It seems as if it’s almost every week that we hear of a new hack on a national or internationally-known organization’s customer database, exposing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American’s personally identifiable data to the risk of identity theft. The cost of identity theft to the individual today is multi-fold: it can cost you financially, whether it be through fraudulent charges, or the cost to clean up the mess left behind. But it can also cost you time, because restoring your accounts and credit after an identity hack can take hundreds of hours of speaking to customer service representatives on the phone, filing a police report, dealing with the IRS, and more. And of course, it affects you emotionally and psychologically, as well. I’ve personally seen close friends and family members have to deal with this stress, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
To combat the risk of identity theft and compromised financial information, there are tons of companies out there that offer credit monitoring services, and similar services. It usually costs between $10-30 per month, and what is it that you get for what you pay?
Not that long ago, I subscribed to one such service, over a period of several years; I had personally experienced break-ins and was worried that my financial information had become compromised (they stole a checkbook). Every month, this service would send me an email, notifying me that they had continuously monitored my financial accounts, and had detected no changes. The few times I had opened accounts, I would get an email notifying me that they had detected a new account opened. And of course, I was able to get my FICO score as part of my subscription, which was $14.95/mo.
This is the thing, though: in the event that I had had a breach of my personal information, how much help would that company have given me to help dispute transactions, deal with the financial institutions, and shut down fraudulent accounts? None. That type of service isn’t included in credit monitoring. It is what it says it is: they merely monitor your accounts, and notify you if there’s an event. So you’re still left with the burden of cleaning up the mess after the fact, and you’ve spent all of that monthly subscription money that may have done nothing you couldn’t do on your own, for free.
Yes, free. Did you know that by law, you are allowed to pull one free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) every year? The website www.annualcreditreport.com is the only site I recommend going through in order to do this, and be mindful of not buying into any of the additional services being offered through ads – the report itself is free. Also, by pulling only one of the three reports every four months throughout the year, you cover an entire year of activity for free (with a few rare exceptions, the information contained on all three reports should be almost identical). Once you review the reports, if you do identify any errors or items that need to be disputed, you can then contact the company listed on the report to start that process – a process which you would’ve been handling yourself anyways, even if you’d subscribed to the credit monitoring services.
If you’ve had to go through the dispute resolution process before, however, you’re probably thinking, there has to be someone out there that will assist me in the event of a security breach. Good news: there is! While there may be other companies out there that do the same thing, the company I personally use for identity theft insurance is Zander ID Theft Solutions. For $75/year, not only do they monitor my accounts, but in the event of a breach, they will assist me in cleaning things up. The family rate (to cover a spouse and/or children) is a little higher, but still a pretty good deal. If you’d like to check out all of the features included in their plan, head over to www.zanderins.com.
The one thing you won’t get with the Zander plan is a free FICO score – but you already know that that is just an “I love debt” score, right? And that’s a topic for another day!