Identity Theft: Get Protected

Identity theft protection company LifeLock has been making headlines lately because it will become a publicly traded company October 3. This isn’t an investing column, so I’m not writing about whether you should try to get in on this IPO. As a money-saving-advice columnist, I’m writing about whether you should pay for the services that LifeLock (or any other identity protection service) offers.

Year after year, identity theft tops the list of consumer complaints tracked by the Federal Trade Commission. According to the most-recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 9 million households had at least one member who was a victim of identity theft in 2010, and losses due to identity theft totaled $13.3 billion.

 Considering these facts, it seems like it might be worth it to pay LifeLock $275 annually for its Ultimate protection plan, which provides monitoring of your personal information, access to your credit score and alerts when information on your existing accounts changes, among other things. But Dave Aitel, an ethical hacker and CEO of Immunity Inc., says that you can get most of the services that LifeLock charges for little to no cost. Furthermore, he says, LifeLock and identity protection services can’t prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft. They will simply alert you if there is a problem, then you have to take action.
The price of an identity protection service might be worth it for some people who don’t actively monitor their accounts and credit information, Aitel says. But here’s how you can keep tabs on your personal information for free — or at a much lower price:

Monitor your credit. Each year you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Go to to get your free copies. Rather than order all three at once, order from just one of the credit bureaus every four months so that you can monitor your credit history throughout the year. Look for any mistakes or accounts that don’t belong to you. If you find any problems, see How to Fix an Error on Your Credit Report for advice on filing a dispute with the credit bureau.

Keep tabs on your credit score. For just $8, you can get your credit score from the credit bureaus when you order your free credit report at Errors in your credit history can pull down your score. At for $19.95 you can get your FICO credit score, which is based on your credit history and is the score lenders typically use when determining whether to give you a loan or offer you a credit card.


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