Saving with 6abc: ID protection services

March 18, 2013 11:11:49 AM PDT
Identity protection services make up a billion-dollar industry. But Consumer Reports says these services may not be worth your money.

Audrey Mosello started thinking about ID theft protection after she gave extensive financial information to a mortgage counselor, then began to doubt the company was legitimate.

"It was panic, that, 'Oh my gosh! I gave them everything. They have everything there is to know about me, including my Social Security number, all my bank information.'" Mosello said.

She began researching how to guard her credit. The search term "ID theft" quickly generates a list of companies that offer protection at a price.

"People like Audrey are prime targets for companies that charge anywhere from 120 dollars to 300 dollars a year to protect their identity," said Greg Daugherty of Consumer Reports.

The marketing can be heavy-handed but be advised, Consumer Reports finds the most damaging type of ID theft is rare.

Daugherty adds, "less than one percent of households reported someone opening unauthorized credit, stealing their tax refunds, or tapping into their medical benefits, according to the U.S. Justice Department."

The main service these companies offer is monitoring the credit bureaus - Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. But you can do that yourself, and you can to do it.

"We recommend getting an annual credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus," Daugherty says. "It's free, and if you stagger your requests, you can get a fresh report every four months."

If you suspect a possible security breach, you can put a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report to warn lenders to be more vigilant about granting credit.

You can also put a security freeze on your credit report so lenders you don't already do business with, like banks, won't have access to it. That makes it more difficult for crooks to open new accounts in your name.

But if YOU apply for new credit, you'll need to temporarily lift the freeze, which involves a small fee.