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The Big Hack: South Carolina's Security Breach

On Friday 26 October the news broke that the South Carolina Department of Revenue's tax records dating back to 1998 had been hacked by overseas cybercriminals, giving them access to some 3.8 million tax records, as well as 378,000 credit and debit card numbers. The security breach was all the more alarming because the Social Security numbers in the records were not encrypted. The following week state officials revealed that the tax records of up to 657,000 businesses had also been compromised. Security experts agree that this was the worst case of data theft committed against a state government in the nation's history.

The state quickly contracted with the credit reporting agency Experian to establish a year of free credit monitoring for South Carolina citizens, as well as for past residents who paid state taxes here from 1998 onward. If you have not yet initiated this service with Experian, call (866) 578-5422 to sign up, or visit protectmyid.com/scdor. Use the code scdor123 to log in. Businesses can sign up for free lifetime credit monitoring with Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. by calling (800) 279-9881 or visiting dandb.com/sc. Experian offers credit monitoring to SC businesses at www.smartbusinessreports.com/southcarolina.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs advises that citizens can place an initial fraud alert on their credit report by calling one of the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, at (800) 525-6285; Experian, at (888) 397-3742; or TransUnion, at (800) 680-7289. (Placing a fraud alert with one agency is all that is necessary because that agency will then notify the other two.) The fraud alert stays in effect for ninety days.

Thanks to the Financial Identity Fraud and Identity Theft Protection Act (FIFITPA), which the state passed in 2009, SC citizens are entitled to freeze their credit records free of charge. With a freeze in place, no new credit (in the form of a credit card or a loan) can be issued in your name without your knowledge because no inquiries by businesses into your credit file can be made without your permission. For those not contemplating opening new lines of credit in the near future, this may be a good option, because the free credit monitoring service provided by Experian merely informs you of new activity in your credit file - it does nothing to prevent fraudulent actions from taking place. The Department of Consumer Affairs has posted this flyer that explains how to place a freeze with each of the three credit reporting agencies. (Unlike in the case of the fraud alert, a freeze must be placed with all three agencies.)

Even with a fraud alert or freeze in place, it is a good idea to review your credit report occasionally. Through the Federal Trade Commission's secure site annualcreditreport.com, you can order one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Order your reports online or by calling (877) 322-8228.

The SC Department of Revenue has posted a flyer that summarizes much of this information. Finally, if you want to read more about how to protect yourself from identity theft, please check out these useful titles in our collection.

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