Identity theft is a potentially serious issue that involves the unauthorized use of an existing account or a new account or the misuse of personal information to commit fraud.
One in ten people will likely be the target of identity theft in any given year (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), so it's important to protect yourself before your have an identity-theft issue. If you are searching for free identity theft protection, you may be surprised to find that no truly free service exists. Some free identity theft protection services are bundled with your credit card or other account, but if you don't have a pre-existing account that offers these services, there are other steps you can take to protect yourself.
You can protect your identify without purchasing a protection plan or service. Start with these simple steps:
Simple Ways to Protect Your Identity for Free
It is possible to protect yourself against identity theft for free if you can navigate the credit reporting agencies. While anyone can become the target of identity theft, you can reduce the risk of it happening to you. These simple steps can help you safeguard your personal identity without any significant cost:
Protect Your Devices
When you access the internet, there are steps you can take to keep your identity protected. Many of us use security measures on our computers, such as malware or firewall software, but other devices often get ignored. Follow these tips for your computer, phone, and other portable devices:
- Do not enter your personal information (especially your social security number) on any website that you do not 100% trust. A secured website will use https instead of http.
- Use unique passwords for each website where you enter personal information. Use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Check Your Credit Reports for Accuracy
Once every 12 months, you have the right to request a credit report for free from each of the companies that report credit: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can request the reports all at once, but most financial experts advise to stagger the reports. So, if you request a credit report from Experian, then wait another four months before requesting a report from Equifax, and then another four before requesting a report from TransUnion.
Your credit report includes information about your current and past addresses, any accounts you have (opened or closed), and whether those accounts are in good standing, in collection, or past due. If you find any questionable items on your credit report, then you can dispute the items with the credit reporting company. These disputes are an important step in making sure that all the information filed in your credit report is accurate. You can spot identify theft that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
A fraud alert is an announcement on your credit report that tells potential creditors that you may have been the victim of identity theft. Fraud alerts are a free tool for anyone who has not been the target of identity theft. It is one of the first proactive steps in safeguarding your identity when you believe thieves may have gained access to your information. A fraud alert is recommended for anyone who has had their wallet, computer, or personal information lost or stolen. The initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for one year.
Free Identity Theft Protection
Even after taking the steps above to protect your identity without spending a dime, you may want to further protect your identity. Your personal information is valuable, so it's important to protect it now so that you don't have to recover from identity theft.
Low-Cost Identity Theft Protection
There is no true free identity theft protection. To protect yourself against thieves and for your peace of mind, consider these low-cost options to protect your identity.
For more than 20 years, Identity Guard has provided award-winning services in identity theft protection and privacy. Identity Guard offers individual and family plans. The Value Plan is their most affordable option at $8.99 per month. This package protects you against identity theft by monitoring the dark web, sending risk management reports based on your activities, offering tools for safe internet browsing, and giving you access to their mobile app for anti-phishing. Identity Guard sends you alerts about high-risk transactions, potential threats, or when the company's AI detects your personal information on the dark web.
LifeLock is one of the most respected names in identity theft protection, especially since LifeLock and Norton are now the same company. Norton 360 with LifeLock offers three identity theft packages, with the most affordable (the Select package) costing $9.99 per month for the first year and then $14.99 per month after the first year. The Select package includes device security benefits and identity theft protection, such as 24/7 member support, dark web monitoring, lost wallet protection, notifications of data breaches, credit report monitoring, and more. This package covers you with a $25,000 reimbursement for any funds that are stolen. LifeLock sends you alerts based on your credit and social security number. The device protection is what you would expect from a company that includes Norton: VPN and security coverage for up to five devices.
IdentityForce has been providing award-winning solutions for identity protection for more than 40 years. IdentityForce offers individual, family, and business packages for identity theft protection. The UltraSecure is the most affordable individual package at $17.95 per month with a 14-day free trial. The UltraSecure package offers eight types of monitoring, including social media, dark web, and pay day loans. IdentityForce protects you against medical ID fraud, and they send alerts based on credit card and bank activity, potential identity threats, fraud alert reminders, and more. The UltraSecure package also includes online tools to protect your privacy on your PC, two-factor authentication, and assistance if you lose your wallet. This package gives you identity theft insurance of $1 million.