Financial credit is an integral aspect of our everyday lives. It impacts major purchasing decisions and financial health while also opening the doors for increased savings but also potential fraud. Free credit monitoring is an often-touted service of the major credit reporting agencies that sounds ideal in the eyes of the average consumer. But the three big credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, use monitoring to provide a false sense of security without actually offering much, if anything, in the form of fraud prevention and certainly nothing in the way of identity theft restoration.
Knowing what free credit monitoring is and, more importantly, what it isn’t can help you to stay ahead of the onslaught of cyber threats that lead to identity fraud. A single event poses potential long-term consequences which can see your credit score drop right alongside everything else associated with it.
How Free Credit Monitoring Works
Free credit monitoring sounds like a good service to take advantage of at first glance. This is especially true when the major credit bureaus hype it up as a sort of public benefit or as a way of giving back to consumers during troubling times. The CEOs of the three major credit reporting agencies even released a recent statement, extending free weekly credit reports through 2023 saying, “providing weekly reports for consumers at no charge is another way we can support financial education and stability for people across the U.S. at this critical time.”
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the supposed positive messaging of this, and who wouldn’t want to take advantage of a free service to improve their financial health? But access to your credit reports isn’t the same as credit monitoring. It’s good practice to check in on your credit to spot any issues or discrepancies, and your viewing your report on your own can help notice these. Monitoring purportedly takes that responsibility off your shoulders if you fall for the hype.
Actual credit monitoring services work by keeping a daily watch on your reports, so you don’t have to do so yourself. You’ll receive alerts when there is any activity or changes to your credit – whether that be authentic changes or suspicious activity. All you need to do to get this service is to sign up with one of the credit bureaus that offer free monitoring by giving them some personal information and filling out a form. From there, you go about daily life with the peace of mind that someone else is in your corner, helping you limit the chance of fraud and other issues. That’s what the credit agencies want you to believe anyway…
Why Free Equals Worthless
The rarely mentioned flip side to free credit monitoring is that free doesn’t just mean “at no cost.” In this situation, it also essentially means “worthless.” The free monitoring services offered by the major credit bureaus are more of a slick marketing campaign than they are an actual consumer benefit. They don’t do much in terms of fraud prevention despite leading you to believe otherwise.
One thing that you’ll notice after signing up for a free monitoring service is that you won’t get access to all your credit reports. If you sign up through a bureau, you will likely have access to only that bureau’s specific report. Even if you sign up for free monitoring through a third-party outside of the bureaus, you are still likely to get access to only one or two of those reports rather than all three. You also won’t necessarily get access to a full copy of your consumer credit disclosure but rather to just a summary of your credit report. With limited access to not all your reports, you can’t get a complete picture of the activity that occurs, making the service far less valuable than advertised.
A cynic will assert that the offer of free credit monitoring is just a product sold at a loss to attract customers for the credit bureaus to obtain your vital information for sales marketing purposes. So, signing up for a free monitoring service can also subject you to more ads and offers for other non-related services, whether you want to be targeted for these or not. This is another area where the companies offering free monitoring make it apparent that they are more interested in your money than they are in your financial well-being. They often get a kickback if you purchase a product or service through advertisements related to your signing up.
And the big deal breaker highlighting why these free monitoring services are essentially worthless is that monitoring your credit alone does nothing to reduce the risk of identity fraud or help you deal with a situation if you fall victim to that crime. By the time that evidence of identity theft (such as derogatory credit information or fraudulent accounts) appears on your report, your personal information has already been compromised, and you are more than likely a victim of fraud. The free service does absolutely nothing to help prevent this unfortunate situation or to limit exposure. It simply alerts you to the situation after the fact.
A Better Solution for Fraud Defense
But what can you do instead of signing up for a free credit monitoring service to better help you to reduce the risk of identity fraud and related issues that monitoring alone fails to address?
You should sign up for identity restoration services to help you gain control of your credit, personal information, and finances after fraud has occurred.
These services don’t simply alert you that your identity has been stolen, but they also restore it back to normal. This involves a trained specialist working diligently to restore your identity to pre-event status. Steps involved in this restoration process, when it is needed, include:
- Placing fraud alerts at the three major credit bureaus for you.
- Obtaining full copies of your credit reports from all bureaus and reviewing these to identify fraudulent activity.
- Researching and documenting any fraudulent transactions, false accounts, or contracts signed to ensure all erroneous information is removed from your credit file.
- Creating and maintaining a law enforcement-grade case file to assist local and federal law enforcement in the prosecution of the perpetrators.
- Other essential steps to ensure your identity is fully restored after an incident.
In other words, identity restoration services actually do the valuable things that free credit monitoring services want you to believe that they do. Knowing and understanding this difference is critical to keeping yourself, your employees, or your loved ones better equipped to deal with the many scams and threats that lead directly to identity fraud.
LibertyID provides expert, full-service, fully managed identity theft restoration to individuals, couples, extended families* and businesses. LibertyID has a 100% success rate in resolving all forms of identity fraud on behalf of our subscribers.
*LibertyID defines an extended family as: you, your spouse/partner, your parents and parents-in-law, and your children under the age of 25.