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Free credit monitoring service as a result of the Target data breach

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Expect more, pay less has new meaning as Target affirmed their commitment Tuesday on how shoppers can enroll in a free credit monitoring and identity theft protection service in the wake of a massive data heist, according to Consumer Reports.

According to a specially dedicated website, the top competitor to Walmart will offer customers the credit monitoring service free for a period of one year.

Regardless whether they have been personally affected by the theft of customer data records at the discount store chain, Target customers can register for the free service.

"Sounds like another possible scam. Why would I give my information to the very company that lost it in the first place?" Weston resident Bina Fink Kohl - herself an identity theft victim and Target shopper - told Examiner. "In fear of a rip-off, I won't provide my personal information."

Step-by-step instructions on how to enroll in the Target credit monitoring program.

The announcement comes after Target revealed that the massive security breach may have affected up to 110 million of its customers during the 2013 holiday shopping season and included more types of confidential information than previously disclosed.

Target previously reported that about 40 million credit and debit cards may have been affected by the breach that occurred between November 27th and December 15th.

"I know that it is frustrating for our guests to learn that this information was taken and we are truly sorry they are having to endure this," stated Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer for Target in a written statement. "I also want our guests to know that understanding and sharing the facts related to this incident is important to me and the entire Target team."

While continuing to investigate, Target now indicates that an additional 70 million customers were impacted by the theft of their names, phone numbers, and email and mailing addresses. Some of the information stolen in the data breach belonged to customers who shopped before the holiday season.

"They all claim to care about protecting us from identity theft, but their very similar privacy policies don't appear to support these claims," Denise Richardson, herself a victim of identity theft and author of "Give Me Back My Credit" told Examiner. "It's difficult to believe they are as interested in protecting our personal info as they are in protecting their business model in an ecosystem comprised of undisclosed partners, affiliates, vendors, alliances, resellers and contractors who, along with any other undisclosed third party they warn they buy, sell or share our data with."

Surpassing an incident uncovered in 2007 that saw more than 45 million credit and debit cards stolen from Marshalls and T.J. Maxx, the Target data breach is the largest reported ever for a retailer.

"Within a day of enrolling in the credit monitoring service, I received details to check my credit," Coral Springs resident Remington Longstreth, told Examiner. "I'm going to use this service to supplement what I already have to protect my good name and reputation in the community."

In addition to the Target credit monitoring service, impacted customers may also protect themselves from potential identity theft.

Periodically review your credit report

By keeping close tabs on your credit report, you can detect signs of identity theft early. If you find an account not opened by you and have identified it as fraudulent, enter a dispute directly with the creditor as well as with the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

You can obtain a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228.

Place a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report

Contact the credit reporting agencies and request a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report. Not only will this trigger a free credit report but will advise potential creditors to investigate any application prior to issuing credit, goods, benefits and/or services.

Equifax can be contacted at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and Trans Union at 800-916-8800. Be sure to renew the alert every three months.

Freeze your credit report

Identity thieves are frozen in their tracks without access to your credit report as potential creditors will not have access to your credit history. In most states, you are entitled to temporarily “freeze” access to your credit profile without cost if you are over 65 years of age or are a verified victim of identity theft. All others may be required to pay a small fee. Without access to your credit report, a responsible lender will not issue credit.

Stop unsolicited credit card offers

Opting out at www.optoutprescreen.com or 888-5OPT-OUT will stop most unsolicited pre-approved applications and reduce the incidence of identity theft. Opting out refers to the process of removing your name and address from lists supplied by the Equifax, Experian, Trans Union and Innovis credit reporting agencies to be used for firm (preapproved/ prescreened) offers of credit or insurance.

“I can hardly afford to lose access to my debit and credit cards let alone become a victim of identity theft,” Marina Sweat, a former police officer and Cooper City resident told Examiner. “I used to shop at Target all the time and although I now shop at Walmart, I’m not any less a target. I’m not happy with the way this whole data breach situation is being handled.”

Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

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