Living with credit, New products, Protecting yourself

Will identity theft monitoring be the next big card perk?

Kelly Dilworth

Discover’s new free tool scours the dark web for a cardholder’s Social Security number and sends alerts by text or email if it turns up anything. So far, the tool hasn’t turned up my SSN on any risky websites.

I’m relieved, but it’s early. Like so many other people in this era of big data breaches, I’ve always wondered if my Social Security number might have been swept up without my knowledge.

“Identity fraud is a growing concern for people everywhere,” Laks Vasudevan, Discover’s vice president of products and innovation, said in an emailed response to questions. “Once a consumer knows their information may be a risk, they can act quickly to prevent or resolve the issue.”

Discover’s free Social Security number and new account alerts are a first in the industry, much like Discover was the first major credit card issuer to offer free FICO scores to card members back in 2013. At the time, people typically had to pay nearly $20 to access their FICO scores. Now, a host of card issuers offers free credit scores, too.

If Discover’s free alerts – it also will notify cardmembers if any new credit cards, mortgages, car loans or other accounts are opened on their Experian credit report – prove popular, other card issuers may offer similar identity theft monitoring services.

Peace of mind – to a point
As wide-scale data breaches become more common, many people are likely to become increasingly interested in free tools that help them respond proactively when their information has been compromised. I am one of those consumers wary that my personal information may already be exposed online or in the hands of fraudsters.

Aside from regularly checking my credit reports, I didn’t know what else to do to ease my concerns without paying more than a hundred dollars a year for identity theft monitoring and insurance services.

While some personal finance websites (including CreditCards.com) offer free limited-service credit monitoring, Discover’s new alert service makes me feel as if I have slightly more control over my personal info online.

According to identity theft expert Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDtheftsecurity.com, I shouldn’t get too comfortable, though.

“Any service that alerts consumers that their credit card number or Social Security number may be in the hands of a criminal is proactive insight into protecting your identity,” Siciliano said in an emailed response to questions.

“But I think it’s important that consumers recognize right now that in 2016 alone, there were 4 billion records compromised. And in the past decade, at least that number.”

What this means: There’s a good chance your (and my) credit card number or Social Security information is already in the hands of a criminal, he says.

What you can do
To reduce your risk of identity theft and fraud, regularly monitor your credit for any irregularities, such as accounts you don’t recognize. Also, consider placing a credit freeze on your credit reports so that no one can access your reports without your express permission or take out credit in your name.

If you receive an alert notifying you that your Social Security number is being sold on the black market, it’s even more important that you put a credit freeze on your reports. You may also want to consider investing in identity theft protection, says Siciliano.

Identity theft protection services are pricey, typically costing as much as $120 to $240 or more a year, but they often come with insurance protection that can help you deal with the financial ramifications of identity theft.

See related: Identity theft’s upside: Higher credit scores, 10 warning signs of identity theft, Credit monitoring: When is it worth paying for?

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