Alternatives to commercial identity theft protection services
Here are some low-cost — or free — ways you can protect yourself against identity theft:
- Monitor your credit reports for free. Federal law requires each of the three major credit reporting agencies to give you a free credit report — at your request — each year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com — the only authorized website for free credit reports. If you want to monitor your reports over time, you can spread out your requests, getting one free report every four months.
- Review statements for your credit card, bank, retirement, brokerage, and other accounts every month. Or log in and check them even more frequently. They can tip you to fraudulent charges on your accounts long before issues show up on your credit report.
- Review the explanation of benefits (EOB) statements you get from your health insurance providers. If you see treatments you never received, immediately tell your insurer and medical providers.
- Consider placing a credit freeze — also known as a security freeze — on your credit files with the major credit bureaus. A credit freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission. Because potential creditors can’t check your files, a credit freeze generally stops identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
To freeze your credit files, you’ll have to contact each of the CRAs separately. If you opt for a freeze, each time you need to allow a company to check your credit — for example, if you apply for a loan or an apartment — you’ll have to unlock your file. The process can take a few days. And, unless you already are an identity theft victim, there may be a fee each time you unfreeze and refreeze your credit. Fees vary based on where you live but commonly range from $5 to $10.
If you want to both freeze your credit and get monitoring services, sign up for the monitoring service before placing the credit freeze. That way, the monitoring service can get access to your credit files. Otherwise, you may not be able to complete the service’s account creation process. If you lift the freeze to give the service access, restore it as soon as possible.
- Consider taking advantage of free identity theft protection services that businesses and the government may offer you after a data breach. Check out any company online before enrolling. Some scammers send fake “free” offers to steal your personal information.
- If you believe you are an identity theft victim or are at risk of becoming one — possibly because you received a data breach notice or your wallet was lost or stolen — you can place a free, initial 90-day fraud alert on your credit report. The alert tells potential creditors and lenders to contact you directly and verify your identity before opening new accounts in your name. You can renew the fraud alert after 90 days, or remove it at any time.
To place an initial alert, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies. The agency you contact must tell the other two agencies about your alert. You’ll get a letter from each CRA confirming that it placed a fraud alert on your file. The letter also will tell you that you are entitled to a free credit report — even if you already ordered your free annual credit report this year — and explain how to request the report. You will have to separately request a free report from each CRA.
IdentityTheft.gov Offers Free Personal Recovery Plans
Visit IdentityTheft.gov if you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, or if your personal information has been lost or exposed. IdentityTheft.gov is the government’s free, one-stop resource for reporting and recovering from identity theft. The website, available in Spanish at RobodeIdentidad.gov, will provide you with a personal, interactive recovery plan tailored to your individual identity theft needs. It will:
- Walk you through each recovery step
- Generate pre-filled letters, affidavits, and forms for you to send to credit bureaus, businesses, debt collectors, and the IRS
- Adapt to your changing needs, provide you with follow-up reminders, and help you track your progress
- Provide advice about what to do if you’re affected by specific data breaches
IdentityTheft.gov has recovery plans for more than 30 types of identity theft, including tax-related identity theft and identity theft involving a child’s information. Please check out this video to learn more about the website.