Based on our three months of testing, which involved signing up and paying for each service, bothering their customer-support representatives and putting personal information into their credit-score simulators, we’ve concluded that the best identity-theft-protection service, for the second year in a row, is IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit.
IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit offers the best all-around coverage, with comprehensive monitoring of your financial activity and personal information, and quarterly updates of your credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus. Alone among the services we reviewed, it offers two-factor authentication to protect your account. The only thing IdentityForce lacks is investment-account monitoring.
LifeLock Ultimate Plus had the best interface, provided the most comprehensive monitoring of personal accounts and lets you initiate a credit freeze straight from your account. But LifeLock isn’t very generous with credit reports or credit scores and is much more expensive than other services, although it offers an attractive bundle with Norton Security antivirus software.
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Family plan: $36, 2 adults, unlimited kids | Credit bureaus monitored: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion | New credit reports: Quarterly | New credit scores: Quarterly | Bank, card accounts monitored: Yes | Investment account monitoring: No | Two-factor authentication: Yes | Maximum ID-theft assistance: $1 million | Telephone assistance: 24/7
IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit provides very good identity protection and a lot of credit information for a reasonable price. Credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus are refreshed quarterly; most types of financial accounts are monitored (except investment accounts), and the $1 million identity-restoration insurance covers travel expenses and child care as well as lost funds and lost wages. IdentityForce also includes an excellent credit-score simulator, anti-keylogging software and, best of all, two-factor authentication to protect your account.
LifeLock has the priciest plans of all the services we reviewed, but its top-tier service monitors the most kinds of data, including investment and retirement accounts, payday lenders and people-search websites. It also offers a new Equifax credit score every month, lets you initiate a credit freeze straight from the user interface and has attractive bundles with Norton Security antivirus software. But LifeLock gives you full credit reports only once a year, and for a service that’s so full-featured, it’s strange that LifeLock doesn’t provide a credit-score simulator, two-factor authentication or a family plan.
IDShield has greatly improved its plans’ features and now competes directly with IdentityForce and LifeLock. Despite a moderate price hike, it’s still the best bargain in identity protection, especially for families. It monitors bank and credit-card accounts, alerts you of data breaches and sex offenders, and throws in a password manager at no extra cost. IDShield’s new three-bureau plan provides credit reports quarterly and credit scores monthly, from all three credit agencies, making it the best option for anyone especially concerned with their credit standing.
Doesn’t directly monitor bank, credit-card accounts
Skimpy credit reports
No 24/7 tech support
Identity Guard Premier’s big selling point is IBM’s Watson artificial-intelligence platform, which watches online for patterns that might indicate a stolen identity. Identity Guard also offers three-bureau credit reports yearly and a TransUnion credit score monthly. But Identity Guard doesn’t directly keep an eye on your credit-card or bank accounts, which might be crucial for some customers, and the other types of information monitored are less wide-ranging than those of most other services.
Family plan: No | Credit bureaus monitored: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion | New credit reports: Monthly ‘blended’ report | New credit scores: Monthly | Bank, card accounts monitored: No | Investment account monitoring: No | Two-factor authentication: No | Maximum ID-theft assistance: $1 million | Telephone assistance: Weekdays, evenings, Saturday
PrivacyGuard Total Protection has the best set of useful tools, including credit and mortgage simulation calculators and free Norton Security antivirus software. (LifeLock offers that too, but you have to pay for it.) It offers credit scores from all three bureaus monthly, and a monthly “blended” credit report that combines information from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. But the breadth of its monitoring is somewhat limited.
Our testing and analysis of identity-protection services focused on how well each one monitored credit information, financial activity and personal information. We rated each service for how frequently it provides credit reports and credit scores. (Free annual credit reports don’t include your credit score.)
We also gave extra weight to services that offer tools to help you improve your credit score. We penalized services that do not give you credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
We also rated each service for the number of credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts that it monitors. We paid attention to whether or not a service provided email or SMS notifications for large changes to an account balance or large expenses on a credit card.
We penalized services that didn’t allow us to add personal information beyond our Social Security number, such as our driver’s license number, phone number or multiple email addresses. Each of those numbers can also be used to steal your identity. We gave extra points to services that detected any compromised personal information.
Our testing period lasted three months in early 2019. During that period, our reviewer used his credit cards and bank accounts as usual. He opted into email, SMS and phone alerts (when applicable) from the services and regularly checked his credit reports to monitor any changes.
Why Identity-Protection Services May Be Worth It
Are identity-protection services really worth paying for? Yes, particularly if you know your personal information may have been compromised due to a data breach or other leak.
There are several things you can do yourself for free to protect your identity, such as frequently checking your bank and credit-card statements, going to annualcreditreport.com to get a yearly credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), and calling the credit agencies every year to put a fraud alert on your records.
But such vigilance can be time-consuming, which is what makes a paid identity-protection service an appealing option. For a monthly fee, which can vary widely, these services will monitor your personal information and alert you if suspicious or fraudulent activity is occurring. All of them will also help you restore your credit if your identity is stolen.
What to Look for in an Identity-Protection Service
The five services we tested have a lot in common. All monitor your files with all three of the major credit-reporting agencies. All watch the “dark web” and other areas of online criminal activity for mention of your name, Social Security number, and credit-card and bank-account numbers.
In addition, each of these services sends you alerts via email and SMS text messaging; all have iOS and Android mobile apps; and if your identity is stolen while you’re paying one of these services to watch it, each will spend up to $1 million doing the dirty work of restoring your good name and credit, including reimbursement for lost wages and stolen funds.
But identity-protection services vary in how often you’ll get credit reports and scores, and which bureaus you’ll get credit scores from. Not all the services monitor your bank, credit-card and investment accounts.
Last but not least, only IdentityForce among these services offers two-factor login authentication to protect your account. It makes no sense that the others don’t, considering the sensitivity of the information they handle. It would be pretty ironic to have your identity stolen from an identity-protection service.