March 20, 2014 – By Allie Johnson
Consumer Reports has come out with some pretty valid criticism of the free ID theft monitoring service Target is offering for one year for U.S. customers. Nonetheless, I signed up for the service.
Target made the offer as a result of its massive holiday data breach, and I jumped at it in January for two reasons:
- It’s free. Credit monitoring typically costs between $10 and $25 a month, and it’s a service I don’t buy. I look at my credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. If Target wants to give me the chance to monitor my credit for a year without paying a cent, I’ll take the offer.
- I shopped at Target during the breach. Both my husband and I swiped our debit cards there, unfortunately. Our bank issued us new debit cards — likely because of the breach — but I definitely plan to stay vigilant.
The process of signing up is easy, and there are no hoops to jump through. The store is offering the perk to any U.S. Target shopper, but you don’t have to prove you’re a customer.
To do so, just go to Target’s website and type in your name and email address to get an activation code. You need to do this before April 23. After you get an email from Target with your activation code, go to Experian’s ProtectMyID.com, enter the code and complete the sign-up process — you have until April 30 to complete this step.
Once you’ve registered, you can look at your Experian credit report to make sure everything looks fine. Mine did. For one year, you’ll get alerts when anything changes on your credit — for example, if anyone applies for new credit in your name — as well as $1 million in ID theft insurance and access to a fraud resolution specialist.
The Talking Cents blog from American Consumer Credit Counseling Inc. encourages consumers who might be victims of the breach to sign up.
But not everyone agrees that the credit monitoring is a good thing. Consumer Reports published an analysis of the service in February. It concluded that the free credit monitoring could give consumers a false sense of security and has many other downsides, including:
You get only your Experian credit report — not reports from all three bureaus. Also, you don’t get your FICO score. I have to admit, I was disappointed that the service — which normally costs $15.95 a month (or over $190 a year) didn’t include my score.
Experian pushes you to buy more.
Once you sign up, Experian tries to upsell you. Consumer Reports tallied the additional products pushed and found they add up to almost $75 that a consumer might be persuaded to shell out.
You get limited access to your credit report.
You only get free online access to your Experian report for a month unless you become a victim of fraud. Really, that does seem pretty inadequate: I’d expect a good service to offer yearlong access to the report.
So, should you sign up? Consumer Reports recommends that you carefully monitor your debit and credit card transactions via online banking (the service does not do this, by the way) instead, and put free fraud alerts and security freezes (which can cost around $10 depending on where you live and your situation) on your credit. It also advises that you watch out for scammers who are taking advantage of the Target breach, contacting consumers to try to con them into giving out personal information. (Helpfully, Talking Cents includes a link to the legitimate email from Target, and warns readers not to get sucked in by the breach criminals attempting to gain more information.)
My opinion: Consumer Reports has a point, and the free service offered by Target is by no means impressive. However, it can’t hurt to take advantage of it, along with taking other measures such as closely monitoring your accounts. In fact, that’s something all of us should be doing anyway since it doesn’t take a massive data breach to become a victim of fraud.