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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
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Mullins: Take precautions, Target customers

Published:   |   Updated: January 12, 2014 at 09:51 AM

Wow, I hope you all didn’t end up caught in the Target data breach. Because even people like me who have (hopefully) escaped the problem find plenty of aggravation to go around. And despite all the sound and fury furryover the hacking, and the corporate apologies by Target, there are a few things Target isn’t telling anyone. But I will, and I know, from personal experience. Here goes.

Change your cards.

Definitely, absolutely, without question, you should change your credit and debt cards. Yes, Target says there’s no need to, and banks are saying they’re “monitoring accounts” and you won’t be held responsible. Do it anyway. I’m hearing too many spooky stories from friends whose credit reports are looking funky, and there are too many calls from credit card companies warning of suspicious activities. There’s some hassle to switching cards, particularly if you have bills set up to automatically pay with a credit card. But you won’t lose your account, or credit line, or anything else. Change them, and change your bank PIN too. It’s the easiest thing you’ll wish you had done if one day you go to the ATM and find somebody else tapped into your dough.

There’s a glitch.

If you have a Target REDedCard, when you change cards (and you should), there is a huge glitch in the process. The moment they hit the button to send you a new card with new numbers, your current card becomes dead. Instantly. That matters because Target is taking 8 to 10 days to deliver a new card to your house. Not only does this mean you’ll miss out on the 5 percent off deal with the REDCard in the meantime, but until that new card arrives, you cannot — I repeat cannot — access your Target statement/account online to see if hackers are going nuts on your dime. Sorry to tell you that. Insane, I know.

Know the difference between a credit and a debit card.

Silly, yes, the cards may be exactly the same size and shape, and many have similar benefits like points and miles. But there’s a huge difference between credit cards and debit cards, particularly when it comes to fixing any issues that could arise from hacking. First, there’s more time with credit cards to fix any problems, since the credit card company is technically paying the store or restaurant with their money until your monthly bill arrives and you make your payment. Compare that to any potential problems with a debit card/checking account, where if money is missing, it’s missing right away, and you’d have to then convince your bank that hackers are to blame and not you. That can be a sticky situation in a hurry if you have a car or mortgage payment to make that week. So, if you used a debit card and Target, you have some extra reasons to keep an eye out.

Yes, there are lawsuits against Target.

But don’t count on getting a big payout for you personally. Suits will likely take years to process, and there’s no guarantee that you will get anything from them. It’s possible you’ll get a $5 credit, or more free fraud protection. But after covering many, many class-action lawsuits, I can tell you the only people who will really win out are the lawyers involved.

There’s a time/space wormhole.

Say you bought something at Target in November or December for the holidays. Then the data breach happened. And now you have some returns to make. But you have a new credit card or Target REDCard. Oops. Clerks at the store can’t put a credit back on your old card. It doesn’t exist anymore. One option: The clerk can take back your items and request Target HQ mail you a refund. I kid you not. In. The. Mail. The other option is the clerk can take back your returns and (if he or she is savvy enough) persuade the cash register to issue you a gift card with the refund amount. It’s not cash, but it spends the same.

Even if you do everything (probably) right, things can get messed up.

After all this, Target did send me a new REDCard. So I marched into a store and tried using it to buy $100-plus in household stuff, because that’s how fast Target items rack up. The card was rejected. Why? They don’t know, so I used another credit card, missing out on the 5 percent REDCard discount. After another hour or so on the phone over two days, a 1-800 rep at Target told me the new card they sent was canceled due to suspicious activity. Which means something happened to it in the mail before it even arrived at my house? Perhaps a time traveler slipped through quantum space, nabbed the card, and bought some vitamins and a lamp. Either way, this brings me to our final problem.

Target and their stores don’t cooperate.

After the card was rejected, I asked the customer service desk for help. But they’re not allowed to help with REDCard issues, which may be a good thing, depending on your perception of security. So, I called the 1-800 number, again, and waited, again. The 1-800 staffers gave every excuse in the world. I half expected they’d blame sunspots or earthquakes. But, I asked, what about the 5 percent off I missed out on? No problem, they said. Just take my receipt to the store, technically return everything, and re-buy it with my new REDCard, whenever that arrives. But, I asked, since Target can see that purchase I just made in their system, why not just apply the 5 percent off to the account. Well, they said, the 1-800 line clerks can’t see purchases (which they can, but whatever, I’ve lost most of my will to care). To get that coveted 5 percent off, I’d have to go to the store. Because Target and their stores don’t cooperate.

But if all this Target mess gives you a headache, here’s other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:

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The Davis Island Anchor Bar will soon expand across the bridge and open a second location, this time in downtown Tampa along Twiggs Street, between Tampa and Franklin streets. Owner Justin Schuver hopes for an opening this month or early next, if all the construction goes well. It’s a petite space, at just 1,200 square feet, but it will be a rather polished neighborhood sports bar. Why downtown? Schuver says the entertainment scene has developed dramatically compared to years ago, when the streets were deserted. Now there’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, plus lots of downtown residents and more events all around, from food truck rallies to movie nights in the Channel District.

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St. Petersburg foodies will have a new option when deciding where to pick up their locally grown veggies. The Sweetwater Organic Community Farm started delivering boxes of food at The Body Electric Yoga Company at 685 30th Ave. N., St. Petersburg, on Friday. For more information, check out sweetwater-organic.org.

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There’s a new breed of ATM machines that take a bit of the “machine” out of the system. Both GTE Financial and Grow Financial are installing so-called “Interactive Teller Machines” around town. They look much like normal ATMs, but if you have a question about something, you can actually pick up a phone and a real live person comes on the line — and you can see that person via a video link on a screen. Reminds me a bit of the new feature from Amazon on its tablets called “Mayday,” where you hit a help button and a representative pops on your screen to help you out. Perhaps this is just a new way to shift more customer service to call centers, but this is a new blend of service that deploys actual humans.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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