Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States and worldwide. Thankfully, there are services out in the wild to better protect individuals from those looking to profit from stealing their identity. These services, which can include identity monitoring, credit monitoring, identity recovery, and identity theft insurance, aren't cheap with some costing as much as $30 per month. And yet, there are different ways of subscribing to these services for much less. Best of all, you might already have access to these services for absolutely free (or heavily discounted) and don't know it.
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Also, check out the eight surprising facts about identity theft you need to know.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft happens when someone illegally takes identifying information about someone and uses it to commit fraud. The information most stolen from criminals includes names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, addresses, bank accounts, credit card numbers, driver's license details, etc. With this information, criminals can open credit cards and banking accounts in a victim's name, steal retirement or medical benefits, and purchase real estate illegally. These acts, and many others, can damage someone's credit status and cost them time and money to restore their good name.
As previously noted, identity theft is an ever-growing problem. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that consumers filed 5.7 million fraud reports in 2021, valued at more than $5.8 billion. One-quarter were specific to identity theft, which saw a 113% increase year-over-year.
There are eight types of identity theft. These can include government documents or benefits fraud, which typically involves someone using someone else's Social Security number, credit card fraud, and loan or lease fraud. There's also phone or utility fraud, banking fraud, employment or tax-related fraud, medical identity theft, and child identity fraud.
What do identity theft services do?
Identity monitoring services automatically scan the web and online databases for subscribers' personal information such as Social Security numbers or email. If this information is found somewhere it shouldn't be (for example, on the dark web), the service provider can decide whether it has been misused or part of known data breaches.
Credit monitoring services give customers quick access to their credit reports and credit scores using various online tools, both free and paid. Credit monitoring services are designed to uncover potential identity theft in real-time; credit monitoring services send out alerts when changes are detected. As a result, consumers can quickly determine whether the changes are appropriate — or a sign that identity theft is taking place.
Meanwhile, identity recovery services can help someone get back on track after identity theft. These companies can assist with freezing credit reports, draft letters to creditors indicating theft has occurred, and contact law enforcement as needed.
Finally, identity theft insurance is a service designed to cover the costs associated with ID theft. A subscriber will receive reimbursement for any monies spent on reclaiming financial identities and repairing credit reports by paying a monthly or yearly fee.
The two easiest ways to get services for free
Most identity theft services come with a free trial for new customers. These promotions allow you to try the service without paying a dime. Some services even enable sign-ups without having a debit or credit card on file. In addition, if you cancel the service before the end of the promotion, you aren't charged. The problem with sticking only with free promotions is you aren't getting real-time protection once the trial ends.
Another way of subscribing to an identity theft service for free requires that something has already happened. For example, your email was included in a recent data breach. In cases like these, the company that was breached will provide customers with free monitoring for a limited time, perhaps as long as two years.
Offering free identity theft services after a data breach is a win-win for both sides. For the customer comes added peace of mind, while the business can show it cares about the financial well-being of those same stakeholders.
Other ways to pay nothing for identity theft services
Like most, you probably want to subscribe to an identity theft service and use it over the long term. You probably won't find free subscriptions online — but they are still available elsewhere!
Banks and credit unions sometimes offer identity theft programs to their customers as part of membership, as do some credit card companies. So, at the minimum, you might be able to find an excellent discount by going this route. Employee benefits plans also increasingly offer identity theft services free or heavily discounted.
You should also look at your homeowners' or renters' insurance. The policies could already include identity theft protection. If they do, there's probably no additional cost necessary.
Service organizations such as AAA and AARP also provide identity theft services. The free plans are typically marked as "essential" and include basic protection. Then, for an extra $10/month or less, you can unlock additional features.
A good starting point
Are you having difficulties finding free identity theft protection services? An excellent place to start is the IdentityTheft.gov website (opens in new tab) from the FTC. It provides excellent tools to begin the identity theft recovery process, including a breakdown of the recovery steps. You can also find warning signs of identity theft.