Interest in ID-theft protection always intensifies after a big data breach. So does the promotion of ID-theft-protection services. If you’re offered free protection because of a breach, take it. But be careful before buying coverage.
First, find out what was stolen (get details). “The majority of breaches we’ve seen lately have not involved Social Security numbers,” says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The breach at Michael’s craft stores, for example, included credit card and debit card numbers, making it important to monitor your bank accounts for suspicious activity. Many banks let you sign up for alerts for transactions over a certain size.
If your Social Security number is stolen, most ID-theft-monitoring services won’t detect a problem until a thief tries to take out credit in your name. You can help prevent ID theft by freezing your records at the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). It generally costs $5 to $10 to freeze your credit report (another $5 to $10 to thaw it out), depending on the state. Some states offer free freezes for ID-theft victims.
You can monitor your credit report by getting a free copy from each of the three bureaus every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com; stagger your requests to receive a copy every four months. And see if you have ID-theft coverage through your bank, employer or insurer.
Prices to buy ID-theft protection can range from less than $100 to hundreds of dollars. To make the cost worthwhile, medical, tax, employment and criminal ID thefts should be covered, too.