D’Shonda Edmondson never left Charleston County Wednesday, so she knows it wasn’t her who racked up a $700 tab on her dime at a French nightclub some 4,000 miles away.
The mother of two can’t be sure the bogus charges on her bank card are tied to the recent cyber-attack on state computers that have placed millions of South Carolina taxpayers at risk. But the timing is mighty suspicious, she said.
“I don’t understand how this could’ve happened,” she said. “Now I have to wait until these transactions post before I can get reimbursed from my bank.”
Edmondson discovered that her card had been violated while checking her bank account. She didn’t use the card to pay taxes. In fact, she got a refund last year.
State officials have said they still are trying to determine the extent of the breach and what information was stolen from the 3.6 million people whose personal data was exposed.
Edmondson alerted her bank and checked in with Experian, the company hired by the state to provide a year of free credit monitoring to those affected. She wasn’t sure how to report the theft to law enforcement, which agency to call, or if anyone was tracking fraud associated with the breach.
Others contacted The Post and Courier with similar concerns Thursday. The state has been urging people to sign up with Experian or, in the case of up to 657,000 affected businesses, Dun & Bradstreet, for monitoring.
But little had been said about who to contact to pursue the criminals if and when the actual fraud occurs. People wondered if they should call their local police, the State Law Enforcement Division or the Secret Service, which has been working with SLED and has international connections.
State officials had to do some checking themselves on this issue when contacted Thursday. Late in the day, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said people who want to report fraud resulting from the tax-record breach can call SLED’s main number at 803-737-9000 and they will be directed to the agency’s computer crimes unit. Some already have done so, he said.
“We’ve started getting some calls from people worried about whether they have been victims,” Berry said.
Experts warn that scam artists follow the news and try to take advantage of any openings they can to prey on people. Some suspect that is already happening here.
A Mount Pleasant woman got a disturbing call this week from a foreign-sounding person who claimed to be with Medicare and wanted to know her bank account number. He hung up when she questioned him.
Another reader passed along an email he received, supposedly from Discover, warning him about “significant recent transfers” on his card and directing him to a website to register for information. He knew it was a scam because he doesn’t hold a Discover card.
Gov. Nikki Haley said she knows firsthand the seriousness of fraud and identity theft. So when a reporter asked people on Twitter to share their stories of being victimized, the governor called The Post and Courier to talk about her own experiences with a credit card thief.
Haley said she and her husband, Michael, discovered in 2004 that someone they didn’t know had gained access to one of their seldom-used credit cards. That person piled up fraudulent charges at out-of-state stores, mostly buying electronic items and the like, she said.
“The next thing we knew, we had a $16,000 credit card bill for things we had not charged,” she said.
Haley said the credit card company seemed more interested in getting its money than in helping her and her husband, even though they had not signed for the purchases. The company sent the matter to a collection agency, which hounded them for payment, and the solid credit rating they had worked so hard to attain took a beating, she said.
“It hurt our credit rating, the interest rates went up on our cards,” she said. “It was horrible.”
Haley said she and her husband finally hired a lawyer to help them fight back and be absolved of the fraudulent debt. Still, it took them years before the mess was cleaned up and their credit rating restored, she said.
Haley said that’s why she has been so adamant about people registering with Experian, which will monitor their credit for a year and provide ongoing help with resolving fraudulent charges. “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we went through,” she said.
Edmondson, stuck with the $700 French bar tab, also doesn’t want to go through what Haley endured. She is very worried about her kids’ personal information being compromised as well.
She feels the state has put too much onus on taxpayers to be vigilant, while still not telling them whether their specific information has been compromised and to what extent.
“If we had this information ahead of time we could have contacted our banks and had them issue new cards,” she said. “Our state government needs to do more.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.