HOUSTON - Cyber attacks and data breaches to steal your identity have grown exponentially since the pandemic started. So do you need to buy identity theft protection?
ID theft protection services, or credit monitoring, usually costs anywhere from $6 to $35 dollars a month. Some provide up to $1 million in insurance.
But you can also take the same steps to protect your credit for free. So let's weigh your options.
Chances are your personal information has been stolen at one time or another.
"We found in Texas the average person was involved in 5.3 data breaches," said Richard Gargan with background check company BeenVerified.
Breaches such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Kroger, and those are just some from this year. In February, experts say cyber thieves made what's called a COMB, or Compilation of Many Breaches.
"That's where hackers literally made it easy for each other by combining all the data breaches that have ever happened into one nice file of 3.2 billion email addresses. It's just incredible," explained Gargan.
So is identity theft protection right for you?
ID theft protection services, such as Lifelock, Identity Force, and Allstate Identity Protection, among many others, monitor your credit and alert you when someone takes out a loan or runs up a credit card in your name.
"We're going to notify you immediately to make sure you're aware and you can either say yes that was me, or no that wasn't me," said Lewis Bertolucci, VP of Product at Allstate Identity Protection.
Some companies will tell you if your information is on the dark web and help you refute and remove fraudulent activity from your credit report, which can be a long, arduous task.
"We walk you through, step-by-step in some cases. There's a limited power of attorney you can grant and we would actually contact offices on your behalf," said Bertolucci.
But you can check your credit for free at all three bureaus, Equifax, Experion, and TransUnion, weekly until next April 20, 2022, then you can check it free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
And only you can freeze your own credit, which blocks anyone from using it until you unfreeze it.
Other protective steps, such as using multi-factor authentication on your digital accounts, and changing passwords to long, complicated combinations, are free, too.
"Often people are using the same password across different services. And once that password is on the dark web, hackers know that password, once they have that email address and that password, you're really vulnerable," said Gargan.
Here's a checklist to help you decide whether you need identity theft protection:
- You've already been hit by identity theft.
- You can't freeze your credit because you're using it.
- You know you probably won't monitor your credit yourself.
- You want the insurance.
These sites offer comparisons of different ID theft protection services:
BeenVerified also lets you check whether your email has been dumped on the dark web here.