As the internet becomes the hub for more and more people’s lives, those people’s information becomes a larger and larger target for thieves and hackers. The number of identity theft-related crimes is on the rise, and with it the number of companies offering to protect and insure your identity.

On the surface, many of these companies look to be offering similar products and services. To start narrowing down your search, start with these criteria:

  • Are you at risk of identity theft?
  • What can an identity theft protection service do that I can’t?
  • Do you need to monitor your credit score?
  • Do you often rely on customer support for help?
  • How important is a well-designed interface?
  • What extra features do you want beyond basic protection?
  • Does someone in your family need to be protected?

Are you at risk of identity theft?

Short answer: yes. Anyone can be a victim of identity theft. That risk level goes up the more you shop, purchase subscriptions, register for websites, and engage in other activities that require you to divulge personal information online. That might lead you to believe young people are more at risk, but in fact hackers will often target the less tech savvy among us, including the elderly and children.

Roughly four out of every five cases categorized as identity theft actually deal with credit, debit, or bank card fraud. Credit cards are by and large the biggest target. The other one out of five cases are much more serious, and often include stolen social security numbers. Social security numbers are used to apply for credit cards and loans, open bank accounts, and sign up for insurance.

What can an identity theft protection service do that I can’t?

Many of the services identity theft protection agencies offer can in fact be done free of charge on your own. If fraudulent charges pop up on your credit card statement, for instance, a phone call and signature is usually all that’s required to get those charges removed.

The primary value of identity theft protection comes in two forms: insurance and monitoring. One million US dollars is the standard amount of money that these services are typically willing to compensate you due to damages resulting from identity theft.

These companies will also monitor the web for any suspicious occurrences, such as large withdrawals from your bank account, newly opened accounts, your name or social security number popping up on black market websites, etc. They will then alert you to these activities and assist you in taking action to prevent any damages.

Depending on the company, identity theft protection can do much more, but these are generally the basic protections you get with any subscription.

Do you need to monitor your credit score?

Identity theft can damage your credit rating without you even realizing it until the day you need a loan or some other financial service. That’s why most identity theft protection services offer credit monitoring as an optional extra. Regular credit reports–annual, quarterly, or monthly depending on the company–are usually included in more expensive premium tiers. A single credit report from one of the three major credit information agencies typically costs $10 to $12 on its own.

Do you often rely on customer support for help?

When you’re the victim of identity theft, a knowledgeable, proactive, and polite helping hand can go a long way. Most identity theft protection agencies have professional staff on hand 24 hours a day to assist customers who need help. Usually this is done over the phone, though some provide email and live chat support.

How important is a well-designed interface?

Purchasing protection won’t really matter if you can’t figure out how to use it. Some identity theft protection websites have more user-friendly interfaces than others. It’s important to know how to enter all the necessary information to get protected and how to use the website to monitor any alerts or notifications that come your way. Less tech savvy users may find it hard to navigate less well-designed websites.

What extra features do you want beyond basic protection?

Identity theft protection companies will often throw in extra perks to entice customers. Antivirus, keyboard encryption software, password managers, public records monitoring, mobile apps, data breach notifications, and scrubbing your name from websites that aggregate personal info are all examples of these bonus features. Because many services offer very similar basic protections, these extras could be the deciding factor between them.

Does someone in your family need protection?

The elderly and children can be and often are the targets of identity theft. Because of the nature of identity theft protection, most won’t allow you to put more than one person on a single plan. Many companies offer separate specialized plans for minors, however. If you want to buy a plan on behalf of an elderly parent or grandparent, you’ll need power of attorney for that person to legally access his or her account.

Read our reviews!

Every identity theft protection service is different, and what’s best for you may not be best for your friends, family, or colleagues. Comparitech has done the digging for you with our ever-growing list of reviews. There you can find out more about the individual plans and features, and which ones come at the best value.

We take into account all of the above criteria and more to give you a comprehensive analysis of the best products on the market. We’re adding more all the time, so be sure to check back soon if you can’t find what you’re looking for.

Even if the likelihood of serious identity theft is small, the need for protection is great. Just as we buy insurance for our health, homes, and vehicles, identity theft protection can give us the peace of mind knowing that we’re ready for the worst of times.