SLADE COLUMN: Hackers struck. Now what?

Everyone who lives in South Carolina should assume hackers have their Social Security numbers and possibly credit or debit card numbers.

The massive data breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue is a matter of concern, but itís not a reason to panic.

Hackers steal financial information all the time. There are precautions to take that would be a good idea any time.

Itís also a chance to get a free year of credit monitoring.

The easiest thing to deal with is compromised credit and debit card numbers, which in this case could be cards used to pay state taxes. If you fear your credit or debit card was compromised, call the issuer and get a card with a new number.

If someone makes fraudulent charges on your credit card, your liability under federal law is limited to $50, and many have a zero-liability policy.

Debit cards can carry greater liability and can potentially be used to drain a bank account.

Social Security numbers are another issue. They can potentially be used to open fraudulent financial accounts or claim false tax refunds, but you cannot change a Social Security number without evidence of ongoing problems due to misuse.

But there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Scammers

First, watch out for scam artists who may use South Carolinaís data breach as an opportunity to exploit peopleís fears.

If you get a phone call and someone tells you he needs your account information or passwords due to suspected fraud, donít give it. Financial and government institutions will not call asking for such information.

If you did not initiate the call, donít give sensitive information over the phone.

Likewise, itís common to receive emails that appear to be from banks, credit card companies and other institutions.

They might say something like ďyour account is about to be frozenĒ or ďyour password has been stolenĒ or something else meant to alarm you. Those emails will often ask you to click a website link ó a link designed to steal your information by directing you to an authentic-looking website to enter account numbers and passwords, or by introducing a computer virus.

If you receive an email warning and you think it may be legitimate, contact your institution directly or visit their regular website.

Credit monitoring

Due to South Carolinaís data breach, the state is offering a free year of Experianís ProtectMyID service. Sign up at protectmyid.com/scdor with activation code SCDOR123, or call 866-578-5422.

Services such as Experianís donít so much protect you from identity theft as they help you protect yourself. ProtectMyID will let you know of attempts to obtain credit in your name, for example. If someone does steal your identity, the service offers assistance with resolving ID theft problems.

Signing up gives you immediate access to your Experian credit report. Under federal law, you can review all your credit reports at no cost once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228.

Regularly monitoring credit reports, bank statements, and credit and debit accounts is your front-line defense. If you want to go further, you can place a fraud alert with credit reporting agencies.

Fraud alerts

A 90-day fraud alert tells potential credit issuers to take additional steps to confirm your identity. Call Equifax at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 or TransUnion at 800-680-7289. You only have to call one, because the other two will be notified.

An additional step would be to put a security freeze in place with the credit bureaus. A security freeze blocks credit issuers from viewing your reports, and you would have to lift a freeze in order to take out a loan or sign up for new bank or credit card accounts.

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