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Do Identity Theft Protection Services Work?

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With more and more major retailers being hit by hackers and major security flaws on the Internet like Heartbleed, identity theft is becoming more and more of a threat.

This also means that identity theft protection services are making a full-court press to get everyone to sign up for their services. But are identity theft protection services worth it?

Can Identity Theft Protection Services Actually Protect You?

It's a good question. Identity theft protection services cannot actually protect you from getting your identity stolen. That's not how they work. They do not take preemptive measures to protect you from having your identity stolen.

So what do identity theft protection services do? Here's a breakdown:

Monitor your credit report: When identity thieves steal your personal information, they are generally doing it so they can either use your credit cards or open new credit cards or loans in your name. Any of that activity will show up on your credit report. If any activity looks suspicious, identity theft protection services will alert you so you can handle the situation.

Monitor your financials: Unusual activity on your credit report is a good indicator of identity theft, but some instances of fraud can't be caught by monitoring your credit report. Most identity theft protection services will monitor your other financials, including credit cards and bank accounts, as well as search for loan or credit applications that are being filed in your name.

Monitor your personal information: While monitoring your financials is a good start, there are other areas of your life where clues of identity theft might pop up. The best identity theft protection services will also monitor your social security number to make sure nobody is using it without your knowledge. Some other services will monitor public records and medical records, as well as monitor your driver's license number or look for address changes that you never authorized.

Provide security software for your computer: One of the major way that identity thieves are stealing personal information is through hacking. Many of the top identity theft protection services will provide antivirus software for your computer to help safeguard against hacking. The software usually includes features like encrypted logins for banking sites and anti-keylogging software to help protect you.

Which Identity Theft Protection Services Are Best?

Most of the top identity theft protection services all do the basic monitoring of your credit report, financials, social security number and public records, so any of the top services will do a good job of protecting you. Some go above and beyond to make sure you aren't a victim of identity theft. We've sorted through the top services and here are our favorites:

Best Overall: Lifelock

One of the only service that allows for monthly updates on your credit score, which is nice to have if you are trying to build your credit and want to keep track of your progress. In addition to the basic identity theft protection monitoring, they will unsubscribe you from all junk mail lists and monitor a wide range of your information, including driver's license number and address changes. Lifelock also offers a 30-day free trial. Here is a good comparison of Lifelock with our second favorite, IdentityForce.

Best for Families: IdentityForce

IdentityForce has one of the most affordable and comprehensive family identity theft programs with their Child Watch add-on. At only $18/month for protection for both you and your children, it's ideal for those with large households. IdentityForce monitors all of your financial information, including social security number and all financial accounts. It also offers a 14-day free trial, so you can try out the service before you commit. Here is a breakdown of the service and what it offers.

Best Free Service: Credit Sesame

Credit Sesame is awesome for those who are reluctant to give up their credit card information to get identity theft protection. It's 100% free, which is very unusual in the identity theft protection world. It updates your credit score every month, so you can see how your credit score is changing, and also monitors your credit report for suspicious activity. Does Credit Sesame offer everything other identity theft protection services do? No, but if you are just looking for simple identity theft protection for free, Credit Sesame is the best service for you. Here is more information on exactly what it provides.