COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday she was a victim of identity theft about a decade ago, explaining her push to get people signed up for credit monitoring following the massive security breach at South Carolina's revenue agency.
The Republican governor said the theft caused her family years of exasperation and harassment from collection agencies. While she never paid the $16,000 fraudulently charged to an inactive card, her credit rating plummeted, causing her to spend more on car and home loans and her credit card interest rates to go up, plus attorney fees.
“It was a 10-year nightmare. It's the reason you've seen me be so passionate,” Haley told The Associated Press. “I don't want anybody else to go through what we'd gone through. In all that time, people called and harassed and were hateful on the phone. They didn't care that someone had stolen my identity. That was somebody else's problem.”
Haley is urging residents to sign up for a state-paid service through Experian that provides a year of alerts to any newly opened account and lifetime of over-the-phone help to theft victims. That post-event assistance is especially valuable, she said.
“We didn't have any sort of fraud resolution,” Haley said about her and her husband, Michael. “All we had was a credit card company working for them and us by ourselves.”
State officials announced a week ago that a hacker accessed about 3.6 million personal tax returns filed since 1998. Days later, Haley announced that up to 657,000 business filings were also compromised. The Experian service will cost the state up to $12 million, under a contract Haley negotiated. Consumer advocates advise residents to proactively check their records, even after signing up for the service, since it can't prevent identity theft, nor can it catch it all.
Haley said her nightmare began when she happened to check online the account of a dormant card and discovered a stranger's name and out-of-state address. She said after calling the company to remove the name, she was hit with a $16,000 credit card bill.
“Instead of helping us, they immediately started demanding payments and sent us to collections,” despite never producing signed receipts of purchases, she said. She still doesn't know when the card's address was changed, who did it, or how long the thefts occurred.
Each time the debt was sold to a different bank, the harassment began anew.
The Haleys eventually hired an attorney, finally ending the intimidating calls a couple of years ago, she said.
She thought the ordeal was over, until she realized just this week that the debt remains on her credit. The Haleys again had to explain the matter, in writing, as part of their home refinancing.
“I know people are looking for someone to blame,” she said of the Department of Revenue breach. “My first priority is I don't want anybody to suffer.”
Haley was still dealing with the theft in 2008 when the Legislature passed a consumer protection law that allows residents, at no cost, to freeze and unfreeze their credit, which can be costly in other states. Haley said then she wished the law were in place five years earlier before her identity was stolen.