Consumer Reports: Most damaging type of ID theft rare

March 28, 2013 8:27:00 PM PDT
If you're concerned about your financial identity, you might be tempted to sign up for one of those ID protection services. But is it worth it? Consumer Reports looked into the billion-dollar industry.

Audrey Mosello started thinking about ID theft protection after she gave extensive financial information to a mortgage counselor and then began to doubt the company was legitimate.

"It was panic, that oh my gosh, I gave them everything, they have everything there is to know about me, including my Social Security number, all my bank information," Mosello said.

She immediately began researching how to guard her credit.

The search term "ID theft" quickly generates a list of companies that offer protection -- at a price.

"People like Audrey are prime targets for companies that charge anywhere from $120 to $300 a year to protect their identity," Consumer Reports' Greg Daugherty said.

The marketing can be heavy handed, with claims like: "One of the fastest-growing crimes," "Nine million Americans fall victim," and "You could already be a victim."

But Consumer Reports finds the most damaging type of ID theft is rare.

"Less than one percent of households reported someone opening unauthorized credit, stealing their tax refunds, or tapping into their medical benefits, according to the U.S. justice department," Daugherty said.

Furthermore, the main service that these companies offer is monitoring the big credit bureaus -- Experian, Transunion, and Equifax -- for new credit requests in your name. But you can do that yourself.

"We recommend getting an annual credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus. It's free, and if you stagger your requests, you can get a fresh report every four months," Daugherty said.

If you have reason to suspect a security breach, you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report that warns lenders to be more vigilant about granting credit.

Consumer Reports says for added protection, place a security freeze on your credit report so that lenders you don't already do business with, like banks, won't have access to it.

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