CBS4 Problem Solvers asks: Do you need to pay for identity theft services?

Data pix.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As identity theft becomes a part of our daily lives, a growing number of companies offer services aimed at helping you, but do you actually need to pay for them?

CBS4 Problem Solvers set out to answer that question and find easy ways you can protect yourself for free.

According to a survey conducted by the state of Indiana, identity thieves have hit at least one in five Hoosiers, and that number is likely bigger because many people never report it to anyone but their bank or financial institution.

Jennifer Cattet, a small business owner who trains service dogs full time, did report her case to the Indiana Attorney General. Cattet found out earlier this year that someone else had been running their own business enterprise using her name.

"They sold two thousand products (on Amazon)," Cattet said.

Cattet learned about the identity theft when she received a tax form from the IRS stating she made $43,000 by selling items on the popular website. It wasn't the first time she'd been targeted, either.

"About every other month, somebody was still trying to get a credit card under my name, so I have now over 15 to 17 inquiries, which starts to add up and it ... affects my credit score," Cattet said.

More companies have been marketing services to Cattet and other consumers that they say can help: things like credit monitoring, dark web monitoring, and social security number searches.

CBS4 Problem Solvers went to two experts to see what they think of the services.

Mat Gangwer, Chief Technology Officer at Rook Security, spends his days monitoring systems and handling security breeches for businesses.

"It's a constant, constant battle," Gangwer said.

According to Gangwer, paying for monitoring services can give you peace of mind, but it probably won't stop an identity thief from using your information.

"It’s unlikely that it would prevent it. They are more monitoring services and more reactive to things happening," Gangwer said.

Fred Cate, longtime professor and cybersecurity expert at Indiana University, agreed. Cate noted that more companies are entering the market because the field of cybersecurity continues to grow at a very fast rate.

"I’m sure there are people for whom it is a good and valuable service, people who are in a unique environment that most of us don’t live in, but for most of us, it’s not adding anything," Cate said. "I think almost always these services are a waste of money."

Instead, Cate and Gangwer suggested three steps you should stop procrastinating and take now, which won't cost you anything:

  1. Change your passwords and use different passwords for every account. "Your password has already shown up somewhere. You don’t need to pay someone to tell you that, go change your password," Cate said.
  2. Turn on multi-factor authentication with all available services, beyond just your bank and credit card company. Many websites which require you to log in, including Amazon, offer the extra level of security if you look at account settings.
  3. Freeze your credit with all three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

By freezing your credit, you stop identity thieves in their tracks. While you may be inconvenienced by having to unfreeze it to buy big items like a car or home, or open a new line of credit, agencies have to do that within an hour if you make a request by phone or online.

"That’s probably the one thing that is going to prevent a lot of these things from happening," Gangwer said.

Cattet offered her own perspective, saying she monitors her credit using free services offered by her bank and credit card companies.

"I hired a firm for a little while, for a few months, but really I wasn’t getting much more than what I was already having with those three free services," Cattet said.

You can learn more about freezing your credit and contacting credit agencies at the link here. In addition, you can report identity theft and learn more about it at the link here.

If you have a problem you'd like CBS4 Problem Solvers to consider, contact us at 317-677-1544 or ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com.

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