There are many ways you can be a victim of identity theft, whether it's a stolen social security number or your credit card information. And it can be a big headache to resolve — especially if you don't discover the theft until weeks or months later.
Signing up for an identity theft protection service can help you spot potential fraud early and assist you in restoring your identity. Most of these services also come with insurance, which helps you recoup expenses associated with resolving identity theft.
While identity theft services can alert you if your personal information appears on the dark web or is misused, it's important to understand that these services can't prevent fraud from happening. You'll need to be proactive and safeguard your personal information to reduce your exposure to identity theft.
Below, CNBC Select reviews the top five identity theft services that can alert you of potential breaches to your personal information. (See our methodology for more information on how we chose the best services.)
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
Up to $1 million
The UltraSecure+Credit monitors your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; UltraSecure doesn't offer credit monitoring.
$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.
$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.
$7.20 to $23.99 per month
Up to $1 million
The Total and Ultra plans monitor your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports; the Value plan doesn't offer credit monitoring.
$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.
Identity theft protection services monitor various websites and databases for signs of your personal information, such as your social security, driver's license, medical ID and bank account numbers. If your information appears on the dark web or someplace else it shouldn't, these services will send you an alert.
Where these identity theft protection services check for your sensitive information differs between plans but generally includes:
The higher cost identity theft insurance plans typically have more coverage than lower costs options. For instance, the Standard LifeLock® plan lacks some alerts, like bank account and credit card activity, that's offered with the more expensive Advantage and Ultimate Plus plans.
If your identity is compromised, these services will help you restore it through a team of lawyers and experts. Plus all of the services mentioned above provide identity theft insurance on at least one of their plans, which can help you offset the cost of legal fees and sometimes stolen funds and lost wages. This insurance is one of the best perks of an identity theft protection service.
If the main reason you want to sign up for one of these services is for insurance, consider Identity Guard, which offers insurance on all of its plans and has the lowest cost option ($7.20 per month).
Identity theft protection services alert you when your personal information is being used in a wide range of fraudulent activities — whether that's someone using your medical ID number to file a claim or your driver's license appearing on the web. Credit monitoring service usually don't look for these kind of actions, primarily because they don't appear on your credit report.
Credit monitoring services do just what the name says — monitor your credit. They track the credit history shown on your credit report(s), then alert you of changes via email, text or phone. Granted, you can do this on your own, but these services provide an automated and faster way to track changes to your credit file in real-time.
The exact activity a credit monitoring service reviews varies, but it typically includes the following:
Check out our roundup of the best credit monitoring services, which includes two free options.
No, an identity theft protection service won't prevent fraud, but it can help you spot it early. While someone stealing your identity is never ideal, it's even worse if you don't realize it right away. Thankfully, these services can help you notice it quickly and take action before the damage gets worse.
Here are several things identity theft protection services don't do:
Since identity theft protection services don't prevent identity theft from happening, you'll need to be proactive to protect your personal information from fraudsters. There are actions you can take to minimize your exposure to identity theft, but remember that some things, like data breaches, are out of your control.
Here are some tips to safeguard your information:
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:
Keep in mind that identity theft protection services can only alert you of breaches to your personal information, not prevent any fraud.