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Even though the federal tax deadline has been extended to May 17, there’s still plenty to watch out for as you gather your documents at a more relaxed pace.
Tax season is a common time of year for consumers to discover that their personal information has been used to file returns in their name (or their children’s name) and claim fraudulent tax credits.
In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported 93,529 cases of employment or tax-related fraud. The number of reports spiked to 46,078 cases in the second quarter, right around the time when consumers are typically getting ready to file.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, taxpayers commonly discover fraud when they attempt to e-file their returns but receive an error message alerting them of a duplicate social security number, or when they get a notice of activity on an account in their name that they didn’t create. The agency may also send you a letter alerting you of a suspicious tax return created with your data.
There’s no surefire way to prevent bad actors from getting ahold of your information, but with a well-rated identity theft monitoring service you can dispute fraud early with the help of experts on your side.
Identity security firm Sontiq recommends investing in a credit monitoring service that offers additional support for identity restoration (the process of disputing fraud and receiving reimbursement for losses). These services can give you an extra layer of protection all year round, but particularly during this time of year when fraudsters find other ways, besides payment fraud, to steal your money.
You should also look for services with identity theft insurance to cover costs such as hiring a lawyer and stolen fund reimbursement.
In our list of best identity theft services, we recommend IdentityForce® as the overall best program for its identity theft insurance up to $1 million and certified identity restoration experts who assist consumers with all of the necessary paperwork and phone calls if they discover their identity has been compromised by criminals in an IRS tax fraud scam.
IdentityForce plans monitor thousands of websites, chat rooms, blogs and other data sources for illegal trading and selling of your personal information, including your social security number, driver’s license, credit and debit card numbers and much more. Knowing if your social security number has been compromised can help alert you to the possibility that you could be vulnerable to a tax scam or other fraud.
Ahead, Select reviews four additional identity theft monitoring programs (some of which also offer credit monitoring) and provides tips on keeping your credit safe all year round.
Best identity theft services
On Identity Force’s secure site
For a limited time, get 3 months free on all annual plans – that’s $17.99/mo or $160.99/yr for UltraSecure+Credit and $9.99/mo or $88.99/yr for UltraSecure – offer ends 04/30/2021
The UltraSecure+Credit monitors your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; UltraSecure doesn’t offer credit monitoring.
See our methodology, terms apply. To learn more about IdentityForce®, visit their website or call 855-979-1118.
- All plans provide identity theft insurance up to $1 million
- 3 months free on all annual plans
- Option to choose between UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit plans
- UltraSecure doesn’t offer triple-bureau credit monitoring
Information about the PrivacyGuard® plans have been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the company prior to publication.
$9.99 to $24.99 per month
Up to $1 million for Identity Protection and Total Protection plans; none for Credit Protection plan
Total Protection and Credit Protection plans both monitor your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; Identity Protection doesn’t offer credit monitoring.
- Option to choose the plan that suits you: Credit Protection, Identity Protection or Total Protection
- New users can try any plan for $1 for the first 14 days
- No family plan
- No identity theft insurance with Credit Protection plan
- Identity Protection plan doesn’t offer triple-bureau credit monitoring
Best for credit monitoring
On Experian’s secure site
$9.99 to $29.99 per month
Up to $500,000 for Plus plan and up to $1 million for Premium plan*
Premium plan monitors your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; the Plus plan only monitors Experian.
- Option to choose between Plus and Premium plans
- Free for 30 days
- Both plans come with identity theft insurance
- Variety of family plans
- Plus plan only has insurance up to $500,000
- Plus only monitors your Experian credit report
*Identity Theft Insurance underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.
Best for identity theft insurance
On Identity Guard’s secure site
$7.20 to $23.99 per month
The Total and Ultra plans monitor your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; the Value plan doesn’t offer credit monitoring.
- Option to choose from three plans: Value, Total and Ultra
- All plans provide identity theft insurance up to $1 million
- Variety of privacy tools that help reduce telemarketing calls, junk mail and more (free with annual plans)
- IBM® Watson®™ artificial intelligence monitors and processes billions of pieces of information
- No credit monitoring with Value plan
Best for computer and device protection
On LifeLock’s secure site
$8.99 to $34.99 per month
Up to $1 million for lawyers and experts; up to $25,000 to $1 million each for stolen funds reimbursement and personal expense compensation
The Ultimate Plus plan monitors your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; The Standard and Advantage plans monitor Equifax or TransUnion.
- Choose between Standard, Advantage and Ultimate Plus plans
- All plans provide identity theft insurance
- Norton 360 software is integrated into some plans, offering protection against viruses, spyware, malware and other online threats for up to 5 PCs, Macs and Android devices
- You receive less identity theft insurance coverage with a Standard plan
- Standard plan lacks some alerts, like bank account and credit card activity
- Standard and Advantage plans only monitor one credit bureau
How to protect your credit all year round
Credit monitoring services are a crucial part of a well-managed financial plan at any time of year. Our best credit monitoring services offer three-bureau credit monitoring, which alerts you of changes on credit reports from all three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Without triple-bureau protection, you might miss errors that only appear on one of the three credit reports. An error can easily fly below the radar until a lender pulls the report listing fraud, potentially jeopardizing your approval odds.
Most paid credit monitoring services offer three-bureau protection, whereas free services usually only alert you of credit report changes with one bureau. CreditWise® from Capital One, for instance, monitors both TransUnion and Experian, but not Equifax.
For the best protection, go with an identity theft protection service that also offers credit monitoring. You might pay a little extra now, but the potential savings (in both dollars and in time and stress), could be substantial.
Other tips for side-stepping fraud include freezing your credit, avoiding sharing sensitive data on public WiFi, using virtual card numbers and turning on two-factor authentication for all passwords.
See our full list of safety tips, plus how you can protect your child from identity theft.
To determine which identity theft protection services offer the most benefits to consumers, CNBC Select analyzed and compared over a dozen services that offer a variety of plans.
When ranking the best identity theft protection services, we focused on the following features:
- Cost: Typically, these services bill monthly but some have deals where you can pay annually.
- Identity theft insurance: We considered whether the services offered identity theft insurance and looked at the amount you’re covered up to. We found that the best services offer up to $1 million for eligible expenses associated with resolving and restoring your identity.
- Wide variety of identity monitoring: The more platforms the service checks for breaches to your personal information, the better.
- Credit monitoring: We ranked services that monitor your credit reports higher than those they don’t. The best plans offer triple-bureau monitoring.
- Family plans: If you can enroll your family members, that’s an added plus.
- Mobile app: The ability to access services from a smartphone was crucial.
Keep in mind that identity theft protection services can only alert you of breaches to your personal information, not prevent any fraud.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.