By Mitch Lipka
Jan 14 In the wake of a massive data breach that
affected up to 100 million shoppers over the holidays, Target
Corp has offered all of its customers - whether or not
they were directly affected - a year of free credit monitoring.
Is it an offer you should take?
Here are some questions and answers about what this sort of
protection does - and does not - do and what you should keep in
mind if you do sign up.
Q: What is Target offering?
A: One year of free credit monitoring from the credit bureau
Experian if you request an authorization code from
Target and activate it by April 30.
Q: What does that give me?
A: In addition to getting a copy of a credit report from
Experian, consumers will be notified when there are changes to
their credit history. Such changes include applications for
credit and any new accounts that are added.
Every consumer is entitled to a free copy of their credit
report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus -
Experian, Equifax and Transunion. The official website to get
that free report isSome experts
recommend getting one every four months so you have a greater
opportunity to see any unwelcome activity sooner.
If a consumer is a victim of identity theft they will also
be provided with assistance from Experian to help resolve the
tangle that typically follows. It can take a lot of effort and
time to distance yourself from the fraud and clean up your
The free service offered by Target does not provide a credit
score, however. That is available for an additional fee.
Q: What happens after one year?
A: You would have to pay for the service for it to continue.
It costs about $16 a month.
Q: The offer from Target includes $1 million of identity
theft insurance coverage. What protection does that offer?
A: The insurance is very limited in scope, mainly covering
incidental expenses, not monetary loss, notes Susan Grant,
director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of
While it includes coverage for lost wages from time spent
repairing your damaged credit in the event of identity theft,
that protection is capped at $1,000 a week for four weeks. The
only instance in which you could be covered for an actual loss
is if funds are electronically transferred from your account.
Q: Will this service protect me from having my identity
stolen or fraudulent charges on my cards?
A: No. "It's essentially a notification service," says John
Breyault, vice president of the National Consumers League. It's
still up to consumers to be vigilant about checking their
accounts and to take action if there is any unauthorized
Consumers also need to be wary of scammers seeking to get
even more information from them based on what they already have
from the Target breach or other breaches, like e-mail addresses
and phone numbers.
Thieves are seeking your Social Security number - something
Target has said was not revealed in this breach. If they can
talk you out of that information, it is possible they can open
credit lines in your name, says Tim Rohrbaugh, chief information
security officer at Intersections Inc., an identity theft
Having credit monitoring won't protect you from this, but
you will be alerted if it happens.
"It doesn't give you license to discard common sense and
start clicking on embedded links in e-mails and coughing up all
sorts of personal information," says Robert Siciliano, a
security expert for the online security company McAfee.
Q: How do I sign up safely?
A: Go directly to Target's website, which has a link ()
where customers can request an authorization code to activate
the service. It could take up to five days to get a code, but at
least initially the codes are coming within minutes. That e-mail
explains how to sign up.
Signing up will, ironically, require consumers to input more
information - including their Social Security numbers. Beth
Givens, executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
says the advocacy group recommends consumers get the protection
but noted that in situations like this, many are reluctant to
give out their Social Security number.
"I hope that Experian's security is adequate, but how do any
of us know for sure?," says Grant, of the Consumer Federation of
Q: So, should I sign up?
A: Consumer advocates and security experts say it can be
helpful to sign up. But they caution: don't expect it to be a