(Money Magazine) -- The pitch: The FTC is cracking down on sites that mislead people into thinking they're getting a free credit report when they're really signing up for a monitoring service. (One offender: freecreditreport.com.)
But don't expect ads for these services to end: All three credit bureaus still offer to watch your credit for $15 a month. They claim to protect you from fraud. But are they worth it?
The details: All monitoring services let you know about indications of fraud (such as new accounts, name changes, and big balances). A few, including Equifax's Score Watch, will also tell you when your score goes up and down -- and why.
The bottom line: Credit monitoring isn't worth it unless you have good reason to think your data has been exposed -- say, you lost your wallet. And even then, it doesn't stop someone from opening a new account in your name, says John Ulzheimer of Credit.com.
The only way to do that is by freezing your credit reports at all three bureaus through a service like TrustedID (typical cost: $20 to $40). That will keep new lenders from looking at your reports and prevent accounts from being opened by anyone -- including you. The downside: To take out a loan, you'll have to pay $15 to unfreeze your reports.
The exception: If you have a financial goal (like buying a home) in the months ahead and want to know what actions boost your score as well as when it hits a certain threshold, Equifax's Score Watch may be worth the price.
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