What Target's free credit monitoring doesn't do

By Tobie StangerConsumer Reports

Target's recent offer to provide a year of free credit monitoring to the millions of its cardholders who might have been affected by a recent security breach seems a reasonable response to the well-publicized problem. But as mentioned today by DefendYourDollars, an advocacy initiative of Consumer Reports, the solution is far from perfect. You need to understand what the free service will and will not do.

The credit monitoring provided in the offer—by Experian, one of the nation's three credit-reporting companies—is an ongoing review of your credit history. If fraudsters steal your identity to open a new account using your Social Security number, you'll be alerted. But as we've reported, new account fraud actually isn't that common. Plus, as DefendYourDollars notes, there's no evidence at this time that the hackers made away with cardholders' Social Security numbers.

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What the free service through Experian does not do is to monitor transactions: the actual, day-to-day purchases made on your credit and debit cards. That's something you can and should do yourself. You can check your account online or arrange for texts or e-mails from retailers to let you know when a transaction has gone through on one of your cards. We recommend you do that more frequently now.

DefendYourDollars gives more advice on what you need to know before you enroll in Target's free service and how to avoid getting scammed in light of the security breach.

—Tobie Stanger

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