Our series on identity theft protection apps will evaluate the features, pricing options, competition, and also the overall value of using each app. However, these are not full hands-on reviews since evaluating identity theft protection apps is almost impossible. It would require several months of testing, purposefully hacking accounts to see if the protection app works, handing over personally identifiable information, performing multiple credit checks, and risking exposure of the reviewer’s personally identifiable information.
It won’t take long before you realize that ID Watchdog is a fairly standard, middle-of-the-road theft protection app. It might take a bit longer to realize it is a product of the company Equifax, which announced one of the worst data breaches in recent memory in 2017. Some 145.5 million customer records were exposed including names and social security numbers. That’s a treasure trove for hackers and for selling personal information on the Dark Web, which is the cesspool of criminal activity that Equifax ID Watchdog is trying to protect us against.
A curiously average product, ID Watchdog mirrors many of the features you will find in Equifax TrustedID – and even some of the same pricing plans. What we’re really dealing with here is a lead generator for obtaining credit reports so you can deal with any pesky credit problems, not the ones caused by criminals on the Dark Web but perhaps your own spending. The product does offer plenty of tools to deal with identity theft and track issues, but like many of the identity theft apps (even including the best ones we’ve found such as Norton LifeLock), ID Watchdog seems to focus most on credit reporting and not as much on fraud protection and theft recovery.
Plans and pricing
Equifax ID Watchdog might be average, but it doesn’t cost that much. While other products tend to cost around $30 per month for the premium protection package, ID Watchdog costs $19.95 per month for the Platinum plan (you can pay annually for $219, which works out to only $18.25 per month). At the highest level, you can use three different credit bureaus to monitor your credit, there’s $1 million in protection insurance, and $500,000 in protection against 401K fraud. With the family plan, you pay $34.95 to protect your entire family against fraud.
ID Watchdog breaks from the typical dashboard and wizard approach and looks more like a virus-scanning tool. In the main window you can trigger scans for Dark Web monitoring, see alerts about a change of physical address, scan for sex offender registrations in your area, and view all of the credit checks and credit scores, which are the main calling cards here.
So what is really different here from the other identity protection apps? Not that much. You’ll find all of the typical monitoring and reporting functions, credit history checks, credit scores, and alerts about a change in address. There is an alert system for sex offenders who move into your area, and there is monitoring for social media. (As with most of these identity theft protection apps, the social media monitoring is most concerned with your own behaviors; they don’t tend to alert you about abusive comments directed toward you or when an account is compromised.)
Like most of the identity theft protection tools available, ID Watchdog has to contend with the name recognition of Norton LifeLock but also its own name – once customers figure out that Equifax is the parent company. (It’s fairly obvious – at the main ID Watchdog website there’s a notice about Equifax being the parent company right under the logo.) That means the main competitor is actually Equifax and what customers already think about the protection they offer. During the registration process, you have to provide all of your personal information including social security number, bank accounts, physical address, emails, and phone number. As you do, it might give you pause to think this data was leaked in 2017 and made headlines.
Similar to how Experian IdentityWorks has to overcome the news about a data breach in 2015 involving 15 million customer records, the cards are stacked against these apps. It’s important to understand why they exist. The goal is to give customers some tools for researching their credit history. Most of us might think about this when we need to secure a large bank loan because mortgage companies want to see a clean record. We might also think about it when we apply for a job. It’s a good thing these apps exist and help us become proactive about our personal information beyond credit and finances; it’s not so helpful that they tend to over-emphasize the credit reporting and monitoring aspects even for those who are not trying to secure a loan.
Equifax’s ID Watchdog is not the best identity theft protection app nor is it the worst. What makes it appealing is the low cost – only about $20 per month for the premium package that includes credit monitoring from these services. Most of the identity theft protection apps cost more like $30 per month for a very similar set of features. That means, if you choose one of these apps solely on the basis of cost, ID Watchdog is an excellent choice.
Of course, there’s more to evaluating a product than cost. There might not be a major risk in using an app from a company that reported a data breach because maybe they patched up all of the security holes and are more vigilant now. In the final analysis, the real reason that ID Watchdog is not a top choice is simply because it doesn’t offer anything new or novel.