Sony has promised free protection for every PSN and SOE user, and Debix has an easy-to-follow registration process on its website. The downside is that Sony will cover the cost of the AllClear ID Plus plan for only one year; after that you'll have to pay for the service yourself.
Free, but Are They Worth It?
Not eligible for any of the above offers? Two identity protection companies offer free bare-bones identity protection plans for any consumer.
IDSafe, a free service from TrustedID, helps you access and scan your credit scores for misuse (though only at one credit bureau, for only partial protection), and it provides lost-wallet service, notifying your credit card companies in the event that your cards go missing.
Debix has a free service called AllClearID that gives you some of the same basic protections provided to Sony customers. It doesn't monitor credit bureaus, but it will watch the Web for your identity on black markets; AllClearID also gives lost-wallet protection.
Tricks and Traps
Both IDSafe and AllClearID exist as marketing tools to get you to upgrade to the companies' respective paid services. Although no-cost protection is better than nothing, it's important not to have an inflated sense of how secure these services make you. In addition, you should be clear about the terms of service for any free or free-trial services: Will a free service turn fee overnight? Will a one-year free service automatically roll into a fee service unless you opt out?
Free protection services from ISPs Cox, EarthLink, and Time Warner Road Runner sound as if they offer ID theft protection. It may be splitting hairs, but what these companies really offer are typically just antivirus packages: The antivirus software's protection features are simply programmed to deliver a pop-up warning in a browser window when you submit personal information at a website.
If you want to protect yourself from identity thieves, and if you can stay vigilant, you can monitor the keystone of your privacy--your credit reports--for suspicious activity yourself. AnnualCreditReport.com offers free yearly access to your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.