The second-most-asked question I get when I talk about identity theft is "What about identity theft protection companies?" (The top question is "If I'm a victim of identity theft, do I really need a lawyer?") I usually respond with "What about them?" – mostly because I'm never certain what, precisely, they are wanting to find out. In general, what people mean when they ask me about identity theft protection companies is whether or not they are worth the cost. I always have to be careful here, because the answer really depends on the specific company, or more precisely, the product they are offering.
Most identity theft protection programs and products don't do much more than credit monitoring. You can monitor your credit pretty easily, though. If the company is asking for more than a few dollars a year, it's just not worth the money.
Other companies include a resolution service as well, someone to walk you through the steps to resolve your identity theft issue. Unfortunately, this still leaves you doing the work, and taking up even more time by letting someone else tell you precisely how to go about doing what you have to do. There rarely (if ever) include any real legal help with your identity theft. When it is included, it can be as limited as sending initial dispute letters to creditors; which, again, you can do yourself without too much fuss.
I've watched people as I talk with them about this stuff, and this is the point where they've usually lost interest. They think I'm being long-winded, that I should just say "No, identity theft protection programs aren't worth the money you pay for them…." but that's not true, either. Believe me, as I've learned about identity theft as it's grown over the decade, the more concerned I have become. I absolutely have an identity theft protection program for myself and family. Because I don't want the headache involved with fixing an identity theft, I have insisted on an identity restoration program. Unlike the resolution program, the company I subscribe through actually fixes the problem for me. It is probably one of the more expensive programs to subscribe to, since it includes legal coverage, as well; but the program is still worth the monthly subscription fee as far as I'm concerned.
I have watched these companies sprout overnight, and go to the very top, while others step on the scene and get shut down so quickly their website disappears while customers are still logged in. For years I have kicked around the idea of reviewing all these companies for you, but with such fluidity in the industry, I've always felt it best to simply tell you how to evaluate identity theft protection programs. After all, when you know that, it doesn't matter how many programs there are to look at, you will have the same standards to measure them all up against, and make an informed decision based on your own needs.
Plus, you are happy with me because I didn't knock the company you just recommended to your friends. (Yeah, that can be awkward.)
There has been a trend the past couple of years to install software on your computer for you to use in keeping your information safe, or providing a website for the same purpose. My old IT background rears its ugly head when I see this stuff. Storing information on your computer (or on a website, meaning someone else's computer) is always a less-than-ideal solution. These companies hawk this as a "value add" – but there isn't much value added when you are putting your information at more risk.
So, in the end I have to let people make up their own minds about whether or not a particular identity theft protection service is worth the money being charged for it. All I can say with conviction is that I know enough about identity theft to subscribe to one, and I got the best one I could find, too. Beyond that, though, what more can any of us really do?