Consumer Reports: Target’s Identify Theft Protection Misses the Mark

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Following its massive data breach, Target (NYSE:TGT) offered its customers free identify theft protection as part of its promise to help them deal with the fallout that resulted from the security theft and mitigate consumer concern. However, according to a Consumer Reports analysis published last week, Target cheated its customers by going the cheapest route and only offering what the publication calls “second-rate credit-monitoring services.”

Time highlighted the Consumer Reports analysis on Tuesday and reported that the publication is less than impressed with Target’s new services. Consumers already complained about the amount of time it took the retailer to provide useful information about the data breach and make available its promised theft protection service. But now that the protection is finally here, many consumers and advocates are still not satisfied.

Although Consumer Reports says that people shouldn’t turn down Target’s free monitoring, advocates still warn them to be careful about monitoring their accounts themselves. One of the biggest problems with the retailer’s services is that it didn’t invest in comprehensive credit monitoring that covers information from all three credit bureaus, so now the monitoring still gives potential victims an incomplete picture of their credit.

According to Time, Target offers its consumers the product ProtectMyID, which is offered by Experian and only analyzes Experian data. This was likely one of the cheaper options the retailer could find, because the best credit-monitoring covers information from all three credit bureaus. The problem with the program is that information from each of the three bureau credit reports can be very different, so ProtectMyID does not provide sufficient protection for everyone.

ProtectMyID even uses its shortcomings to its advantage. Consumer Reports warns that the service tries to sucker consumers into paying for more so they have complete protection. ProtectMyID uses scare tactics to upsell other products and services that can be worth up to $75, but all aren’t entirely useful. The one thing that could be useful is the three-bureau monitoring service that ProtectMyID offers, but if customers agree to it, it’s on their dime rather than Target’s.

The final problem with ProtectMyID that Consumer Reports warns about, per Time, is that the service gives customers a false sense of security because they think they are protected but in reality, the credit-monitoring program that Target chose for its consumers doesn’t actually protect people whose account information has been stolen from the most common threat they face.

Credit monitoring only shows if someone is trying to open an account or obtain credit in your name, but that offense is less common than fraud, and the most common kind is not protected by ProtectMyID. To catch fraud, even while on the ProtectMyID program, consumers have to stay vigilant about monitoring their bank and credit card accounts themselves so they can notice any charges they don’t recognize.

That’s why Target’s new free service has the ability to hurt more than it helps — because it can give consumers a false sense of security and lead them to believe they are fully protected and don’t need to continue to monitor their accounts. That puts them more at risk for the kind of fraud that is likely to result from the retailer’s large-scale security breach, but Target is still staying mum about the situation.

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