COLUMBIA — Newberry County along with the entire state received notice on Friday about a computer hack compromising millions of Social Security numbers and thousands of credit or debit card numbers.
The South Carolina Department of Revenue announced that approximately 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers have been exposed in a cyber attack. Of the credit cards, the vast majority are protected by strong encryption deemed sufficient under the demanding credit card industry standards to protect the data and cardholders. Approximately 16,000 are unencrypted.
To protect taxpayers, the state will provide those affected with one year of credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Officials emphasized that no public funds were accessed or put at risk.
All residents are encouraged to visit the website protectmyid.com/scdor or call 1- 866-578-5422 to determine if they were affected. However, if someone is unable to go online or get through the 1-866 number, the password is SCDOR123.
How to protect your assets:
1. Review your credit reports and bank statements. Review account statements and monitor credit reports. You can receive free credit reports by placing fraud alerts and through your credit monitoring. Under federal law, you also are entitled every 12 months to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies. To obtain a free annual credit report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You may wish to stagger your requests so that you receive a free report by one of the three credit bureaus every four months.
You do have the right to file a police report if you ever experience identity fraud. Please note that in order to file a crime report or incident report with law enforcement for identity theft, you will likely need to provide some kind of proof that you have been a victim. A police report is often required to dispute fraudulent items. You can report suspected incidents of identity theft to local law enforcement.
2. Contact credit/debit card issuer. When credit/debit card information is compromised, the best protection is reissue of the card. So to protect yourself from the possibility of unauthorized charges, we recommend that you check your bank account statements regularly. If you detect any unauthorized charges, we strongly suggest that you contact your credit/debit card issuer immediately by calling the toll-free number located on the back of your card or on your monthly statement, tell them what you have seen, and ask them to cancel and reissue the card. You should tell your credit/debit card issuer that your account may have been compromised and review all charges on your account for potentially fraudulent activity. We also recommend that you change your credit/debit card web account password immediately when you discover unauthorized charges.
3. Place fraud alerts with the three credit bureaus. You can place a fraud alert at one of the three major credit bureaus by phone and also via Experian’s website. A fraud alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures, including contacting you, before they open any new accounts or change your existing accounts. For that reason, placing a fraud alert can protect you, but also may delay you when you seek to obtain credit.
The contact information for all three bureaus are:
Equifax Fraud Reporting, 1-800-525-6285, P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241, www.equifax.com
Experian Fraud Reporting, 1-888-397-3742, P.O. Box 9532 Allen, TX 75013, www.experian.com
TransUnion Fraud Reporting, 1-800-680-7289, Fraud Victim Assistance Division P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834-6790, www.transunion.com
You only need to contact one of these bureaus and use only one of these methods. As soon as one of the three bureaus confirms your fraud alert, the others are notified to place alerts on their records as well. You will receive confirmation letters in the mail and will then be able to order all three credit reports, free of charge, for your review.
4. Security freeze: By placing a freeze, someone who fraudulently acquires your personal identifying information will not be able to use that information to open new accounts or borrow money in your name. You will need to contact the three national credit reporting bureaus listed above in writing to place the freeze. Keep in mind that when you place the freeze, you will not be able to borrow money, obtain instant credit, or get a new credit card until you temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze. In South Carolina, there is no charge to you for placing, thawing or lifting the freeze.
Series of events leading to attack
“On Oct. 10, the S.C. Division of Information Technology informed the S.C. Department of Revenue of a potential cyber attack involving the personal information of taxpayers,” said DOR Director James Etter. “We worked with them throughout that day to determine what may have happened and what steps to take to address the situation. We also immediately began consultations with state and federal law enforcement agencies and briefed the governor’s office.”
Upon the recommendation of law enforcement officials, DOR contracted Mandiant, one of the world’s top information security companies, to assist in the investigation, help secure the system, install new equipment and software and institute tighter controls on access.
On Oct. 16, investigators uncovered two attempts to probe the system in early September, and later learned that a previous attempt was made in late August. In mid-September, two other intrusions occurred, and to the best of the department’s knowledge, the hacker obtained data for the first time. No other intrusions have been uncovered at this time. On Oct. 20, the vulnerability in the system was closed and, to the best of the department’s knowledge, secured.
“The number of records breached requires an unprecedented, large-scale response by the Department of Revenue, the State of South Carolina and all our citizens,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “We are taking immediate steps to protect the taxpayers of South Carolina, including providing one year of credit monitoring and identity protection to those affected.”
Anyone who has filed a South Carolina tax return since 1998 is urged to visit protectmyid.com/scdor or call 1- 866-578-5422 to determine if their information is affected. If so, the taxpayer can immediately enroll in one year of identity protection service provided by Experian.
Experian’s ProtectMyID Alert is designed to detect, protect and resolve potential identity theft, and includes daily monitoring of all three credit bureaus. The alerts and daily monitoring services are provided for one year, and consumers will continue to have access to fraud resolution agents and services beyond the first year.
In addition to the Experian service, state officials urged individuals to consider additional steps to protect their identity and financial information, including:
• Regularly review credit reports;
• Place fraud alerts with the three credit bureaus;
• Place a security freeze on financial and credit information with the three credit bureaus.
If credit card information is compromised, the best protection is to have the bank reissue the card. Anyone who has used a credit card in a transaction with the Department of Revenue should check bank accounts regularly to see if any unauthorized charges have occurred. If so, the cardholder should contact the credit card issuer immediately by calling the toll-free number located on the back of the card or on a monthly statement, tell them what you have seen, and ask them to cancel and reissue the card. Consumers should also change any credit card web account passwords immediately when unauthorized charges are detected.
“From the first moment we learned of this, our top priority has been to protect the taxpayers and the citizens of South Carolina, and every action we’ve taken has been consistent with that priority,” Etter said. “We have an obligation to protect the personal information entrusted to us, and we are redoubling our efforts to meet that obligation.”