If you're concerned about someone stealing your financial identity, you might be tempted to buy one of the many identity-protection services being heavily promoted. Millions of Americans have, but are they worth it? Consumer Reports analyzed that billion-dollar industry.
The companies charge $120 to $300 a year to protect your identity. The marketing can be heavy-handed, with claims such as "one of the fastest-growing crimes," "9 million Americans fall victim," and "you could already be a victim."
Consumer Reports finds that the most damaging type of ID theft is rare. Less than 1 percent of households reported someone opening unauthorized credit, stealing their tax refunds, or tapping into their medical benefits, according to the Department of Justice.
Furthermore, the main service that those companies offer is monitoring the big credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and Transunion—for new credit requests in your name. But you can do that yourself.
Consumer Reports recommends 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.
And 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, such as banks, won't have access to it. That makes it more difficult for crooks to open new accounts in your name. But if you apply for new credit, be aware that you'll need to temporarily lift the freeze, which involves a small fee.