Target missed the bulls-eye this time, a new analysis says. In response to the massive data breach it suffered during the holiday shopping season, the retailer gave its customers free identity theft protection, but it’s a solution that comes up short according to Consumer Reports. The publication looked at the offering and says Target “fumbled” when it offered what the publication calls “second-rate credit-monitoring services.”
Facebook users had complained on the retailer’s page about the amount of time it took Target to provide concrete information about the promised service and make it available. Now that it’s here, advocates are less than impressed. “Consumer Reports can recommend this deal in its present form only as being better than nothing, and only for consumers who understand its significant shortcomings,” the publication says.
It points out that the product, ProtectMyID, is offered by Experian and only looks at Experian data. Target probably saved a few bucks doing this, but comprehensive credit-monitoring should cover information from all three credit bureaus. Experian even says, “The information on each of your three bureau credit reports can be very different.” Consumer Reports says a Target spokeswoman “claimed not to have details about Target’s decision-making process” and “reiterated ProtectMyIDs basic benefits.”
Aside from giving potential victims an incomplete picture of their credit, Consumer Reports says the service tries to aggressively upsell other products and services — almost $75 worth of stuff most people don’t really need but might be scared into thinking they should get. One of the products offered? The three-bureau monitoring Target decided not to offer. “I think Target is doing a disserve to its customers by pitching this relatively useless product that’s going to give a false sense of security,” says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at watchdog group U.S. PIRG.
But the biggest problem is that credit-monitoring or identity theft protection (the terms are used more or less interchangeably) doesn’t actually protect people whose account information has been stolen from the most common threat they face. “The trouble is, the most likely outcome of these breaches is good old-fashioned credit card fraud — some crooks uses your credit card to buy stuff — a problem not protected against in these programs,” says says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org.
Credit monitoring only shows if someone tries to open an account or obtain credit in your name. This is a serious problem, but it’s way less common than fraud. The only way to catch that is for you, the potential victim, to keep an eye on your bank and credit card accounts and contact the issuer immediately if you notice any charges you don’t recognize.
Consumer Reports says this doesn’t mean people should turn down the free monitoring, but don’t think it’s a substitute for being vigilant about monitoring your accounts yourself, and don’t get suckered into paying for anything.