This is about a very important personal finance issue, not fitness. Every time there is a news headline of a large retailer being hacked into and customer account information stolen, the companies selling “Identity Theft Protection” pop the cork on the Champagne and celebrate! “Identity Theft Protection” costs between $9/mo and $40/mo. That may not seem like much but over a decade that is nearly $5000 that you have literally wasted. These firms get rich by playing off the fear of consumers but in this post I will show you how to protect yourself for free.
What is “Identity Theft Protection”? Good question! Most people who buy it really don’t know what they are being protected against. First of all, the most common type of credit fraud is when someone gets a hold of your credit card number and makes purchases with it leaving you to foot the bill – this is not identity theft. When this happens its no big deal because its the credit card company’s problem, not yours (as long as you catch and report it). Technically you are responsible for $50 of the fraudulent charge but I have never, ever heard of them enforcing this – they simply refund you the entire amount of the false charge.
What is Identity Theft Protection?
So we know its NOT credit card fraud, its bigger and far less common – very uncommon actually. Identity theft is when someone pretends to be you and then borrows money in your name to buy something and then does not make payments which destroys your credit rating and leaves you responsible to pay off the fraudulent loan until you can prove you are the victim of identity theft. A pretty ugly situation they could destroy you before you get it sorted out. Again this is VERY rare and this $40/month “Identity Theft Protection” does for you. They monitor your credit report to see if there are any suspicious credit inquiries for car loans, store credit cards, or credit cards. If someone manages to steal your identity and take out a loan, they help you get it all sorted out.
A better and cheaper way
Here is the problem. “Identity Theft Protection” does not prevent the problem, it simply helps you sort everything out once the problem happens. Not only that, according to Consumers Reports many of them are actually not that good at monitoring your credit to catch these things when they happen. I don’t know about you but I would much rather PREVENT this kind of drama rather than buying a type of insurance to fix the problem after it happens which can take months or years.
Preventing Identity Theft For Free
Here is how the world works. Credit card companies, auto dealers, cellphone carriers, and retail stores ALL want to sell you stuff and are willing to loan you money either via a store credit card or thru a traditional loan. They are not stupid though, they will only do this if you are a good credit risk. When you fill out an application for a car loan or a store credit card, some of the fine print which you didn’t read gives them permission to run a credit check. If it comes back acceptable, you are approved. If it comes back bad, or not at all, you are rejected.
Some of you see where I am going here. How can you make sure that when a criminal applies for a loan or credit card in your name they get rejected? Easy! Simply lock your credit report! If your credit report is locked they will NOT approve the loan because they cannot ascertain that you are a good credit risk. No credit report, no loan, simple as that. You do not need “Identity Theft Protection” because you have just insured it will never happen.
Its not quite this simple because there is not one credit reporting agency, there are three and each retailer uses a different service so to prevent yourself from all identity theft you have to lock your credit report at all three agencies: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. In most states it is free to lock your credit reports at each of the agencies and they charge a small fee if you want to unlock it for a specific purpose like buying a house.
Before you lock all your credit reports
First, you are entitled to a free credit report from all three agencies once per calendar year. Make sure to do this first to make sure that there is no incorrect information. The one and only place to get your free credit reports is annualcreditreport.com
Before you lock your credit reports, make sure you have all the credit cards you want and your cellphone because once you lock your credit reports, getting any sort of a loan because a pain in the butt.
How to lock your credit reports
Go directly to the websites for Experian.com, Transunion.com, and Equifax.com. Do NOT use any other service or website. If they ask for money, you are on the wrong website. These URLs may change but they are current as of November 2017: