Help for elderly

On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Revenue said the agency is developing new strategies to help elderly and other residents through the hacking crisis. According to an agency spokesman, those initiatives include:Working with district offices to allow residents to come in and get assistance with signing up for credit monitoring.Working with state libraries and library associations to organize an instructional webinar for use in libraries.Working with the S.C. Lieutenant Governor’s Office and seniors groups to disseminate information.

Charleston attorney Carolyn Blue spent nine months straightening out her credit after thieves swiped her purse, stole her identity and went on a spending spree in the 1990s.

Previous coverage

For more stories about the state Department of revenue breach, go to postandcourier.com/hacked.

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.

Resources

ENROLL IN FREE CREDIT MONITORING AND IDENTITY PROTECTION: The state is paying for taxpayers to receive identity-protection services from Experian for one year. South Carolinians can enroll either online or by phone. To register by phone, call 1-866-578-5422. The hotline is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays. To register online, go to protectmyid.com/scdor and use the code “SCDOR123.” At some point, that generic code may not work, and residents will have to call the hotline number.PLACE A SECURITY FREEZE ON CREDIT RECORDS, OR GET ADVICE: Call the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-922-1594 weekdays during business hours to get advice or to ask that your credit records be frozen at no charge. Or go to http://bit.ly/TL6iD6 for more information.REGULARLY CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT: Get free credit reports from the three largest credit-rating organizations by going to annualcreditreport.com.PLACE A FRAUD ALERT ON YOUR CREDIT FILE: Residents can request “fraud alerts” to let potential creditors know they may be a victim of identity theft. Call either Equifax at 1-877-576-5734, Experian at 1-888-397-3742 or TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.

Like hundreds of thousands 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 for 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. But after six days of calling Experian, she was still trying Wednesday to get past a message telling her all lines were busy and to register online.

“I would be happy to wait for an operator, but the call just disconnects,” Blue 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 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 register elderly, poor and rural residents who may lack Internet service or know-how.

“Not everyone is computer-savvy,” Blue said. “I think people forget that is still a sizable segment of the population.”

Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday afternoon that 620,000 taxpayers have called so far and that 418,000 people have successfully enrolled in the Experian program. She did not specifically address wait times or other phone problems, simply saying she is “trying to make sure we have solutions for people so they don’t feel helpless.”

“This is a daily process, and I understand the frustration,” Haley said.

Experian did not respond to an email sent to the company’s spokesman Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the governor blamed the media for tying up phone lines and causing widespread delays in getting through to the call center on Friday. But she assured people things had improved and the wait time to speak with an operator was below 12 minutes.

When a reporter called the toll-free number Wednesday 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.

Richard Bronk, 85, of West Ashley, said he spent hours and hours on the phone trying to get through to Experian. He wonders why he can’t simply fill out a form to register and drop it in the mail.

“I’m not a sophisticated user of the Internet and that type stuff, and frankly I’m suspicious of it at this point as well,” he said. “Just being able to put a postage stamp on something might be a good solution to the problem.”

That might be amenable to Jane Quattrochi as well.

The 69-year-old Mount Pleasant resident called the newspaper to report that neither she nor a friend could access the Experian website. But after a few minutes on the phone with a reporter, Quattrochi conceded the issue may be more her than the website.

“I’m old-fashioned,” she said.

Quattrochi used a fast computer during her 28-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard and said she took computer classes during her stint as a Charleston County school teacher.

But “a lot of things have changed,” she said. And as a recent widow with no family in the area, Quattrochi has struggled to respond to the hack.

“That’s why I ended up at the bank,” she said. At her Bank of America branch, Quattrochi succeeded in getting a new credit card number but couldn’t get signed up for the state-sponsored credit-monitoring.

She’s also called the Experian number several times, once waiting on for a live operator for a half-hour. “I’ve tried. I’ve given up,” she said. “Just busy, busy, busy. Can’t get through.”

Jim Ratledge, an 83-year-old Charleston resident, also turned to the Experian website, protectmyid.com/scdor, after several failed attempts to reach the call center.

Ratledge said he tried the site — two or three times a day since Friday — but it didn’t respond when he clicked to redeem the code. He is now awaiting an email response from Experian customer service.

Ratledge, who retired after 40 years with Allstate Insurance, can’t believe the state allowed this to happen to its residents’ 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. 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 Experian service includes credit-monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance for one year, as well as fraud resolution help for life.