What Is a Credit Monitoring Service?

A credit monitoring service tracks changes in borrower behavior to notify consumers of potential fraud as well as changes to their creditworthiness. For example, credit monitoring services can guard against identity theft, when an individual's personal information is stolen and used without the person's permission for nefarious purposes. If a credit card is stolen and used, a credit monitoring service should detect the different buying pattern and alert the credit card account holder.

How Credit Monitoring Works

Although consumers primarily use credit monitoring services to guard against identity theft, a credit monitoring service also tracks a consumer’s credit report and credit scores. Criminal activity related to identity theft can range from illegal purchases at retail or online outlets using a stolen credit card number to filing fake Social Security or Medicare claims. Since thieves use this information without the victim’s knowledge, such criminal activity can be difficult to detect until well after the fact, by which time an individual’s credit could be utterly destroyed.

Key Takeaways

  • A credit monitoring service guards against identify theft.
  • Credit monitoring services also track changes in borrower behavior to notify consumers of potential fraud.
  • Without credit monitoring services, if an individual's personal information is compromised and used without their knowlege, their ability to access credit could be destroyed.

Credit monitoring services notify consumers of changes to their credit activity; for example, if a new account has been opened or if a large purchase is made, such as a car. Some credit monitoring services also offer more comprehensive tracking of credit scores, which keeps consumers up to date on the quality of their credit. This type of monitoring allows the account holder to plan ahead and repair any issues that might inhibit major credit-based activities such as applying for an automobile loan or a mortgage.

Frausters use social engineering techniques to obtain the personal information of individuals with which to commit identity theft. These techniques include phishingcat fishingtailgating, and baiting.

Choosing Credit Monitoring Services

Pricing and features vary from service to service. Some financial institutions offer free services that track credit scores on a limited basis while other paid services offer more comprehensive scans that collect data across the internet on a consumer’s bank account, credit card, or Social Security number. When choosing a credit monitoring service, consumers should note the service limitations. Paid services may offer more comprehensive coverage than free services, but cost does not automatically translate to superior services. While many services offer access to a consumer’s credit score, they may not track that score across all providers. For example. some credit card issuers provide free access to a consumer’s credit scores, which means there is no need to pay a second provider for that service.

Fast Fact

The top three credit monitoring services for 2019, according to The Balance, are Privacy Guard, Credit Karma, and Identify Force.

Special Considerations for Credit Monitoring

While credit monitoring services can provide early warning of identify theft or fraud, for the most part, such warning occurs after the fact. These services work best as part of a broader strategy to protect and monitor personal information. In particular, consumers should be vigilant before disseminating important personal information including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers. In many cases, an awareness of the social engineering techniques used by criminals to obtain such information can provide substantial protection against identity theft. Checking the accuracy of credit card statements and reliable credit monitoring services offer a useful second line of defense.