By Amy Miller, AFC®
As March and National Credit Education month come to an end, I thought it would be good to close it out with a talk about credit monitoring and identity theft protection.
Credit Monitoring vs. Identity Theft Protection
Although related, Credit Monitoring is different from Identity Theft Protection. Credit Monitoring is just the tracking of what is being reported and attempting to catch any fraudulent activity quickly. It’s mainly about awareness – your own warning system.
Identity Theft Protection services will monitor your credit file and will alert you to changes and updates, new or closed accounts, address changes, medical identity alerts, and social media scanning. Some also offer insurance and customer service agents to assist you and may cover a private investigator to help as well. You will pay a fee for most of these services.
There are many programs out there – each of the “Big Three” (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) have options available.
In addition to credit collection and reporting, Equifax also sells credit monitoring and fraud prevention services to consumers. Equifax Credit Monitor allows you to monitor your report, alerts you to any changes, and allows you to easily lock and unlock your credit report. This service also provides you with your Vantage Score. There is an upgraded program available as well called Equifax Complete which offers the same services as the Credit Monitor product but includes $500K in identity theft insurance and daily access to your Equifax report.
Experian offers 2 credit monitoring plans. CreditWorks Basic and Premium. Basic is completely free and provides a monthly Experian credit report and score, alerts, and the option to boost. The Premium package offers monitoring of your reports from each of “The Big Three” monthly along with alerts, daily access to your Experian Credit Report & FICO, FICO Score Simulator, and Experian Boost. You are also able to lock and unlock your credit file, get real-time alerts of any inquiries, Dark Web surveillance, and $1,000,000 in Identity Theft insurance.
Like its competitors, TransUnion also offers credit and fraud prevention services. Their free services offered are free annual credit reports, freezes and disputes, and monitoring through TrueIdentity. The upgraded credit monitoring covers unlimited score and report access (updated daily), Credit Compass, email alerts of changes from “The Big Three,” lock and unlock capabilities plus $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance with unlimited access to ID theft specialists.
Doing It Yourself
I always advise individuals, even if they are paying for a service, to monitor it themselves as well since our information and personal data are everywhere. Here are a few steps to take to ensure you are covered as much as possible:
*annualcreditreport.com – we’ve recently talked about how to pull your report from each of the “Big Three.” You can receive one free report yearly from each. Check your state guidelines as well, some have passed laws that allow for an additional report from each (my home state of GA is one of those).
*Bank Accounts – check each regularly, I normally suggest at least weekly. Review all activity and balances. (I also strongly recommend the use of a check register)
*Credit Cards – review at least monthly. Look at all transactions and any fees/charges
*Alerts – set transaction alerts on both your bank accounts and credit card accounts
*Passwords – DO NOT use the same password for every account (I have been guilty of this). Make sure your passwords are strong and not easily guessed
*Freeze – you can place a “freeze” on your account directly with the credit bureau(s). It will stop anyone from pulling your file until you “unfreeze” or grant permission. I also suggest this if you have been a victim of identity theft in the past
*Active-Duty Alert – service members who are deployed with minimal access to monitor accounts often become targets of identity thieves, so I often recommend placing an alert while deployed (at a minimum). The alert will stay on your file for 1 year unless you remove it earlier Neither credit monitoring nor identity theft protection services are foolproof, and neither can prevent fraudulent activity or identity theft but will help to keep you up to date so you can react quickly to minimize the damage identity theft can do. It’s the necessary required due diligence we must do when trying to stay financially fit!