• SC continues handling fallout after tax records hacked

    By: Greg Suskin

    Updated:

    ROCK HILL, S.C. - Donna Jackson just received an email that she never dreamed she'd see.

    "I thought it was a joke at first," Jackson said.

    The email was alerting her that she is one of the millions of South Carolina taxpayers whose personal information was exposed to hackers last fall.

    Over the last month, the state has been notifying victims, either by letter or by email that their information was compromised.

    Last fall, an employee at the S.C. Department of Revenue accidentally opened a malicious phishing email. That email allowed hackers access to millions of tax records, exposing Social Security and bank account information for nearly four million taxpayers and their dependents.

    The records of more than half a million businesses were also exposed.

    The fallout led to resignations in the department and millions of dollars spent to encrypt the data and upgrade computers.

    The state paid $12 million to Experian, a credit monitoring service, to give free monitoring to all victims for a full year.

    Now, state senators Kevin Bryant and Billy O'Dell have co-sponsored a bill to extend that free credit monitoring for up to a decade.

    "The state dropped the ball. We failed our citizens," Bryant said. "I don't know why the Department of Revenue was so reckless with all that data, but they were."

    Bryant said it could cost the state up to $100 million to pay for 10 years of free credit monitoring for so many people. Tax filer's data was exposed going all the way back to 1998.

    Rock Hill taxpayer Judy White says the state should take on the entire cost.

    "I just think the state should pay for it all, period. They're the ones who lost it. They're the ones who caused the breach," she said.

    Since the breach, victims have had the opportunity to sign up with Experian and get alerts on any credit checks if they happen. So far, state officials don't believe any of the stolen information has been used.

    Still, Jackson said those alerts only show up after something has happened, and that's too late.

    "By then they could rip you off by thousands of dollars, or could get thousands of dollars of credit, in your name," she said.

    Bryant said in addition to extended credit monitoring, tax credits could be offered for people to pay for credit monitoring if they don't want to sign up for the state system.

    There are also plans to upgrade the state's computers and software across multiple agencies, as well as add more watchdogs to keep a closer eye on the security of personal data that the government uses.

    "The government has to protect its citizens," Bryant said, "and we didn't' do that."

    The Bryant-O'Dell bill could reach the Senate floor for a full vote by next week.


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