Do You Really Need Identity Theft Protection?

I see plenty of articles disclaiming any form of identity theft protection and the related expenses. They have titles like, “Identity Theft Protection Doesn’t Work,” or, “Poor Man’s Guide to Identity Theft Protection.” Most of these articles have some degree of merit, but they usually miss the point.

The fact is, you can’t protect yourself from all forms of identity theft, and the types that you can guard against require a Rain Man-like focus. One way or another, it’s going to cost you time or money or both.

Identity theft protection detractors say, “Why pay a monthly fee when all you have to do is…”

Securely dispose of mail. The standard advice is to thoroughly shred preapproved credit card offers and anything that includes any account information. While this is good advice and should be heeded, it’s not going to protect you when your bank or mortgage company or utility provider tosses your information in a dumpster that is subsequently raided by identity thieves.

Opt out of junk mail and preapproved credit card offers. This is good advice and can be done at However, even if you opt out of new offers, others will still arrive. It’s inevitable. You also need to get a locking mailbox, but that still won’t fully protect you.

Get a P.O. box. This won’t protect you at all. Anyone who recommends this tactic doesn’t understand how identity theft occurs.

Check your credit for free at This is an excellent way to stay on top of your credit reports and keep tabs on what accounts may be open under your name. However, it’s only good for one credit report per bureau per year. You should really check your credit report monthly, and that isn’t cheap.

Set fraud alerts. Fraud alerts are a great layer of protection, but they expire every 90 days, and most people don’t bother to renew. Plus, fraud alerts only serve as a guideline for creditors, who are not required to contact you before issuing credit.

Get a credit freeze. This is a great way to help prevent new account fraud. I recommend this. But by itself, a credit freeze is not enough.

These are all layers of prevention that will help, but by themselves or even in combination, they cannot provide the same degree of protection offered by a reputable, full-service, paid product.

To ensure peace of mind and protect your most valuable asset, your identity—subscribe to an identity protection service, such as McAfee Identity Protection, which offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. For additional tips, please visit

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss an identity theft “pandemic” on CNBC. (Disclosures)

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  1. Quora says:

    What are good ways to protect yourself from identity theft?…

    It all depends on what kind of identity theft you are referring too. New account fraud requires identity monitoring of a credit report, and/or a fraud alert and/or a credit freeze. There are services that will do this for you. Account takeover requires…

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