Credit Monitoring – Paying for it & Doing it on your own

March 11, 2014

By Angie Moreschi

Credit monitoring is one of those things that you probably don’t think much about until something bad happens.  Well, bad things have been happening.  Ever since a few big security breaches at major retailers like Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels Craft Store this year, a lot of us are suddenly thinking about it.

Jillian Estes is among the millions of target shoppers whose private information was compromised in the recent, major security breach.  She knows every time she uses her credit card, there’s some risk, but actually finding out your information has been stolen, takes it to a whole new level.  “There’s an obvious sense of violation, because that’s our money.  That’s our account.  How far does this go? Really, how deep is this?  And we had to do something,” Estes said.

After Jillian noticed a suspicious charge on her card, she closed out the account, and signed up for free credit monitoring offered to Target customers.

What do you get?

Generally, when you sign up for “free” credit monitoring, it’s pretty basic coverage.  It would cost about $15 a month if you paid for it.  It checks your credit daily and sends you an alert if someone tries to open an account in your name or applies for a loan.  But keep in mind, often times, it just monitors one out of the three credit bureaus that track your credit, which can miss things.  To cover all three– you guessed it, it’ll cost you more.

Estes says she’s not sure she’d pay for it, but since they offered it for free, she decided to take advantage of the benefits.  “We’re of the mind-set that it can’t hurt.  It’s an extra layer of protection that—Why not have it?  We might as well be using it to protect ourselves, ‘cause we know there’s a real issue there.”

Do it yourself

A lot of what you pay credit monitoring services to do you can do on your own.  By law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

Eric Olsen with the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency suggests spreading out your requests over the course of a year. “You can stagger that where each of the three credit reports you can get once every four months. So, you’ve at least got notice every quarter that you’re going to be looking at if there’s a problem,” he said.

Olsen says monitoring your own credit for possible fraud is doable, but it does take some diligence.  “For most people it’s confusing.  It’s complicated and if they can afford it, it might be worth paying for it, for the peace of mind,” Olsen explained.

Credit Monitoring Tips

Here are some tips on things you can do:

  • Check your bank and credit accounts at least once a month, preferably more often, for suspicious activity.
  • Ask the credit bureaus to put a fraud alert on your account.  It’s free, but expires after 90 days, so you’ll have to keep renewing it.
  • You can also pay a $10 fee to enact a “credit freeze” – which prevents creditors from accessing your credit reports until the freeze is lifted.  You have to pay another $10 to lift it, if you’re trying to buy a car or house or open your own line of credit, but that could be worth it, to prevent others from accessing your credit.

Nothing is Full-proof

Unfortunately, no matter how you do it, credit monitoring is not full-proof when it comes to preventing fraud.  All monitoring can do is alert you to a potential problem, you still have to take the action to fix any problems that arise.

Olsen says catching a problem early is the best way to minimize the damage.  “It’s really about early reporting and early identification.  So if you can find out if there’s a problem and report it early enough, consumers are going to limit their liability if fraud occurs.”

That makes sense to consumers like Jillian Estes, who is doing all she can to make sure the breach of her Target account doesn’t lead to bigger problems.  “I think the important thing is diligence.  Having one level of protection, and then, our being diligent on top of that.  I think that’s the best we’re going to get.”

Angie is an investigator for the James Hoyer Law Firm.  You can catch her Consumer WISE reports every Tuesday on Bay News 9 in Tampa and Central Florida News 13 in Orlando.