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Credit monitoring becomes a standard offer after breaches

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Credit monitoring services are becoming part of the standard response from big companies after large data breaches. Target offered them, now Home Depot.   

Consumers, however, need to know what these services do and do not do.

“Think about it in layers,” says Suzanne Barber, director of the Center for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin. “Your identity information is connected. Remember your credit card/debit card application. All that information is connected to your credit card number. So, if your credit card is breached, what’s the likelihood the criminal can access much more information about you?”

Finances and bank accounts can lead a criminal to other assets like mortgages and car loans, and then health care data and even social media. 

A credit reporting agency isn’t monitoring everything, but you should map out what it is and isn’t monitoring so you can fill in any gaps with your own vigilance. 

Barber says it’s important to know how long a credit monitoring agency will be monitoring for. “Criminals are willing to sit on this info for quite some time before they harvest your assets – as much as five years.”

Credit monitoring “is a specific step for a specific purpose,” says Ted Julian, chief marketing officer with CO3 Systems, an incident response firm. But it doesn’t absolve the consumer of worry or responsibility. “These incidents hammer home some basic good housekeeping that we all know,” he says.

Basics like having a unique and strong password: Don’t have a unique and strong set of passwords, with different ones for different services. 

Use a credit card over a debit card. While it’s likely you will be reimbursed for a debit card loss, it may be more difficult and will take longer than if you are reimbursed by a credit card company. 

Look at statements — and not just for the large $500 purchases at the electronics store. Little “test” purchases of $2 or $0.50 can be used by a thief to determine whether an account is functioning correctly or not. 

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