The belief that you are in complete control of your own life can get you into some pretty serious trouble if you aren't careful. Your unique identity, your reputation and especially your credit scores are ruled by your own actions, but only to an extent. To be absolutely certain that your life and your identity are under your own control, you need to take identity theft prevention measures.

Here are a few options that may help you decide which alternative provides the most value and best fits your needs;

Credit Monitoring
Credit monitoring services are heavily advertised, and many people have the impression that these services alone will provide a high level of protection against identity theft. This is a serious and potentially harmful misconception.

Credit monitoring is offered by most banks and all three credit bureaus. Sometimes the service only includes monitoring one bureau’s report, which is a problem, since many creditors don’t report to all three bureaus. The credit report you are monitoring may not be the one a fraudulent account is reported to.

Another problem with credit monitoring services is that they’re designed to inform you of any changes to your credit report; this sounds good, but what many consumers don’t realize is that the data in credit reports may not be recorded in “real time.” If you purchase something on credit today –do you know when the creditor will report your activity to the credit bureaus? Or when the credit bureaus will update you file? Credit monitoring services are reactive in nature –not proactive. The services are designed to let you know about a problem only after it occurs. If you are considering purchasing credit monitoring services, find out if it they monitor all three bureaus, if the monitoring is done in real time and whether or not they offer identity and financial recovery services, should an ID theft occur.

Fraud alerts
A fraud alert is a flag placed in your credit reports that warns potential creditors that they must verify your identity before they issue credit in your name. Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but they won’t stop thieves from accessing your current accounts or block other types of identity theft such as criminal and medical identity theft, if your information lands in their hands.
You need to request a fraud alert by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus. The bureau you call is required to contact the other two credit bureaus. There are two types of fraud alerts; initial and extended. An initial fraud alert is only good for 90 days –after that initial time-frame, you must re-contact a credit bureau and reactivate the alert. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you may ask for an extended alert. Each credit bureau has its own criteria you must meet, which may include filing a police report, among other things.

Credit Freezes
A credit freeze is different from a fraud alert in a number of ways. A freeze generally stops all access to your credit report, while a fraud alert permits creditors to get your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity.

A credit freeze is free to identity theft victims who have a police report proving they have been victims of identity theft. For individuals who are not victims of an identity theft, the cost is $10 per credit bureau, or $30 for all three bureaus to freeze your credit. To place a freeze on your credit file, you must write to each of the three credit bureaus, provide your identifying information and include your payment to each bureau. Freezing will prevent you from opening a new account yourself, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance, if your credit report needs to be accessed by a creditor. Once your file is frozen, if you want to open a new credit account or get a new loan, you must “thaw” your credit file. That costs money too. Credit freezes can’t block thieves from accessing your current credit cards or bank accounts or stop them from using your information for the other types of identity theft previously mentioned.
Identity Theft Prevention & Restoration Services
Neither a fraud alert nor a credit freeze can stop a criminal from using your name to commit other crimes. Remember, your identity is much more than just your credit report. There's no protection that's one-hundred percent fool-proof against identity theft.

There are many companies that offer to take on the task of protecting your identity and recovering it if a criminal steals it. Having been an ID theft victim, I can tell you first hand the value of having someone in your corner when you find your information has been compromised. However, before hiring one of the many services on the market today, take the time to compare the services offered and determine which services offer the most value to you. A service such as LifeLock can remove the burden of remembering to reset fraud alerts every 90 days for you, as well as scan known black market websites and chat rooms for the sale of your personal information, monitor change of address requests with the US Postal Service and provide document replacement and cancelation should you ever lose or have your wallet stolen. Another added bonus it the guarantee that they will be there to assist you in any way possible should you become a victim of identity theft once you are their client.
Whether you freeze your credit, flag it with fraud alerts, or purchase credit monitoring services you still can’t be certain that you will never be a victim of identity theft. However, before you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to spend months or years clearing your name and credit, you might consider hiring a company that will take preventative steps to protect you and help you with recovery measures should you fall victim to identity theft. For more information on any of the above services, feel free to email me or visit my blog at

Author's Bio: