buy identity theft protectionResponses to security breaches from retailers, restaurant chains and other companies have followed a similar script since Target was breached during Thanksgiving weekend in 2013. The company issues a statement, promises customers or employees that they will not be held responsible for fraudulent charges and offers those affected a year of free identity theft protection service. For the most part, this year of free protection has come from either AllClear ID or ProtectMyID. While it is a good PR move on a company’s part to offer identity theft coverage, the plans they usually choose to provide are almost always lacking. A Sony employee recently wrote an essay for Fortune explaining why they decided to turn down their company’s offer of free protection to buy identity theft protection on thier own. Was he or she right to do so?

What is identity theft protection and why do I need it?

Identity theft protection services provide daily monitoring of the information that identity thieves are most likely to go after — including your name, address, social security number, credit cards, bank accounts, public records and more. In today’s world, identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes, and it is estimated that 15 million U.S. residents have their identities compromised each year. Although there are many steps you can take on your own to help protect yourself from it, having an identity theft protection service on your side can make quite a difference in your chances.

Why should I buy identity theft protection?

Even though a free year of service through a retailer or your employer might seem like a great deal, it’s important to be sure that you are getting the best protection your identity deserves. After all, what’s the point in having a service if it doesn’t provide you with what you need to protect and restore your identity? Here are some reasons why you should buy identity theft protection:

1. Alerts that notify you immediately when something happens. As with most crimes, the quicker you can catch an identity thief in action, the less harm they can do to your life. Many people have their identities compromised in some way and don’t even realize it for months or even years. That’s where a good identity theft protection service can step in. You can set up text message, phone call and email notifications that let you know if suspicious activity has been detected — such as someone using your information to open up a new utility account or if a new credit card was opened in your name. LifeLock Ultimate Plus even sends you data breach alerts so you know when a publicly reported larger-scale data breach has occurred.

2. Credit report monitoring from all three credit bureaus — not just one. While most identity theft protection services offer some kind of credit report monitoring, they aren’t all created equal. Many will offer monitoring from just one bureau, such as ProtectMyID, which only monitors through Experian. However, this is not enough because not all creditors report to all three bureaus. This means you could be missing suspicious activity that would indicate your identity has been stolen. Triple-bureau credit monitoring and reports are offered by many of our top-rated services, the best option being Identity Guard, which provides updated reports and scores on a quarterly basis.

3. Assistance in the case of identity theft. Not only do you want your identity theft service to be protecting you from criminals before they strike, but you also want a service that will help you if the unthinkable should happen. TrustedID sends its customers a real-time alert if detects that your personal information has been used, sold or traded to identity thieves. It is also one of the only services that offers medical record assistance, offering to help you obtain a copy of your medical records so you can determine if you’ve fallen victim to medical identity theft. Many services also offer 24/7 assistance to an expert who will walk you through the restoration process if you do fall victim to this crime as well as some type of insurance which covers your out-of-pocket expenses if you need to restore your identity.

4. The option to protect your family members. Having identity theft protection for yourself is important, but protecting your family is also a priority for many people. The year of free service offered by breached companies usually only covers the person who was affected, but your family members might be at risk, too — especially children. TrustedID offers a cost-effective family plan — just $18/month with an annual prepay — which covers all family members living at the same address. For those over the age of 50, identity theft protection offered by AARP is a great choice. It offers a family plan that protects two adults plus two children or grandchildren under the age of 25 for just $17.50/month, when paid annually. You can add more children or grandchildren to the plan for $5/month each.

Learn more about identity theft protection services and decide which plan is the right one for you at our identity theft review page.