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What ID theft services can do - and what they can't

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What ID theft services can do - and what they can't (Photo: KUTV)

We’ve all heard of identity theft. Maybe you or someone you know has even been a victim. Because it’s on the rise, it’s not surprising that companies are trying to cash in by offering identity theft protection services.

Before you enroll in one of these services, it’s important to know what you’re actually buying.

Some people assume that ID protection services will prevent identity theft in the first place. That’s not true.

You pretty much have to accept that criminals can get their hands on your personal information no matter what you do, says Margot Gilman, Consumer Reports Money Editor. The key is to spot fraudulent activity quickly and then do what you can to fix the problem, she said.

ID theft protection services can help you dispute fraudulent transactions with your bank, credit card companies, and other businesses, typically for a fee of about $10 to $30 a month.

The best way to avoid being a victim of this type of account fraud is to freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. It’s free, and no one will be able to open an account, including you, until you unfreeze it, Gilman said.

Keep in mind that freezing your credit won’t prevent all ID theft. A criminal can still use your personal information to get medical services or steal your tax refund.

It’s critical that consumers keep a careful eye on their financial worlds; bank and credit card statements, obviously, and medical, insurance, and tax records, Gilman said.

If you’re considering signing up for ID theft protection, ask a lot of questions, Gilman says.

Some companies cover very little or simply hand you a do-it-yourself credit repair checklist.

Another thing you should do in any case is to check your credit report free once a year with the three credit bureaus to spot any suspicious activity.

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