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Sam Cook on in Identity Theft Protection

With identity theft concerns on the rise, thanks in no small part to a larger number of data breaches, identity theft protection services are also growing. IDShield entered the market in 2010 as an offshoot of LegalShield, a pre-paid legal services company. The service provides a rather beefy set of features at an eye-raisingly-low price when compared to some of its competitors like IdentityForce and Identity Guard. The only question, then, is whether IDShield can be counted on to offer an equivalent level of services to the competition while charging rock-bottom prices.

Features and pricing

IDShield’s pricing is the first, immediate draw to this service. The service provides three basic protection plans:

  • IDShield Family: designed to cover yourself, your spouse/partner, and up to 8 dependents at $24.95 per month (US subscribers only)
  • IDShield Individual: designed to cover just yourself with ID theft protection at $9.95 per month (US Only)
  • IDShield Canada: a more lightweight ID theft option for Canadian residents that includes basic privacy monitoring and restoration services at $12.95 per month.

IDShield pricing

While the price is comparatively low, IDShield also shirks three common practices that other services employ.

First, there’s no free trial. You’ll be forced to pay for a month of service to try it out and determine whether or not you like what’s on offer. Secondly, there’s the fact that IDShield doesn’t offer a yearly plan at a discount. You can only sign up for a monthly subscription. Finally, there’s also no refund policy in place. A quick search of the company’s Terms and Conditions document reveals not even a hint of the word “refund” and even if you cancel immediately after signing up, you’re still on the hook for the payment.

Regardless of which of the two plans you sign up for, you’ll receive a similar set of features. IDShield family just extends those features to cover more individuals. Under each US-based plan, the basic set of features includes:

  • Alerts and Notifications
  • Address Change Verification
  • Court Records Monitoring
  • Credit Monitoring
  • Credit Inquiry Alerts
  • Monthly Credit Score Tracker
  • Payday Loan Monitoring
  • Security Monitoring
  • Privacy Monitoring
  • Social Media Monitoring
  • Identity Restoration
  • IDShield Vault Password Manager
  • Identity Consultation Services
  • Event Driven Consultation Support
  • Child Monitoring Service (IDShield Family Plan only)

IDShield Canada does not come with the majority of those features. IDShield Canada only includes basic privacy and security monitoring, identity consultation services, identity restoration services, and credit report disclosures.

The service combines a mixture of human and automated elements to monitor user accounts for suspicious activity. Most of the monitoring is performed by automated systems that can scrape the web for information more easily than a human, while IDShield highlights its consultation services that connect subscribers to real case managers.

Although most of this is attributed to IDShield, the service actually exists as a joint effort between LegalShield (which owns IDShield) and Kroll (a cybersecurity and information assurance company). As a result, a large part of what you’re getting in the way of ID theft services is sourced through Kroll.

To note, Kroll has been in business for over 20 years, is fully accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and as an A+ rating from the BBB. Meanwhile, LegalShield has been in business for over 40 years under various names, is accredited by the BBB with an A+ rating, but also has a 3 out of 5 star rating from BBB customer reviews.

The primary services IDShield advertises to its users are Security Monitoring, Privacy Monitoring, Social Media Monitoring, Identity Restoration, IDShield Vault, and Consultation Services.

Oddly, although positively, IDShield also appears to provide members with discounts when shopping at various locations. Users can get discounts when shopping at places like Kohls, IHOP, Brooks Brothers, Verizon Wireless, and more. There are thousands of available discounts offered through the MEMBERPerks program.

Security and Privacy Monitoring

IDShield’s Security Monitoring encompasses the vast majority of what you’re getting through the service, to include the alerts and notifications, court records monitoring, payday loan monitoring, and other features distinctly tied to personal information security.

The most important elements that IDShield monitors on each users’ behalf are SSNs, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and general information tied to or required for financial transactions.

The primary goal of IDShield’s Security and Privacy Monitoring is to check against black market websites that sell personal data. This includes monitoring of IRC, chat rooms, P2P networks, and social media feeds for stolen and sold data. IDShield will check to ensure things like your SSN, name, date of birth, email address (up to 10), phone numbers (up to 10), driver’s license numbers and other such information is not posted for sale online. If it’s found, you’ll get an alert through the system.

Social Media Monitoring

Although part of what the Privacy Monitoring does it check to make sure your personal information isn’t made available on social media, the service includes a separate monitor for social media activity. You can specify which social networks you want to be covered, and have the service check against posts, comments, images, and other types of social media interactions that might use or list personally identifying information.

The social media monitoring option is primarily designed to check for “reputational risks”, e.g., posts, comments, or images that might hurt your personal reputation. This makes it a good option for individuals on the job market who may be concerned about the impact that social media can have on job prospects. It’s also good for those who work in security or reputationally sensitive careers where a negative social media post may be costly.

Identity Restoration

Should you have your identity stolen, IDShield hands your case over to Kroll, which will investigate and attempt to restore any damage done to your identity. This can include:

  • Notifying the Social Security Administration on your behalf of stolen and misused SSNs
  • Place fraud alerts on your credit reports
  • Order updated credit reports
  • Review credit activities for fraud
  • Check public records
  • Issue fraud victim statements
  • Notify and work with law enforcement
  • Perform searches and traces of public information systems

There are also more than a dozen other tasks IDShield states Kroll will perform on your behalf, where warranted. All of this is presumably included in the price of your subscription, but Kroll will determine what steps are necessary and may reject taking any action for a few different reasons, including if the fraudulent activity was enacted by someone not bound to US or Canadian law. Kroll may even reject to take action if it believes you had knowledge of a fraud event that occurred before you signed up for service. Some of these stipulations leave an uncomfortably large amount of wiggle room for Kroll to simply take no action, with little recourse for IDShield subscribers.

IDShield Vault Password Manager

IDShield includes a password manager to help users protect their accounts from hacking. Password managers are a dime a dozen these days, and each comes with benefits and downsides. IDShield Vault has browser plugins available for Chrome, FireFox, and Safari, and can sync across devices. You may want to consider using a dedicated password manager such as LastPass instead of the password manager bundled as an add-on to a service like IDShield. Standalone password managers tend to offer better service, features, and security.

Consultation Services

IDShield makes its consultation services available to all subscribers. This part of the service involves helping customers be aware of best practices in how to use and protect their identity online. The consultation services, which are also provided by Kroll, include:

  • Advice on best practices
  • Assistance ordering credit reports
  • Consultation on consumer rights
  • Information on ID theft trends
  • Online shopping tracts
  • Consultation on common scams
  • Consultation on how to properly use financial information

A handful of other information services are given in the consultation. Ultimately, IDShield wants to help prevent its customers from engaging in the common types of behaviors that might lead to identity theft.

Subscription sign-up process

IDShield’s sign-up process is a bit confusing (mostly due to the website design) but also because the service tries to get you to sign up for legal services before giving you the option to choose your IDShield plan.

IDshield

At signup, you’ll be offered legal plans with optional add-ons such as “Gun Owners Supplement”, small business plans, and commercial driver plans. Although IDShield is owned by LegalShield, it seems a bit confusing to push these legal services on customers through the IDShield signup page with little discussion of those services before they appear.

Additionally, you’ll want to take note that this is a subscription-based service with automatic withdrawals on a month-to-month basis. When you sign up, you give IDShield authorization to make those withdrawals, which it requires you to consent to before you can complete the signup.

Account setup

Once you’re signed up, the next step will be to set up your account. IDShield requires your SSN in order to provide its core services, so this is something you’ll need to provide at the account activation page.

After this, IDShield walks users through “Authentication Questions”. This is actually a rather important safety feature to ensure that someone else isn’t signing up to IDShield using your personal information. The questions are designed to trip up anyone who doesn’t know all of the facts about your life. You’ll get questions such as “What is the name of your current employer” and questions related to cities you lived in at some time in the past, among other personal inquiries.

Perhaps amusingly, some of the questions are intentionally designed to be deceptive. For example, I had a question asking for more details related to a mortgage or loan I supposedly opened in 1998. In fact, I never opened a loan during that time (I had just started high school, in fact, so I was too young to take out a loan anyway). And since I know what’s on my credit report fairly well, I was sure that there wasn’t a fraudulent mortgage on my credit report that somehow popped up on IDShield’s authentication question. (To note, the correct answer here was to respond “None of the above” or its equivalent.)

IDShield draws these questions from your credit report and other public records associated with your SSN.

If you make it past the authentication questions, you’re in. Beyond that, you’ll need to set up IDShield with any of your accounts that you want the service to monitor.

IDShield

By default, your email address, SSN, name, address, and phone number are all monitored. Thankfully, IDShield does not skim your credit card information from the payment process to and insert it into your monitoring. The more likely reason for this is because the payment going to IDShield is separate from Kroll, which actually owns and operates the IDShield site. You’ll need to enter that separately in the monitoring section alongside other financial information, like bank accounts, or identifying information like driver’s license, passport, or medical ID numbers.

Alerts and reports

You can view and monitor your IDShield account either from the web or from the mobile app available for iOS and Android.

From any of these options, you can view reports regarding your monthly credit score (featured prominently on both the site and the app), as well as the other areas that IDShield monitors, including court records, payday loans, address change verifications, social media, and overall internet activity that may be using your information.

You can click through to view reports from each of the different areas monitored. If everything is clean, or nothing looks suspicious, you’ll be greeted with a relatively positive message and a green check mark.

IDShield

However, if something is amiss in one of the areas where IDShield is monitoring your information, you’ll get a notification via email, and you’ll be able to review what problems were found. From testing, it does not appear the app uses push notifications to warn you of potential risks when they arise.

There’s a good chance that you’ll already find some activity on your account if you go to the “Internet Monitoring” section of the site or app.

IDShield

From there, you can expand the boxes available to view your activity reports, which will provide more information regarding what activity was located based on the information you’ve provided to IDShield to monitor. In my case, I was greeted with a report on different websites where my email address and potentially passwords were compromised. This was not news to me (I regularly check sites like Have I Been Pwned to determine if I have, indeed, been pwned in a data breach).

Dealing with your alerts

There’s little you can do about stolen account information beyond changing your passwords. But if you chose to have IDShield monitor financial information and it finds serious fraudulent activity, you may want to contact the consultation services the company provides.

IDShield states it may choose not to take responsibility for or provide a response to ID theft events. There’s a good chance this will include data breaches that happened several years ago that it decides you should have known about. Additionally, there may be nothing they can do anywhere beyond letting you know that your information was compromised.

Occasionally, the IDShield app will show that you have alerts, when in fact it’s simply letting you know that it didn’t find any activity. In the case of Social Media Monitoring, those alerts might just be to tell you that it’s found personal information…on your own social media accounts.

While the service does monitor credit reports, it only monitors Experian reports. It does not provide information on Transunion or Equifax, which means you’ll be very limited in what information you get as fraudulent activity detected by those services may go undetected. You can use Credit Karma to get a free credit report from all three credit rating agencies.

Customer service

Based on what we can tell, once you pay IDShield/LegalShield for an account, most of the services are then shifted over to Kroll. In fact, the IDShield website is copyrighted to IDShield, while the website you use to login to your account, myidshield.com, is copyrighted to Kroll. As a reminder, Kroll and IDShield/LegalShield are not the same entities, so it appears that IDShield is selling the services, while they’re mostly being managed and implemented by Kroll.

Still, it appears the customer service is handled by IDShield/Legal Shield. If you click on the “Contact Us” page, you’ll get access to a small number of contact options, which include:

  • Mailing list
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Link to the LegalShield website

What you don’t get, here or anywhere else on the site, is a live chat option to speak to a customer service representative more quickly and efficiently.

Cancellation policy

Perhaps the biggest customer service gripe we have is with IDShield’s cancellation policy. Most services give users easy access to cancel their account. However, IDShield provides no quick cancellation button in the user account settings. Additionally, there’s no email dedicated to cancellation.

IDShield does state in its Terms and Conditions document that users can cancel at any time and for any reason, but it provides no information on how to cancel. The assumption is that you’ll need to cancel via email or over the phone.

This is a terrible cancellation policy for several reasons. When users cancel, they want immediate confirmation and more control over that cancellation. Leaving it up to a general email, and not even a dedicated cancellation email address, puts a lot of uncertainty on whether or not the account will actually get canceled.

Additionally, more active and present cancellation policies are essential for customer satisfaction when it comes to subscription-based services. Making the subscription status visible in the user account settings (active, canceled, etc.) would give customers the peace of mind they need to know that their credit card won’t continue to be billed. It also makes it easier for customers to renew their accounts if they so choose, which would likely be a better option for IDShield’s user retention.

That said, there is some positive news to tell about IDShield’s customer service and cancellation.

I purchased a monthly subscription of IDShield to test the service. I also tested to see how long it would take to get my account canceled. Positively, when you send an email to IDShield, they have an automatic response system that lets you know you’ll get a response within 24-48 hours. The response email even comes with a Spanish translation.

IDShield

In reality, I got a response to my cancellation request in under 2 minutes.

IDshield

In a major point to IDShield/LegalShield, that may be the fastest cancellation email response I have ever received in my time testing various services.

While IDShield’s customer service options leave a lot to be desired. There’s, unfortunately, no consumer-friendly option to cancel available on your account. However, a quick email to IDShield with your member account number may help speed things along rather impressively.

Verdict

IDShield is an interesting, low-cost service to help monitor your (or your family’s) private lives. Not only does the service provide some necessary features, such as credit monitoring, you can also use it to monitor a whole host of other security- and privacy-related areas of your online life and financial life, such as social media reputation and even payday loan applications. All of that comes at a rather impressive low cost that undercuts most of IDShield’s competition.

But the service appears to have a few drawbacks. IDShield’s organizational structure is immensely confusing, making it difficult to determine who exactly is running the show. Although customer service email response rates were among the best I’ve seen, the lack of easily available cancellation features was clearly designed as a  user retention strategy. That user-unfriendly cancellation policy is a bit of a black eye for an otherwise decent service.

While the service is cheap, the lack of a refund policy or a free trial means you can’t try before you buy. For some subscribers, this may result in an undue amount of buyers remorse.

Taking all of that into account, potential IDShield users will want to make sure they’re certain this is the right service for them—or else risk losing $9.95 to $24.95 to a service you don’t like.

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