A new approach to identity theft protection
Remember how in old movies the cat burglar would use a glass cutter to silently cut a hole through their victim’s windowpane, sneak in undetected, use their safecracking skills to noiselessly open the strongbox, and make off with the contents?
The digital equivalent of that happens to 9 million Americans each year.1
Identity theft is a huge problem globally, and it’s only getting worse. Fraudsters’ techniques and attack vectors are constantly evolving, so if you want to stay protected, you’re going to need identity theft protection that stays one step ahead of the criminals.
That’s where Aura comes in. A relatively new company — it was founded in 2019 — Aura seeks to provide comprehensive digital security for its users. And the creators of Aura are coming from a place of experience. In 2014, the company’s founder, Hari Ravichandran, had his identity stolen. While searching for answers, he realized that no single company provided the all-around protection needed to protect consumers from every threat.
So that’s what he sought to create. A noble ambition, certainly, but here’s the all-important question. Does it work?
We tested Aura identity theft protection and VPN for several days. Let’s find out how it performed.
We’re going to start with the Aura purchasing process in just a second, but first, here’s a quick overview of the service’s pros and cons so you can get an idea of what we’re looking at.
Right off the bat, we were impressed with the simple layout of Aura’s website and purchasing portal. Some of the identity theft protection services we’ve reviewed in the past have been a little unorganized in this regard, so it’s refreshing to see all of the information presented in such a clear-cut way.
The first thing you’ll notice is that there are two options for service: individual plans and family plans. The former is for one adult, and the latter covers up to 10 people.
We’ve gotta say, the pricing was pretty reasonable for both. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important features you’ll get and what you’ll pay for them.
|Home Title Monitoring||No||No||Yes|
|Criminal Record Monitoring||No||No||Yes|
|Investment Account Monitoring||No||No||Yes|
|Annual Credit Report||No||No||Yes|
We provide more details later in our guide to Aura’s pricing packages, but a few quick notes here right off the bat.
One: The basic plan is really, really basic. It might be good for some folks, but we think $12 dollars is a little steep for an identity theft protection program that doesn’t even offer credit monitoring. The VPN functionality is pretty cool — more on that later — but when you consider there are options like TunnelBear out there with way more features for less than half the cost, this plan seems a little thin.
Two: The cost of the family plans really surprised us. An individual Ultimate plan is $40, and for 10 of them, it’s only $50. Pretty cool if you ask us. This is definitely something to consider if you’re looking to protect your whole family, especially when you consider children are often the targets of identity thieves.
Three: The complete list of features and functions for the Ultimate plan got us pretty excited, so let’s go ahead and jump in.
The purchasing process for Aura was a breeze. We selected the Ultimate Plan so we could get the full experience, then we went about setting up our account.
First, you’ll be asked to enter your email address and to create a password, followed by a prompt to enter your personal information. Name, address, Social Security number — all the usual suspects. No big surprises here.
Once that’s done, you’ll enter your credit card information. Something to note here: If you decide that Aura is the right solution for you, you might consider purchasing an annual plan rather than a month-to-month subscription. You’ll pay the full balance upfront, but you’ll save about 25 percent in the long run. Just something to consider.
Once you’ve purchased your plan, you’ll move on to the easy setup process.
The dashboard was refreshingly simple. Some of these services can be a little convoluted and make it difficult to find the protections you’re looking for. Not so with Aura. We’ll go through it so you can get an idea of what they are protecting.
The first title is your credit profile. This automatically configures itself based on the personal information you entered during the setup process, but it takes a while for it to come online. This is likely because Aura has to connect with the credit bureaus and compile a tremendous amount of information. Aura says the configuration can take up to a few hours, but in our experience, that was more like half an hour. Click on ‘activate’ to start the setup process.
Aura starts by asking you information that only you should have the answer to based on your credit file. That could be anything from addresses you’ve been associated with to the approximate payment for a particular loan in your name. Once that’s complete, your credit monitoring will be activated.
Pro Tip: You should always keep an eye on your credit files — go over them at least once a year. Consumer Reports estimates that about 1 in 3 people has significant errors in their files that can lead to diminished credit scores.2
Right out of the gate, Aura’s credit monitoring is pretty powerful. They keep an eye on all three of your credit files — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. That’s good news since discrepancies can show up on one file and not another, and one file might be pinged before the rest if a fraudster tries to take out a line of credit in your name. For another credit monitoring powerhouse, check out our review of IdentityIQ. They’re our favorite for keeping an eye on your credit.
That said, Aura also gives you the ability to lock your Experian credit file. You should always keep this function engaged unless you are applying for a credit card, shopping for a mortgage, or looking to take out a car loan.
A credit lock essentially makes it impossible for a lender to access your credit file while it’s engaged. This means an identity thief looking to take out a loan or open a line of credit in your name will immediately be stopped in their tracks. This is an extremely powerful tool against financial identity theft and one we would recommend to anyone.
Pro Tip: There are two ways to block your credit file — a lock and a freeze. A lock can be instantly toggled on and off, while a freeze takes longer to set up and undo.3 You can have either set up by calling the major credit bureaus.
Aura also offers a credit score tracker, which shows your progress over time, and gives you information as to why your score is what it is. This is a great tool for anyone looking to re-establish their credit after a financial hardship or boost their credit to secure a loan at a lower interest rate.
The tracker is down at the bottom there. It doesn’t have any information in it yet, but after you use the service for a few months, you’ll see the dot move, plotting out your (hopefully) increasing score.
Moving on to the next tile, you’ll be able to link your accounts to Aura, which will then monitor them for suspicious activity, like large withdrawals or money being shuffled around. Aura uses Plaid — a third-party middleman which uses heavy-duty encryption to connect vendors to bank accounts — to connect to your accounts. We always like it when they show up; they’re extremely trustworthy.
Once you select your bank and enter your username and password, you’re ready to go. Once connected, Aura will monitor all connected accounts for transactions beyond a certain threshold that you set. Click on the little alert icon in the top right-hand corner of the Transactions page to play around with this.
FYI: We typically keep all of our transaction alerts at or around $300. That way we’ll know if serious money is moving, but we won’t be bombarded with alerts every time we buy lunch.
Moving right along, we have the identity monitoring title. Here you’ll see that Aura keeps an eye on dark web marketplaces, public records, and new accounts being opened using your information. From the start, they’ll monitor for the information you provided during the sign-up phase, but if you click “add info,” you can also have them watch out for items like your passport and medical ID numbers.
As an aside, we’ve reviewed a lot of these services, and this is one of the most extensive lists we’ve found so far. You might want to head over to our IdentityGuard review if this list piques your interest; they’ve got comparable protections, and between us friends, they’re a little cheaper.
That said, boy does Aura’s identity monitoring ever work. Right off the bat, we had 23 notifications that our credentials were found on the dark web.
If you have the same experience, though, don’t panic. We’ve reviewed dozens of identity theft protection services, and this is extremely common. Ninety-nine percent of the time the credentials won’t match up, or the alert was from such a long time ago that it’s nothing to worry about.
Moving on, though, we want to highlight two of the most interesting and unique features Aura offers: malware protection and Wi-Fi security.
Malware protection is essential antivirus software. What do viruses have to do with identity theft protection you might be asking yourself? The answer is “quite a lot.”
Malware comes in all shapes and sizes and can do anything from brick your computer to logging your keystrokes. Think about that for a second — if there’s a keylogger running in the background that you’re unaware of, it’ll be able to pick up everything you’re typing, including your passwords. Putting two and two together?
Good cybersecurity practices go hand in hand with identity theft protection. In our in-depth look at NortonLifeLock, we found they really get this, too. You always want to make sure you’re using strong passwords, avoiding sketchy sites, and being discerning about the online vendors you do business with.
Pro Tip: Sometimes protecting your identity has nothing to do with you. If you give your personally identifying information to a company and they suffer a data breach, you might become a victim. There were approximately 37 billion records breached in 2020 alone.4 Always stay vigilant.
One thing to note: Aura’s malware protection is not currently available for macOS, although it does work on iOS. We hate to do it, but we’re gonna have to ding them a little for that.
Now let’s talk about this virtual private network Aura offers. Again, it’s not available on macOS, which is a bit of a letdown, but does work on iOS. Honestly, that’s really where you want it. You’re more at risk of becoming the victim of cybercrime when you’re out at the coffee shop than you are when you’re connected to your home network.
FYI: Virtual private networks work by creating a secure tunnel from your device to its digital destination through the internet. It then encrypts the traffic traveling through that tunnel, effectively making you invisible online. If you want to know more, check out our guide to VPN functionality.
We tested it on our iPhone, and it worked pretty well. There wasn’t a whole lot of latency — something you can expect when running a VPN — and it didn’t appear to be leaking DNS requests — a techno-jargon way of saying “it works.”
Now, why do you need a VPN coupled with your identity theft protection? The same reason you want to package antivirus software with it. The point is that there is no silver-bullet approach to this, and you want to protect yourself from as many threat vectors as possible.
For example, you never know who is sharing that unsecured Wi-Fi network with you at the hotel, and if you decided to do some banking from your room, a bad actor might be sniffing for login credentials. That could cause some pretty serious problems, right? If you’re running a VPN, though, you’re a ghost to them.
So that just about covers everything there is to say about Aura. With all this in mind, let’s put it all together.
Overall, we loved Aura. Their credit protections are comprehensive, their identity monitoring is robust, and their bonus features — the malware protection and the VPN — put them head and shoulders above many other identity theft protection services we’ve reviewed so far.
We also loved their design. A lot of these services feel a little dated when you use them (like their dashboards were designed in 1996 and haven’t been updated since). Not so with Aura, which felt sleek, modern, and responsive.
That said, we were a little disappointed that those bonus features weren’t available on macOS, and that the price tag was a little high. Other than that though, it’s thumbs up across the board.
With that in mind, you should never buy the first shiny thing you see. So be sure you breeze through our guide to this year’s best ID theft prevention products.
Yes, Aura monitors reports from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
Yes, Aura keeps an eye on dark web marketplaces, chatrooms, and forums for your personally identifying information.
Yes, in our testing we found that Aura’s VPN worked well.
No, Aura’s VPN is not available for macOS.
For individuals, their Basic plan costs $12, their Total protection plan costs $26, and their Ultimate package costs $40 per month.
Crime Museum. (2021). Identity Theft.
Fox, Michelle. (2021, Jun 11). A third of Americans found errors on their credit reports. Here’s how to fix those mistakes. CNBC.
Equifax FAQ. (2021). What’s the difference between a credit report lock and a security freeze? Equifax.
Whitney, Lance. (2021, Jan 21). 2020 sees huge increase in records exposed in data breaches. TechRepublic.
With a decade of experience as a journalist, Derek Prall has been covering cybersecurity for seven years. He has spent more than 1,000 hours researching digital privacy and has covered almost 100 topics related to VPN and identity theft protection. Previously, Derek has covered tech issues at American City & County magazine, where he won numerous national awards for his cybersecurity coverage. His areas of expertise included network security, big data analytics, and AI applications in public safety. Derek graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications from Furman University and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two cats.