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Take the necessary steps to protect your identity

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Mandy Powers Norrell

Editor’s note: Mandy Powers Norrell, recently elected the S.C. House District 44 representative, has written a columm about the security breach with the S.C. Department of Revenue and how residents can take steps to protect their identity. Following is the first part of her column. The second part will be published in the Friday, Nov. 30, edition.

I want to thank the voters of S.C. House District 44 for the confidence you have placed in me in electing me to be your representative in the S.C. Legislature. I am deeply humbled by the overwhelming level of support I received on Election Day and I commit to you to represent you well and keep you informed.
And with that in mind, it’s time to get to work. For the past several weeks, I have been receiving briefings on the recent security breach within the S.C. Department of Revenue. Just over two months ago, the federal government discovered that personal information kept by
SCDOR has been hacked and our Social Security numbers and other tax ID numbers have been compromised. This includes 3.8 million Social Security numbers, 387,000 credit card numbers and 650,000 business tax returns – including our children’s Social Security numbers.
The fact that our personal information has been compromised is inexcusable. This breach has put us and our children at risk of identity theft for the rest of our lives. It is further inexcusable because this breach would have been prevented had this information been encrypted. Our anger is justified, and I will work to hold accountable those who are responsible. However, the purpose of this article is to focus on steps we must each take to minimize the damage.
In my private practice, I have had to file many bankruptcies for people who were victims of identity theft, and it is heartbreaking. It is now more important than ever to monitor our credit and take steps to prevent identity theft. At the same time, we must be alert to scams and also be careful to avoid paying for identity-theft-protection products that are either ineffective or otherwise available to us at no cost. I hope you will find this article helpful as you work to protect yourself and your loved ones following this breach.
Don’t be scammed
The S.C. Department of Revenue will not contact you and ask for personal information. If you receive this kind of call or e-mail, hang up or don’t respond and contact SCDOR at (803) 898-5000. You will likewise not receive an e-mail or telephone call from any legitimate business offering credit monitoring except for confirmation e-mails when you sign up for a service. Do not give your identifying information to anyone who calls you or e-mails you.
All of the services described in this article are free, but many are being offered by companies that would like to sell you additional or upgraded products. To sign up for these free services, you will not be required to give your credit card number. If you are asked to do so, then you have likely reached a screen in which the company is seeking to sign you up for additional services.
Credit monitoring
In 2006, consumer advocates convinced the federal government to require that every United States citizen be allowed to review his or her credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) at least once a year at no cost. States had the option of allowing more than one look per year – and many did – but, unfortunately, South Carolina allowed only one. As a bankruptcy attorney, I watched these reforms closely and have worked with consumer groups such as the Appleseed Legal Justice Center to try to convince our state to institute policies that protect consumers. As you might expect, that has been a difficult feat, but there have been some successes in consumer protection, and in light of this breach, I hope there will be more.
The website to view a free credit report is: www.annualcreditreport.com. I am hopeful that South Carolina will increase the number of times we are allowed to review our credit report for free each year, and I will fight for this reform.
The Experian contract
As an emergency measure, the governor’s office established a contract with one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian – to allow one year of free credit monitoring for those who sign up by Jan. 31, 2013. We, as taxpayers, are paying for this service; please don’t miss the opportunity to sign up – and sign up your children – by Jan. 31. More than 800,000 people have already signed up, but that is only a small fraction of the identities that have been compromised.
The website to sign up is www.protectmyid.com/scdor and the enrollment code is SCDOR123, or you may sign up by calling 1 (866) 578-5422. When the legislative session begins in January, I plan to advocate extending the deadline to April 15 and adding a checkbox to the South Carolina state tax return form to permit citizens to authorize the state to sign them up for the service. I believe the state should make this process as easy on our citizens as possible and I fear that the short window of time we are given to sign up will result in few people utilizing the service. But for now, the deadline is still Jan. 31. Please be sure to sign up as soon as possible.
Taxpayers paying the bill
What do we get from the Experian ProtectMyID contract?
As your representative, I am frustrated at the low return on our state’s investment from the Experian contract. The cost to our state of this contract, which was not competitively bid, is $12 million for only one year of protection.
By contrast, the Dunn & Bradstreet service for businesses was given to the state at no charge and includes unlimited monitoring of business accounts. Dunn & Bradstreet is able to offer their product at no charge because they believe they will make a profit from businesses that choose to upgrade. I suspect Experian may have come to the same conclusion, had they been asked.
But, as taxpayers, we are paying for the Experian contract and should use it. The Experian contract gives you the following: (1) a free copy of your Experian credit report; (2) for one year, you will receive alerts of any suspicious activity on any of your credit reports with the three major agencies; and (3) should you be the victim of identity theft at any time in the next year, you will receive up to $1 million in insurance and the services of an identity theft resolution agent. These benefits expire after one year.

Mandy Powers Norrell represents S.C. House District 44.