Charleston attorney Carolyn Blue spent nine months straightening out her credit after thieves swiped her purse, stole her identity and went on an illicit spending spree back in the 1990s.
So Blue is especially protective of her personal information these days. She never shops online and avoids sharing any financial or identifying information over the Internet.
Like scores of South Carolina taxpayers, Blue wanted to avail herself of free credit monitoring from Experian after learning Friday that hackers had raided a state database and made off with sensitive taxpayer information.
But given her past, Blue wasn’t about to register for the service online. So she picked up the phone and called the toll-free number provided by the state. And she called. And called. And called.
Blue said she has phoned the Experian call center several times a day since Friday and has never gotten through. She gets a message telling her all lines are busy and directing her to register online.
“I would be happy to wait for an operator, but the call just disconnects,” she said. “I’m very frustrated. I just want to talk to a live person.”
Blue is one of several people who have contacted The Post and Courier in recent days complaining about difficulties getting through to the call center. Some don’t want to register online. Others don’t have computers to do so. And many folks want to know what the state intends to do to help the elderly, poor and rural residents who may lack Internet service to get access to Experian’s help.
“Not everyone is computer savvy,” Blue said. “And I think people forget that is still a sizable segment of the population.”
State officials and an Experian spokesman did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on that subject this morning.
Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday blamed the media for tying up phone lines and causing widespread delays in getting through to the call center on Friday. A wait of an hour wasn’t uncommon. But Haley said things have gotten much better since then, with the wait time to speak with an operator below 12 minutes on Tuesday.
When a reporter called the toll-free number this morning, a message twice instructed him how to register online. He was then told to remain on the line to speak with a customer representative. But when transferred, another message said the center was experiencing higher than normal call volume and he should call back. The call then disconnected.
Jim Ratledge, an 83-year-old Charleston resident, is another frustrated caller. After failing to reach the call center, Ratledge finally went online to the Experian website, protectmyid.com/scdor.
Ratledge said he tried the site — two or three times a day since Friday — with no success. The website didn’t respond when he clicked to redeem the code, Ratledge said. He is now awaiting an email response from Experian customer service.
Ratledge, who retired after 40 years with Allstate Insurance, said he can’t believe the state allowed this to happen to its citizens’ most sensitive information.
“When something’s submitted like that and then they don’t encrypt it, I’m just dumbfounded,” he said.
In all, some 3.6 million unencrypted Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit or debit card numbers were contained in the database raided by hackers in cyber-attacks that date to Aug. 27. Revenue Department Director James Etter revealed Tuesday that some companies’ state identification numbers also were stored in the database.
State officials have advised anyone who had filed a state tax return since 1998 to take steps to learn if their information had been misused by identity thieves. The state is offering one year of free credit monitoring to worried taxpayers.
As of Tuesday, 533,000 people had contacted the call center to begin the process of registering for that protection, and 287,000 had signed up, Haley said.
Get more coverage at postandcourier.com/hacked.