Target offered the credit monitoring service for free in the wake of a data breach that compromised as many as 110 million payment card accounts.
Target said payment card data was stolen that could affect 40 million customers. In addition, names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses were stolen in data breaches that could affect 70 million customers.
Target has been touting its response to the breach, the offer of free ProtectMyID credit monitoring services, for which it hired one of the Big Three credit monitoring firms, Experian.
At best, however, the service is an indirect manner of tracking identity theft, as it would quickly reveal any new credit accounts opened with the stolen information, but does nothing to monitor unauthorized charges added to existing accounts by a thief, Consumer Reports said.
In addition, the three large credit monitoring services, which includes Equifax and TransUnion, can come up with very different reports, so the use of only one, Experian, is an inefficient monitoring strategy, Consumer Reports said.
The problem there, Consumer Reports said, is that once a credit monitoring system begins to warn a consumer of suspicious activity on a credit account, the warnings pile up so quickly consumers frequently begin to ignore the alerts.
Moreover, Consumer Reports said, once someone signs up for the program, Experian, trying to seize the opportunity, bombards the consumer with advertising to sell them various credit reports for a fee.
"Some of these Experian ads exploit consumers who are ignorant of their rights, because consumer protection laws allow ID theft victims to place a free 90-day fraud alert on their credit report and get their credit reports from all three credit bureaus absolutely free," Consumer Reports said.
A Target spokeswoman gave out only information that was already public when asked about the program, Consumer Reports said.