In the wake of the recent Target data breach, in which identity thieves gained access to the personal information of at least 70 million customers, the company announced it would offer free credit monitoring for a year. While this is a good first step for the retail giant, it gives affected customers false hope.
At face value, credit monitoring seems like an attractive service. After all, it helps detect suspicious activity on your credit report and gives you a heads-up about potential problems. But many credit monitoring companies market their service as being an identity theft protection plan. This simply isn’t the case.
The reality is that credit monitoring is just what it says it is: monitoring. It doesn’t prevent identity theft or your credit from being hijacked. Considering the fact that one in four data breach notification recipients become a victim of identity theft, simply monitoring these attacks isn’t enough. You need to proactively take steps to protect both your credit and your identity.
Credit Monitoring Gives a False Sense of Security
Credit monitoring services alert you when any type of new account appears on your credit report. Unfortunately, by this time the identity theft has often already happened. Credit monitoring didn’t prevent the theft; it simply notified you of the fraudulent activity so you could start the long process of trying to repair your credit.
Look at credit monitoring as being only a small part of a comprehensive identity theft protection plan. Keep in mind that, although you’re alerted when changes occur on your credit report, some events may go unnoticed or even be reported incorrectly. Many consumers don’t discover that their identity has been stolen until debt collectors show up at the door.
The same goes for three-in-one services that offer to monitor all three credit reporting bureaus. These methods aren’t secure because an identity thief can still open accounts in your name without actually having your credit report pulled. There is also an extensive delay between when an account is opened and when it shows up on your credit report. By the time you’re notified, the identity thief could have dozens of accounts already opened and racking up debt.
Tips for Preventing Identity Theft
You need an identity theft protection plan to keep thieves from using your information in the first place. A few tips:
• Be proactive and sign-up for identity theft protection with ID Theft Solutions, the only company managed by law enforcement that restores your identity back to pre-theft status.
• Be cautious of the websites you visit and the Internet connections you use to access them. Public networks aren’t secure and identity thieves can easily gain access to your computer, email accounts, and bank accounts.
• Never share personal information via email, over the phone, or with anyone you don’t know well. Identity thieves like to impersonate customer service representatives and ask to verify your birthday, Social Security number, or other personal data. If you’re not expecting contact, hang up and call the company back at a phone number you can trust.
• Lock up your financial and medical information, and shred documents you no longer need.
• Implement a credit freeze and check your credit card statements at least once a month for suspicious activity. You can also sign up with CreditKarma.com to check your credit score and also receive monthly monitoring for free–without your credit being affected in any way.
• Add a fraud alert to your credit report if you suspect you’re at risk for fraud (such as using a debit or credit card during the Target data breach debacle).
Whatever you do, don’t just depend on credit monitoring as your identity theft protection plan. With one new victim every three seconds, identity theft is a growing problem that shows no signs of letting up.