In 2012, hackers infiltrated the S.C. Department of Revenue's computers, stealing financial information from millions of taxpayers that included credit card and Social Security numbers, but concerns about identity theft seem to have since faded away.
How else to explain the fact that fewer than 4 percent of roughly 6.4 million eligible taxpayers have signed up for a free identity theft protection service arranged by the state?
In fairness, I can't think of any reports directly linking the Department of Revenue breach with specific cases of fraud. And I'll admit, I didn't sign up for the free service myself until I started writing this column.
Still, I was surprised to learn that more than 96 percent of eligible taxpayers have not signed up for what amounts to some free insurance through the company CSID. Identity theft, if it strikes you, can be a financial nightmare.
When the Department of Revenue data breach was still fresh in people's minds roughly 1.4 million South Carolina taxpayers signed up for a free year of identity-theft protection and credit monitoring service the state offered through Experian, called ProtectMyID.
As that service, which cost the state $12 million, expired, South Carolina arranged for an additional year of identity-theft protection through Texas-based CSID. The CSID service does not offer everything that ProtectMyID did, such as free access to credit scores, but it does monitor credit reports and other records that could indicate if someone is trying to use your personal financial information.
Businesses, individuals and their dependents can still sign up for the service if they filed an electronic South Carolina tax return between 1998 and 2012. Coverage lasts through Oct. 31, regardless of when you sign up. To enroll, go to scidprotection.com or call 855-880-2743.
I created an account online in less than 5 minutes. Once you have an account, you can see if there has been recent activity on your TransUnion credit report, loans taken out in your name, address changes in your name, and other things including details of all the sex offenders living in your ZIP code.
The CSID service is free, but temporary. After Oct. 31, those who want such a service would have to pay for it, but there are free ways to monitor your credit.
Monitoring your credit helps protect your identity because you can tell if someone tries to borrow money using your name - a loan or a credit card account, for example.
After I signed up for my free CSID account, I also signed up for a free account with Credit Karma, and I was impressed by the result. Credit Karma (creditkarma.com) gives you free access to your credit score, alerts you to any changes to your credit reports, and offers handy tools that explain how the different aspects of your credit score rank, and why.
Credit Karma also explains how to improve your credit score and has a tool that indicates how different actions, such as opening a new credit card account or closing an old one, likely would change your score.
Now, under federal law, everyone can get free copies of their credit reports - one from each of the three major credit bureaus, once each year - but typically you have to pay a fee to get your all-important credit score. To get your free credit reports, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.
Credit Karma gives your credit score from TransUnion and your VantageScore, at no charge. This isn't one of those deals where it's initially free, but then they bill you. It's just free - no credit card information required.
Credit Karma makes its money by advertising services to its customers. The website suggests credit cards, home loans and other financial services.
So, the CSID service will monitor credit reports and other data for identity-theft protection at no charge, through Oct. 31. That service does not give you free credit reports or scores.
Credit Karma will provide your credit score, monitor your credit reports for changes, and offers helpful credit-related tools at no charge. It does not provide your credit reports.
Annualcreditreport.com gives you your credit reports for free, but not your credit score.
To monitor your credit reports frequently, you can order a free one from a different credit bureau every four months (one per credit bureau once per year).
There are plenty of free options out there to help protect your identity and your credit.
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