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Mulling Target's ID theft protection offer

Posted by Mitch Lipka  February 4, 2014 05:29 PM

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target.jpgWhen you consider the sheer number of people affected by the data breach at Target (and Neiman Marcus and Michaels, and who knows how many more), it’s pretty clear that as consumers we’re vulnerable. We spend money at stores and most of us use credit or debit cards – both of which leave electronic trails for crooks to follow.

Data is stolen from businesses of all sorts, more often than many people realize. The majority of customers are not likely to suffer more than an inconvenience. But some could face a long ordeal with minefields that can take months or years to negotiate. It all depends on what information was stolen and whether you’re information is used to steal your identity.

That brings us to the offer Target made to provide a year of free identity theft protection to anyone who shopped there in the past year. Identity theft protection is generally a service that alerts you to changes in your credit history – most significantly the opening of new lines of credit that you didn’t apply for.

Generally, though, that sort of protection is helpful only if your Social Security number, which is needed to apply for credit, is in the hands of thieves. So far, there’s no indication that information was accessed at Target.

On the upside, the service is free and can be helpful if there’s a problem. Experian, the provider of the service, promises to work with victims to clear up credit damaged by fraud. On the flip-side, it won’t prevent theft and you have to provide them your Social Security number.

Regardless of whether you choose to sign up you still have to be vigilant checking your bills and going to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your credit history free once a year from each of the three big credit bureaus.

And, to answer several readers’ questions, if you sign up, watch out for attempts to sell you additional services you don’t need and be aware that at the end of a year keeping the service will require a fee of about $16 a month. If you had only paid the old-fashioned way: with cash.

One more thing... Be careful when you get an email that claims to be from Target. It's one of the most popular rouses for scams right now. If you get an email with a code that allows you to get the ID protection service, for instance, don't click the link. Instead, go to Target's website and access the page that way.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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