free identity theftMajor data breaches have become so commonplace that the average American citizen has probably collected at least one year or more of free identity theft protection coverage. Complimentary credit and identity monitoring service has become a standard consolation prize offered by companies to customers whose data has been exposed. Those who have taken advantage might be enjoying the comfort of having a free service on their side. Not only do these services monitor to identify potential fraud on your credit reports, but they also provide assistance if you do become a victim of identity theft. However, sooner or later, these periods of free service will come to an end. What happens then? People who enrolled in free protection from ProtectMyID through Target in 2014 are about to find out. The 12 months of identity theft coverage offered by Target is slated to come to an end this month, and some might be wondering what exactly happens when your free protection runs out.

Will I be automatically charged when my free identity theft coverage ends?

Perhaps the biggest question on people’s minds is whether they will be automatically charged once their coverage comes to an end. Fortunately, for most, the answer to this is no. Unless you provided credit card information during signup (which shouldn’t have been a requirement to claim complimentary coverage), there’s no way for ProtectMyID, AllClear ID or any other service used by data breach victims to collect an automatic payment. However, if you do wish to continue with the coverage you have, you will need to provide payment information and pay for it on your own. Otherwise, when the free coverage period ends, so will your protection.

It’s important to keep a note of when your free identity theft coverage is set to end. Most companies set up websites for customers to learn more about the data breach, and these sites will provide information about how long the period of coverage is set to last. Most companies, like Target and Home Depot, offered a complimentary 12 months. However, some like Anthem offered 24 months. Knowing how long you’ve got will ensure you know when it’s time to make a decision — let your account expire, or continue paying for coverage. If you can’t determine how long you have left, you can always call the service that provides your coverage and ask.

Should I keep my current service or switch to something else?

While it is a nice gesture on the part of breached companies to offer complimentary identity theft coverage, often the service provided doesn’t quite measure up. Having some type of protection is not a bad idea, but if you are serious about identity theft protection, you will probably benefit from a service that provides three-bureau credit report monitoring as well as Internet black market and public records monitoring. These two features are often not included with the service plans offered to data breach victims, but they are two of the most important protections you can have.

In-depth credit report monitoring typically provides you with reports from all three of the major credit bureaus. This allows you to spot any errors or inconsistencies, which can make the difference between catching fraud immediately or after the fact. A service that routinely monitors your credit reports will also alert you to any new accounts or inquiries made on your file. Internet black market and public records monitoring for your personal information, such as your social security number and bank account information, will ensure your data is not being illegally traded, sold or used and alert you to any suspicious findings.

Read our identity theft reviews to learn more about these and other services as you consider your move from free to paid coverage.