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How to Select the Right Identity Theft Product

Any football coach will tell you that the best offense is a good defense.

So it goes for consumers facing one of the worst forms of criminal activity – identity theft.

According to Javelin Strategy & Research, roughly 11.1 million Americans suffered some form of identity theft in 2009, ranging from phishing, ATM theft, Social Security theft, and dozens of other forms of identity crimes.

What's your best form of defense against I.D. theft? It could start with your opting for an identity protection service that can help minimize your chances of experiencing the nightmare of an identity breach.

Where do you start? Right out of the gate, let's go with these steps first.

It begins by knowing the playing field – and it's a crowded one. I.D. theft protection firms like Lifelock, Identity Guard, and I.D. Watchdog are just a few of the myriad options on the table. Each has its own unique features and drawbacks, so let's build an ala carte menu of the key I.D. theft protection features you'll need to sleep safer at night:

Fraud detection – Alerting you to a security breach is the number one, non-negotiable tool your I.D. theft protection kit requires. The best ones offer non- stop, real-time monitoring on personal financial items like credit cards, debit cards, bank checking accounts, and investment accounts. This is the one feature you can honestly say, "don't leave home without it."

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Three credit bureau reports and monitoring – You'll want a comprehensive I.D. theft protection package, especially one that provides access to all three major credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. The three credit reporting giants don't necessarily share their data, so for full firewall protection, you'll need a service that tracks activity on all of the major credit accounts – because cyber-thieves can cover a lot of ground.

Identity theft insurance – Most reputable I.D. theft protection services will offer I.D. theft insurance. Policies can range from $1,000 to $5,000 per month, and the fee should be included in your monthly, quarterly, or annual theft protection service fee.

Fraud resolution services – You'll need a good advocate if your data is ever compromised, and an I.D. theft protection outfit can help. A good one can help you recover money, file claims in court, and make sure the firewall that was breached in the first place is sealed tight going forward. Identity theft protection firms can't guarantee your data will never be compromised. But they can reduce the odds of it ever happening again.

Mail and email list removal – This one may seem innocuous, but cyber scam artists make a lot of hay from stealing pre-paid credit offers out of your mailbox, or hacking your email account for junk mail that can reveal some useful nuggets, including your birthday, your address, and the name of your bank and credit card company. A good I.D. theft protection outfit can handle the dirty work for you, and get our name removed from mail and email lists – and solidify your I.D. firewall in the process.

What can you expect to pay for a quality identity theft protection product? At Lifelock, you'll pay about $110 per year. At Identity Guard, you'll pay about $14.95 per month. At Guard Dog, you'll only pay $7,96 per month. Your goal? To weigh prices against individual features, and see what works best for you.

Don't take your identity for granted. If you don't have the time yourself to cover all of your personal financial data tracks, hire a good, solid identity protection firm to do the job for you.

Because these days, I.D. protection isn't a luxury – it's a necessity.