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Target data breach: Credit monitoring will not protect you from identity theft

By William E. Lewis Jr.

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 5 2014 3:40 p.m. MST

In this Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 file photo, a shopping cart is parked outside a Target store.

Chris O'Meara, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Attention Target shoppers. Expect more, pay less has brought new meaning as an offer of free credit monitoring may not be enough to prevent identity theft, according to Consumer Reports. The offer of “free” credit monitoring may also give shoppers a false sense of security into believing they are totally protected from identity theft.

Following the massive security breach in December that impacted more than 110 million customers, Target offered “peace of mind” to customers worried about identity theft by providing a free credit monitoring service through one of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies, Experian.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to enroll in the Target credit monitoring program.

"The problem is that each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — can collect different information. So unless you're checking all of them, you can miss someone trying to steal your identity and open new credit," said Margot Gilman of Consumer Reports.

Target customers can register for the service — provided by Experian, regardless of whether they have been personally affected by the theft of customer data records at the discount store chain.

The credit monitoring service offered by Experian is an ongoing review of your current credit history. If an identity thief opens a new account using your name and personal information, you will receive an alert by email or text message. What the free credit monitoring service through Experian does not do is to monitor transactions — the actual, day-to-day purchases made on your credit and debit cards. That is something you must do yourself.

The Target data breach allegedly involves the use of active account information and not the opening of new accounts.

“So if I understand this correctly, I’m not protected from identity theft at all,” Bina Fink Kohl, herself an identity theft victim and Target shopper, told the Deseret News. “Sounds like another possible scam. Why would I give my information back to the very company that lost it to start with?”

To protect yourself from new accounts being opened without your permission, Gilman suggests placing a security freeze on their credit profile.

"A security freeze is one of the best protections," Gilman said. "It blocks access to your credit information and makes it more difficult for a crook to open a new account under your name."

There is a negative side to a total security freeze, though. Any inquiry into your credit history will be totally blocked, meaning an application for credit, goods, benefits, services and/or employment can be delayed or even denied. The credit freeze remains in place until the consumer removes it for a specific purpose or time frame.

More than 110 million shoppers have been impacted by the Target data breach. Each of them has been offered the free credit monitoring service for 12 months. But — according to Consumer Reports — the “free” service is riddled with defects and enticements.

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