Target customer Shannon Olsen worries that her identity and financial information will be at risk long past the year that Target is offering to monitor its customers’ personal information. Olsen doesn’t know whether her identity was stolen in the massive data breach that affected up to 110 million consumers, but she’s already looking for alternatives.
“We will become vulnerable again,” said Olsen, who lives in Shoreview. “It is nice to be covered for a year, but we will be back in that same situation one year from now. I will have to find another service offering protection.”
The credit monitoring service that Target presented to its customers last week is offered through Experian, one of the three credit bureaus. Those who sign up for the “Protect My ID” service will be alerted if credit inquiries have been made on their behalf. If they discover a credit inquiry, and they did not apply for any loans or credit cards, that could be a sign that someone is trying to steal their identity.
The service also offers up to $1 million identity theft insurance and will be assigned a “fraud resolution agent” if the consumer reports suspected identity theft. But it does not provide a credit score, which also can indicate fraudulent activity if it drops suddenly. That’s one of the reasons that some consumer advocates are dubious that Protect My ID service is better than what consumers already can find out on their own.
Laura Murray with U.S. PIRG, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., say Protect My ID is a “weak product.” She said once Target stops subsidizing the product, it will not be worth the monthly cost, which is typically $15.95 per month.
Consumers should be checking their statements and accounts on a regular basis and getting their free annual credit reports, Murray said. Many credit cards and banks already offer zero-liability protection so long as consumers promptly report the fraudulent charges. Murray said her organization was pleased to see that the Protect My ID service did not require consumers to enter payment information. That means consumers will not be automatically re-enrolled after the one year period.
“Credit monitoring is not worth the money, “ she said. “You can do it yourself.”
When asked about U.S. PIRG’s criticism, an Experian senior manager, Becky Frost, referred Whistleblower to the product description, saying it “alerts members to changes that could indicate identity theft so they can take action to protect themselves.” A spokesman for Target, Eric Hausman, said its service includes features “which guests would not otherwise have access to.”
With the Protect My ID product that Target offers, consumers must pay $9.95 if they want to see their Experian score and an additional $14.95 for their TransUnion and Equifax scores.
Pascha Derkevics, a Target customer from Chaska, said she did not plan to use Target’s free credit monitoring because she already uses a free service, Credit Karma. She signed up for it when she was in the market for a new car and needed to monitor her score. Credit Karma, which says on its website that it’s supported by advertising and doesn’t ask for credit card info, gives subscribers their TransUnion score.
“It’s my information. Why can’t I have access to it?” Derkevics said. “The government only allows one free report from all three bureaus per year, and for some of us, that’s not enough. Those reports don’t include your credit score, either.”
Some say those third-party services come with their own hazards. Jason Plank with the Minnesota Financial Planning Association said he advises consumers to avoid giving out their information to third-party vendors like Credit Karma because those companies are vulnerable to data breaches, as well. He said Experian already has ownership of your data.
For those who choose not to use Experian’s Protect My ID, Plank recommends that consumers get one of the three free annual credit reports every four months, available at annualcreditreport.com. You should report suspected fraud to the credit bureaus and the Federal Trade Commission.
“If there is any fraudulent activity, consumers are not liable,” Plank said.