South Carolinians to start getting notifications they were hacked

ashain@thestate.comDecember 21, 2012 

— After delays, the state will start sending notifications Monday to 2.6 million South Carolinians whose personal information was stolen by hackers from the S.C. Revenue Department, the governor’s office said Friday.

Some 1.2 million victims living out of state already have started receiving written notices.

The notifications are coming two months after the state told the public about the breach and a month after Gov. Nikki Haley said investigators had identified whose information was stolen.

Waiting that long to send notices is “way beyond pale,” said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego.

People who don’t follow the news or lack online access need notification as soon as possible to know how to protect themselves, Givens said. Most notifications are sent within 30 days of when a data breach becomes public, she said. “A lot of damage could have done in the meantime.”

Since revealing the hacking on Oct. 26, Haley repeatedly has advised taxpayers to protect themselves – including enrolling for a year of credit monitoring, at no cost to the consumer, from the Experian firm. The state also has posted breach information on agency websites.

More than 90 percent of South Carolinians said they had heard about the breach in a recent Winthrop University poll.

Meanwhile, the state extended by two months – until March 31 – the deadline for taxpayers and businesses to enroll for Experian’s credit monitoring.

More than 950,000 people have enrolled, a number expected to swell once notifications start arriving.

While taxpayers don’t have to pay the $160- to $240-a-year fee for Experian’s credit monitoring, the state is paying the firm $12 million. The firm has offered a second year of credit monitoring for $10 million. The governor’s office has said it is considering that offer.

South Carolina is spending more than $20 million to repair damage from what’s considered the country’s largest-ever hacking of a state agency.

Hackers using computer logins, swiped from Revenue Department employees, stole steal Social Security numbers, bank account information and other personal data belonging to 3.8 million taxpayers with 1.9 million dependents and 700,000 businesses. Anyone who filed S.C. tax returns electronically since 1998 was affected.

The state is paying SourceLink Carolina of Greenville to send notices, which are costing $1.2 million, the governor’s office said.

About 1.8 million taxpayers in South Carolina will get letters. More than 800,000 who signed up for credit-monitoring from Experian will get e-mails.

S.C. tax filers living out of the state started getting letters last week. In-state letters were delayed to match e-mail records with Experian, the governor’s office said.

The notifications include information for enrolling in credit monitoring and placing a security freeze on credit reports. A freeze prevents the opening of new credit cards and loans.

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