Identity fraud is a persistent problem these days. When companies that store your information suffer data breaches, thieves sell your personal info to criminals who use it to make purchases, open new lines of credit and even obtain health care. To safeguard their information, many consumers purchase identity-theft protection plans that cost around $7 to $35 per month and come with a dizzying array of optional services.

But are identity-theft protection services really worth it? Bottom Line/Personal asked our scam expert Steven J.J. Weisman, JD, founder of

“Identity-theft protection” actually is a misnomer. These services, including Lifelock, can’t actually stop your information from being stolen and used fraudulently. What they can do is monitor your credit report for suspicious activity and alert you when it has already happened. Some services also monitor the dark web to see if your data has come up for sale. But these activities won’t stop crooks from obtaining and misusing that information.

Some providers also offer virtual private networks (VPNs) and password managers, both of which are important theft-prevention tools that can be obtained more cheaply elsewhere. Others offer identity-theft insurance, recovery assistance, reimbursement of stolen funds and other impressive-sounding services, but these all come with considerable qualifications and exceptions.           

Reality: You can protect yourself from identity fraud for a lot less money, and you can do it by yourself, says Weisman. Here’s how…

Monitor your own credit

You can see your credit reports every week for free, and it takes only a few minutes. Checking them at least once a month for identity fraud should be sufficient. When reviewing your credit reports, look for accounts, loans and financial activity that you did not undertake. This will indicate that you have had your identity stolen.

Purchase a virtual private network (VPN) and password manager  

A VPN is a service that encrypts your e-mails when you send them and masks your location. You sign up for a two-year plan of the highly regarded NordVPN for a little more than $3 per month at the basic level, and add the same company’s password manager, NordPass, for another $1.50 per month for two years.

Freeze your credit

The only way to truly prevent fraudsters from misusing your data is to freeze your credit, and that’s something you must do yourself. It takes minutes on the websites of the three credit-reporting agencies—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. When you freeze your credit, no one can open new accounts in your name. You can unfreeze it on an as-needed basis.

Also: Check with your credit card, bank and homeowners insurance provider to see if they offer identity-theft protection and credit-monitoring services.

Congratulations, you’ve now made it much harder for anyone to steal your data…blocked anyone from using your credit…and started monitoring to see if anything slipped through the cracks…all for about five bucks per month.

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