NATIONAL - We hear about it all the time - government agencies, banks and businesses improperly disclosing and losing personal information. Statistics show the information of more than 100 million Americans has been leaked over the past three years. A number of agencies are now offering services to protect you against identity theft. However, analysts with Consumer Reports say those services come up short.
Melody Millett knows the pain of identity theft. It took nearly 14 years to find out that someone had stolen her husband's Social Security Number.
"The information was used to take out car loans, make credit cards, buy houses. Pretty much any kind of financial transaction you can imagine, my husband's identity has been used for - without our consent," said Melody.
There are credit-monitoring services that promise to protect against identity theft. The three major credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian and Transunion - sell these services for $60 to $180 a year, but Consumer Reports' Money Adviser, which just assessed 16 services, says they aren't worth it.
"Our analysis shows that these services, as they're currently designed, are often overpriced, oversold, and overrated."
Consumer Reports found half of the services monitor only one of the major credit bureaus. But a single bureau rarely has all your credit information. And there's a bigger problem.
"Credit monitoring services can't always tell if somebody else is using your Social Security Number," said Greg Daugherty.
Another, newer type of service goes further. ID fraud prevention and detection services also search online chat rooms and public records - looking for ID theft, including Social Security Number fraud.
Consumer Reports says while it's too soon to tell how well these services will work, they seem promising.
Something you can do that doesn't cost a thing is freeze your credit reports so ID thieves can't open any accounts. And Melody Millett says closely monitor your credit information and be aware small discrepancies could spell big trouble.
"If you call up your credit-card company and they now tell you that you live six blocks from where you currently live, that should be a warning sign that something's up."
Credit monitoring services aren't your only option for protecting your identity. For more advice on how to protect yourself, you can visit Consumer Reports' financial privacy now campaign at consumersunion.org.
Posted by Bryce Mursch