Keeping your Credit Safe – Are Credit Monitoring Services the Answer?

Don Crider |

We learned from legendary bank robber, Willie Sutton that the reason he robbed so many banks was, as he put it, “obvious ... you go where the money is and you go there often.”  Today, the real money exists not in banks, but in cyberspace among the trillions of bits and bytes that hold the keys to the massive digital vault guarding our most sensitive persona data. Instead of donning a mask and risking capture by the police, cyber-thieves never have to leave their home and they hide behind the anonymity of the Internet cloud. They are relentless, and, more often than we want to know, they are successful.

It is estimated that 10 million people a year fall victim to identity theft amounting to a multi-billion take for cyber-thieves. Much of the theft is preventable, occurring through consumer missteps or carelessness. Consumers continue to fall for phishing scams, handing over personal information to email scammers posing as legitimate financial or government institutions offering some sort of assistance. And many consumers are still too loose with their Social Security numbers and other financial information which find their way into errant websites and pilfered mail.

It Happens to the Biggest of Them

Of greater concern to the 70 percent of Americans who do shop and bank online should be the “looseness” with which personal data is handled by those who profess to use state-of-art technology to guard our information.  Data breaches at Visa, MasterCard, Citibank, Target Stores and Experian exposed tens of millions of people to potential theft of their most sensitive financial data. These companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on data security, are finding it difficult to protect against employee negligence or maliciousness which accounts for 50 percent of data breeches.

So, does this mean that consumers should abandon the Internet as too unsafe for their shopping or banking platform? The answer is, “No, but, just as we are careful to lock our homes and cars, consumers need to take similar precautions with their Internet use.”  90 percent of identity theft is preventable just by using some common sense, such as never, ever give your Social Security number through emails or any site that you don’t absolutely trust.

While it is difficult to prevent identity theft 100 percent of the time, it is possible to know almost instantly when it might occur, and that can mean the difference between getting the problem fixed quickly or finding yourself bogged down in a costly and time-consuming effort. It does require extra vigilance on your part to monitor your credit activities.

Are Credit Monitoring Services Worth It?

While it is possible to monitor your credit on your own, using your free access to credit reports from each of the credit bureaus and by carefully scrutinizing your monthly bills, it may not be enough. If someone manages to open an account in your name today, you may not spot it for months, and with every passing moment, the theft can cost you more in money and time to retrieve your identity. With a credit monitoring service you can be alerted as soon as it happens, and, while it didn’t actually protect you against the theft, it enables you to take immediate action which can limit the damage.

Credit monitoring services track the credit bureaus and compile the information from each into a summary report you can receive weekly or monthly. There real value is in highlighting any changes to your personal information, such as address changes, new accounts, variations in your name or identifying information. These are all possible indications that identity theft has or is about to occur.  Depending on your subscription, the service will also email you instant alerts to changes.  The subscriptions run from $10 to $30 per month depending on the frequency of reporting and the number of credit bureaus you want to monitor.

Is it worth it? Again, credit monitoring services can’t prevent identity theft, but, if it does occur, wouldn’t you want to know about it right away?

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