Pricing Breakdown: What Will Identity Protection Cost?
One of the most important factors when selecting an identity theft protection plan is the cost, but true to the saying — you get what you pay for. Bare-bones services like we saw when we reviewed Zander will run around $7 per month, while fully decked-out products like we found in our NortonLifeLock review can run up to around $30 monthly.
With that said, just because something is expensive doesn’t always mean it’s better — what’s really important is finding identity theft coverage with the features you want while not paying for superfluous functionality.
In our experience, we’ve found that most services on the market offer different tiers of protection. Basic plans are obviously less expensive and will offer fewer features while premium plans will cost more while doing more. Once you find a service you like, it should be pretty easy to find the plan that’s right for you at a dollar figure that makes sense for your budget.
Also worth pointing out, there are a few services on the market — like we saw in our hands-on review of Experian IdentityWorks — that let you “try it before you buy it.” The trial periods we’ve seen usually run between 7 to 30 days, and are really helpful in determining if a particular service is right for you. Just be careful to stay on top of it, though. Don’t forget to cancel before the trial period ends, otherwise you’ll continue to get charged.
Now let’s have a look at the most important features you’ll want to look for in any identity theft protection plan.
Core Features to Look for When Comparing ID Theft Protection
There are tons of identity theft protection services on the market, and for the most part, they all offer core features with some unique bonuses, depending on which one you go with. Let’s take a look at both categories.
We consider core features to be twofold: credit monitoring and identity protection. Keep in mind that any identity protection plan that doesn’t offer both probably isn’t worth your time, but all identity theft protection services that offer these core functions do so in various ways.
First, let’s talk about credit monitoring. There are three main credit reporting agencies, also called bureaus, that keep track of your credit score. You probably know them as Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Credit monitoring will either be single-bureau, meaning the plan only monitors the report from one bureau, or triple-bureau, meaning you’ll have all three bureaus monitored simultaneously.
Pro Tip: Monitoring your credit score is a good indication of whether or not your identity has been compromised. A sharp, unexpected decline in your credit score can be a red flag that someone has taken out a loan or opened a new line of credit in your name and skipped out on the bill.
We always recommend choosing a service or plan that offers triple-bureau monitoring. While some might think that’s overkill, the fact of the matter is the three credit bureaus determine scores based on disparate data sets using slightly different algorithms. By monitoring all three bureaus, you’ll have the best chance of catching unusual activity quickly and intervening before it becomes a major problem.
In a similar vein, most identity protection services worth their salt will also offer you access to your credit report. Again, this will either be single-bureau or triple-bureau, and we always prefer the latter. By having access to the report itself, you can ensure there are no discrepancies or mistakes negatively impacting your credit, so it’s important to not overlook this feature when comparing identity theft services.
Finally, some identity protection services offer the ability to lock your credit file. We found this functionality when trying out ID Watchdog’s protection plans. This, in our opinion, is one of the best methods out there for protecting your identity. Credit locks make it impossible for anyone to access your file unless it is first unlocked, meaning no unauthorized person would be able to take out a new line of credit or apply for a loan in your name.
That said, you actually don’t need an identity theft protection service to lock your credit files — you can do it by contacting the individual credit bureaus. Of course, going this route isn’t as fast or as streamlined as the best identity theft protection services make it these days, but it’s free and can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
Did You Know: A credit lock is different from a credit freeze. A lock can be toggled on and off in real-time, while a freeze takes longer to set up and longer to undo. Both options are available from each of the three credit bureaus.
Now let’s move on to identity protection. These come in two forms as well; we’ll call them financial and personal. Quality identity theft protection services will offer both, but most do so in slightly different ways.
There are services that go a step further by monitoring retirement accounts and investment accounts, but those are pretty rare. However, we did find these options while reviewing Identity Guard, our top-rated service. We think it's worth looking into, especially if you're retiring soon.
When it comes to safeguarding your personal identity (not financial), pretty much every identity theft protection service will offer some form of social security number monitoring. Most will also offer change of address monitoring and monitoring for other personally identifying pieces of information like driver's license, medical ID, and passport numbers. Make sure to select a service that offers enough coverage that makes you feel comfortable. Trust us, you’d rather have too many features than too few!
This does beg the question, though, where exactly are these services looking for your personal information? It depends on what they’re keeping an eye on, but for the most part, it’s either public records or the dark web.
If you’re not familiar, the dark web refers to a part of the internet that isn’t crawled by search engines (meaning it won’t show up in, say, a Google search). Those sites are purposefully obfuscated, so you need a special browser to access them. This is where the majority of identity thieves operate, and where a black market of personal information is thriving.
FYI: Some people use the terms “deep web” and “dark web” interchangeably; however, they refer to different areas of the Internet. The deep web is simply unindexed web pages, while the dark web is purposefully obscured. Together, they are orders of magnitude bigger than the surface, or every day, web.
So those are the core functionalities of any identity theft protection service worth consideration. And that brings us to the bonus features offered by some products. Here, the list becomes unmanageable in the scope and type of functionality. But we’ve taken the time to highlight a handful of our favorite features and services to consider while comparing identity theft protection companies. Let’s have a look!
Credit score calculators: Some ID theft protection services offer a tool that will help you predict what will happen to your credit should you change your financial habits, pay off a loan, or encounter various types of economic hardship. We think these are super helpful for those looking to improve their financial situation.
Social media monitoring: Some services will keep an eye on your social media accounts for you, scanning for everything from the evidence of hacking to inappropriate behaviors. These are helpful tools for lots of people, but particularly parents who want to keep an eye on their kids’ digital presence without being too nosey.
Sex offender monitoring: Another great feature for parents, this scans police records and will alert you if sex offenders are living in your area, or if a new offender moves in nearby. A word of caution, though, in our years of reviewing these services we’ve only found a handful that actually work well. As mentioned in our deep-dive review of IDShield, theirs might be the best.
Credit score tracking: Here’s another helpful tool for people looking to rebuild their credit. These are essentially dynamic charts that show changes to your credit scores over time. Again — incredibly helpful for folks looking to establish, rebuild, or improve their credit scores. Buying a house or looking to secure a sizable loan soon? If so, we recommend staying on top of your credit worthiness by tracking your credit score.
Preventative cybersecurity measures: A rarity, but still a favorite, some services like NortonLifeLock offer preventative elements like virtual private networks (VPNs), secure browsing, and virus protection to users of their premium plan to help prevent their personal information from ending up in the wrong hands.
Planning for Others: Can I Protect Loved Ones?
While many consumers are looking to protect themselves as individuals, it’s worth pointing out there are services that will protect your whole family, too. As we note in our IdentityForce review, the company actually just released an update where if an individual purchases their plan, it will protect everyone living in their household regardless of relationship. Great news if you have roommates and you’re feeling magnanimous.
There are also services out there that offer great family rates and which focus specifically on children — a very important consideration for parents as kids are primary targets of identity thieves. Because children don’t have established credit, they are essentially “blank slates” for fraudsters, whose nefarious activities are likely to go unnoticed for years.
Did You Know: Children are a favorite target of identity thieves because the crimes often go undiscovered until that child grows up and begins opening their own financial accounts.
Finally, when comparing identity theft protection, you also need to think about which service will be able to help you recover should the unthinkable happen. That is, you’ll want to consider the various recovery, insurance, and restoration options available if you fall victim to identity theft or financial fraud. We’ll discuss that next.
Identity Theft Recovery and Restoration
Generally speaking, the industry standard is to offer up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, which can mean different things depending on the service. We recommend reading the fine print concerning what the service will and will not cover.
Some companies make delineations between insurance and stolen funds recovery, which is an added bonus. NortonLifeLock also takes it a step further and offers up to $1 million to cover the costs of lawyers and other experts that might be necessary to resolve your case, but only when you select their premium tier. You can read all about their offerings in our NortonLifeLock services and pricing guide.
And this isn’t true of only NortonLifeLock. You’d be wise to look at the coverage rate for the exact tier of service you’re purchasing from a company. Just because they say they offer $1 million in coverage doesn’t mean they offer that for every plan. If you’re going with a service’s most basic tier, the amount of insurance offered will likely be less.
You also want to be cognizant of how a service will handle your case should your identity become compromised. Some services pride themselves on their support staff, and we found in our comprehensive review of Complete ID that they even ensure you’ll have a single dedicated case manager that will work with you from incident to resolution.
Whichever service you decide to go with, we recommend making sure you view the product’s recovery and reconciliation plan as a key feature. In our view, at the end of the day, this peace of mind is really what you’re paying for.
Customer Service: Will They Help When Help is Needed?
Regardless of which plan you choose, you’ll want to make sure their customer service is up to snuff. We’ve found one of the best ways to test this is by calling in and speaking with their staff. If we’re treated well time after time, it’s a good sign that their team will give us great service when we need it most.
Also worth considering is the amount of resources the service makes available to you. We always prefer a product that not only monitors and protects our finances and identity, but tells us why they are monitoring a piece of information, and how they are doing so. Transparency is always something we look for when comparing identity theft services.
Which Identity Theft Protection Company is Right for Me?
With so many different services on the market today, it can be difficult to decide which one is right for you. The good news, though, is that we’re here to help. We’ve spent countless hours comparing and reviewing identity theft protection services to help you make an informed decision on which one would be best for your situation and lifestyle. Check out our popular resources below.
- Identity Guard vs LifeLock – Identity Guard or LifeLock? Which is right for you? Check out our comparison and find out.
- LifeLock vs Complete ID – Does LifeLock stand up to this Costco-owned company? See our review to find out.
- LifeLock vs Discover Identity Theft Protection – Get premium protection offered by LifeLock, or the proven reputation of credit giant Discover. Find out which is better in our expert comparison.
- LifeLock vs Equifax – See which service we picked when we compared these two well known brands.
- LifeLock vs Identity Guard – Both LifeLock and Identity Guard are well respected services. See which one we chose as our favorite in our detailed comparison.
- LifeLock vs InfoArmor – Does LifeLock compete with Allstate's InfoArmor? Take a look at our comparison of the two services to find out.
- LifeLock vs MyIDCare – Is LifeLock a better identity theft protection offering than MyIDCare? See our comparison of the two to find out.
- LifeLock vs ProtectMyID – Which is better? LifeLock or Experian-owned, ProtectMyID? Read our comparison and find out.
- LifeLock vs Zander – Read our comprehensive comparison of LifeLock and Zander to see which one has the best offering.
- Complete ID vs LifeLock – Does Costco's identity theft protection offering stand up to the name of LifeLock? Read our comparison review to find out.
- MyIDCare vs LifeLock – MyIDCare is an up and coming name in identity theft protection. See how they measure up against well-established brand LifeLock in our comparison.
- ProtectMyID vs LifeLock – Does Experian-owned ProtectMyID stand up to LifeLock? Find out in our comparison of the two.
- Zander vs LifeLock – Dave Ramsay heavily endorses Zander identity theft protection. Find out if LifeLock competes in our comparison of these services.
The Big Picture: Which Service is Right for Me?
Ultimately, you want to find an identity theft protection service that complements your personal preferences and lifestyle. Some folks might want something a little more involved, like NortonLifeLock, or they might prefer a more “set it and forget it” service like Complete ID. At the end of the day, you want to feel protected without paying for features you don’t use.
To that end, we recommend selecting a service that offers triple-bureau credit monitoring and robust identity protection features including dark web monitoring and financial account protection. You’ll also want to select a product that stands behind their services by offering identity theft protection insurance as well as lost funds remediation. We suggest using our resources above to comparison shop, or checking out our guide to this year’s best identity theft protection services.