Complete Guide to Identity Theft Protection and Credit Monitoring

Protecting your identity is crucial, and steps such as keeping tabs on your credit report can help.
Christy Rakoczy, Author
Yahia Barakah, Editor
Last updated Aug 26, 2022

Identity theft broadly refers to having any of your personal information stolen and misused for fraudulent purposes. It may cause a host of problems depending on what the thief does with your personal details.

For example, identity thieves may apply for new credit cards that impact your credit score or inflict financial damage. That’s why it’s essential to avoid becoming one of the tens of thousands affected by it every year. This guide shows you how to protect your personal information and ensure that your identity stays out of the wrong hands.

In this identity theft and credit monitoring guide 
What is identity theft?
What is the cost of identity theft?
How to protect against identity theft
What does identity theft protection offer?
Identity theft protection and credit monitoring services
FAQs about identity theft protection and credit monitoring
Bottom line

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the theft of your personally identifying information to commit fraud. It may range from getting medical care or opening a credit card in your name to stealing your bank account numbers or financial information to make withdrawals. In other words, it could impact every aspect of your life.

How common is identity theft?

The FBI reported more than 50,000 criminal identity thefts in 2021, costing more than $250 million in damages. The problem may be even more widespread as not every instance of identity theft or cybercrime is reported to the FBI.

Learn how to find out if someone is using your identity.

How do thieves steal identities?

There are several different ways that a thief or a scammer may steal your identity. This can include:

  • Stealing mail that contains identifying details
  • Deceiving you into providing your information, for example, by pretending to be romantically interested in you
  • Looking over your shoulder to view your information or PIN number
  • Stealing your phone, wallet, or purse
  • Skimming your credit card number by placing a special reader in a card machine
  • Pretending to be a company you do business with and asking for your personal details
  • Intercepting your communications with others without your knowledge
  • Using phishing schemes to direct you to fake websites and trick you into providing personal details
  • Posing as an online merchant to collect your information or credit card details
  • Sending spam text messages to prompt you to call or text back your information
  • Going through your trash to find items that include your personal information

What is the cost of identity theft?

Identity theft scams may result in many damages for individual victims. These damages could include :

  • Out-of-pocket financial losses
  • Lost time while restoring your identity and recovering your credit or stolen funds
  • Medical debt if someone commits medical identity theft to get healthcare
  • Lost job opportunities when employers check your credit report or conduct background checks
  • Denied loans due to damaged credit score
  • Arrest for a crime you didn't commit

How to protect against identity theft

Avoiding the consequences of identity theft is vital. Fortunately, there are some proven techniques to help ensure you don't end up out of the time and money misused personal information may cost you.

1. Review your credit reports

Reviewing your credit report is a good way to quickly find out if your information is being misused. Your credit report summarizes your credit history as well as:

  • Your name, address, and birthdate
  • Your Social Security number
  • Any outstanding loans in your name
  • The total amount of your debt
  • Whether you've had late payments

Request your free annual credit reports and review them for an unfamiliar address, new credit card accounts you do not recognize, or unexpected judgments against you. Finding any unrecognizable information may be a sign of identity theft.

2. Examine your credit card and bank statements

You should also check your bank and credit card statements. Withdrawals or charges you did not authorize or a change of address you didn't request are major red flags that someone else is using your cards or accessing your bank account.

3. Go over your bills

If you do not get the bills you expect, this could be because someone has stolen your identity and redirected your mail.

On the other hand, if bills show charges you don't recognize or if you get bills for utilities you didn't sign up for or healthcare you didn't receive, this is a strong indicator someone else is using your information.

4. Properly dispose of sensitive information

Dumpster diving and stolen mail are two common ways thieves may get your identifying information. If you are disposing of anything that has personal data, make sure to shred it first.

Likewise, you'll want to be careful with your sensitive documents. A lost Social Security card could make you vulnerable to identity fraud, so don't carry your card with you often. Instead, keep it somewhere safe to limit the potential impact of purse or wallet theft.

5. Use an identity theft protection service

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, your personal details could still fall into the hands of criminals. This may happen, for example, if you provide your information to a trusted company that gets targeted by hackers and becomes the victim of a data breach.

Since there is always a risk, it may be helpful to use an identity protection service that monitors for problems, scans the web for copies of your information, and helps you respond assertively and appropriately if something goes wrong.

What does identity theft protection offer?

There are both free and paid identity theft protection options. Here are some steps that identity theft protection services may take to help protect you.

1. Monitor your credit

An identity theft protection service may monitor your credit by keeping tabs on your credit reports and scores. You may quickly discover if someone has opened a new card in your name or if bills suddenly go unpaid by receiving alerts and relevant updates.

2. Track your identity

Identity theft services go beyond just checking your credit. They may also keep tabs on other aspects of your identity. For example, some services check the web to see if anyone is sharing your personal details or hacking your accounts or passwords.

3. Insure you against identity theft risk

Some identity theft protection services provide financial help to ensure you are not faced with out-of-pocket losses if you fall victim to fraud. Several services provide as much as $1 million in identity theft insurance and coverage.

4. Aid your recovery from identity theft

Identity monitoring services may provide a recovery plan to guide you through the process of reporting identity theft and having incorrect information removed from your record.

Identity theft protection and credit monitoring services

There are several options when it comes to the identity theft protection service you may use. Four services stand out for the level of protection they offer.

Experian IdentityWorks

Experian IdentityWorks offers three plans:

  • IdentityWorks Basic
  • IdentityWorks Premium
  • IdentityWork Family

The Experian IdentityWorks Basic plan offers:

  • Free credit report from Experian
  • Credit monitoring and alerts
  • Credit score tracking and monitoring

Experian IdentityWorks Basic is a free plan that only requires you to register to receive the service.

The Experian IdentityWorks Premium plan offers everything in the basic plan plus:

  • Credit reports and monitoring with Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian
  • Social Security number tracing
  • Social network monitoring
  • Dark web surveillance
  • Financial account takeover alerts
  • Address change verification
  • Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance
  • Court record alerts
  • The sex offender registry alerts

Experian IdentityWorks Premium offers a free trial for 30 days, then it costs $24.99 per month for one adult.

The Experian IdentityWorks Family plan includes everything in the basic and premium plans in addition to:

  • Including 1 more adult on the plan
  • Identity monitoring for up to 10 children
  • Monitoring and removal of personal information on public record websites
  • Non-credit loan alerts

Experian IdentityWorks Family gives you a 30-day trial period before charging $34.99 a month.

Equifax ID Watchdog

Equifax ID Watchdog offers two separate plans:

  • ID Watchdog Select
  • ID Watchdog Premium

Both plans enable the primary member to add adults or minors who live at the same address or who they’re financially responsible for. There is no free trial as your payment method is charged immediately upon signing up.

The Equifax ID Watchdog Select plan includes:

  • Monitoring your credit with Equifax
  • Subprime loan monitoring
  • Web monitoring
  • Monitoring of high-risk transactions
  • A monthly credit report from Equifax
  • A monthly VantageScore credit score
  • A credit score tracker from Equifax
  • Equifax child credit monitoring
  • Identity theft resolution
  • Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance
  • Blocked inquiry alerts

The ID Watchdog Select plan costs $14.95 per month for individuals or $23.95 per month for families.

The Equifax ID Watchdog Premium plan provides all the features of the ID Watchdog Select plus:

  • Credit report lock with Equifax and TransUnion
  • Credit score monitoring with Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian
  • Integrated fraud alerts
  • Account monitoring with banks and financial institutions
  • Social account takeover alerts
  • A personal VPN for safe internet browsing
  • Access to a password manager
  • A blocker to prohibit subprime loans
  • ID alerts from national healthcare providers
  • Insurance coverage for stolen 401(k) or HSA funds

The ID Watchdog Premium plan costs $21.95 per month for individuals and $34.95 per month for families.

Norton LifeLock

Norton LifeLock provides three different plans:

  • LifeLock Standard
  • LifeLock Advantage
  • LifeLock Ultimate Plus

The first year's membership fee is slightly discounted, and there is no free trial for any of these plans. LifeLock offers a 60-day money-back guarantee if you sign up for an annual membership.

The LifeLock Standard plan offers:

  • Reimbursement for up to $25,000 in stolen funds
  • Credit monitoring with Equifax
  • Web monitoring
  • Stolen wallet protection
  • Identity and Social Security number alerts
  • Notifications if you are involved in a data breach
  • Address change verification

This plan costs $9.99 per month for the first year when you sign up for an annual membership then increases to $11.99 per month starting the second year.

The LifeLock Advantage plan provides everything that the standard plan offers as well as:

  • Up to $100,000 in reimbursement for stolen funds
  • Alerts for suspicious bank and credit card account activity
  • Alerts if crimes are committed near you
  • Monitoring for fictitious identities
  • An annual credit report and score from Equifax

This plan costs $19.99 per month for the first year when you get the annual membership. The cost rises to $22.99 per month from the second year.

The LifeLock Ultimate Plus plan adds the following features on top of what the previous two plans offer:

  • Credit reports and scores from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian
  • 401(k) and investment account alerts
  • Alerts for bank account applications
  • Alerts for bank account takeovers
  • Searches of file-sharing networks
  • Sex offender registry reports

The introductory price for this plan is $29.99 per month for the first year, then it costs $34.99 per month starting the second year.

Aura Identity Guard

There are three plans available through Identity Guard:

  • Identity Guard Value
  • Identity Guard Total
  • Identity Guard Ultra

You may select whether you’d like to pay for your plan monthly or annually. If you choose to pay annually, you get a small discount on your plan cost.

The Identity Guard Value plan includes:

  • $1 million in identity theft insurance
  • Web monitoring
  • Monitoring of high-risk transactions
  • A risk management report
  • A safe Internet browsing tool

This plan costs $8.99 if paid monthly, but it comes down to $7.50 when it’s billed annually.

The Identity Guard Total plan includes everything from the Value plan along with:

  • Monitoring your bank accounts
  • Credit score from Equifax
  • Credit monitoring with Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian

This plan comes at $19.99 per month but drops to $16.67 per month if you pay annually.

The Identity Guard Ultra plan adds:

  • A resolution concierge service to support you if identity theft occurs
  • Social media insight reports
  • Monitoring your bank accounts
  • Monitoring your credit and debit cards
  • Monitoring your 401(k) and investment accounts
  • Alerts for USPS address changes
  • Monitoring your home's title
  • Annual credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian

The monthly price for this plan is $29.99, but the cost is reduced to $25.00 if you pay for the full year.

FAQs about identity theft protection and credit monitoring


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Is credit monitoring the same as identity theft protection?

Identity theft protection is typically broader than credit monitoring. An identity theft protection service may monitor your credit score, bank accounts, credit cards, debit cards, and address changes. It may also scan the web to see if your personal information is being shared and provide alerts if someone applies for a bank account in your name.

On the other hand, credit monitoring only involves keeping tabs on your credit report and credit score and tracking your payment history and new lines of credit and loans.


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What are the three credit monitoring agencies?

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three major credit bureaus that collect your information. These bureaus offer credit monitoring for an additional fee. You can also use other credit monitoring services such as Identity Guard and LifeLock.


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Is it worth it to get identity theft protection?

Whether it is worth getting identity theft protection depends on your goals and personal situation. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each credit bureau so you can monitor your credit yourself. Additionally, most credit card and bank account agreement terms protect you against fraud.

However, when you sign up for premium identity theft protection, you may get additional features such as web and social media account monitoring. You may also get insurance in case something goes wrong, so you can avoid costly losses and get help while resolving the problems that identity theft may cause.

Bottom line

There are many ways to prevent identity theft, and it is worth considering all the options available to you due to the serious consequences of becoming an identity theft victim.

Be sure to take the time to research credit monitoring services or to monitor your credit yourself. This may help you act quickly, promptly report identity theft, and mitigate damage if a fraudster gets a hold of your personal details.

Author Details
Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy is an identity theft expert with more than a decade of experience writing about cybersecurity issues and laws surrounding identity fraud. She has a law degree from UCLA and is a former college instructor who taught courses focused on legal issues surrounding internet privacy.