accounts. Be sure to regularly check on your credit reports and bank accounts for signs of unfamiliar activity. You can sign up for free services like Credit Karma and, once a year, you’re entitled to a free report from all three bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) from AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Use strong passwords. Always try to make your passwords as strong as possible and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. Strong passwords are long, random, and include numbers, special characters, and a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters.
- Set up credit freezes and fraud alerts. You can set up a fraud alert for free by contacting each of the credit bureaus. This protection lasts for one year and means that creditors must check with you before opening any new accounts. However, if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, you can extend the alert for seven years. Credit freezes offer an additional level of protection. It effectively stops lenders from viewing your credit report, which means that they won’t be able to approve any new accounts. But, if you eventually do decide to open a new account, you’ll have to remove the freeze first. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises that all three credit bureaus are required to lift a freeze within one hour if you make the request over the phone or online. Written requests will take longer.
To learn more about credit monitoring and ID theft protection, visit Safety.com’s ID Theft Protection page.