South Carolina’s tax collection agency is asking victims of last year’s hacking to be patient and not renew their credit monitoring service just yet.
The announcement targets taxpayers who signed up for free credit protection through Experian last year after their sensitive information was compromised by a hacker who got into a South Carolina Department of Revenue database. South Carolina awarded Experian a $12 million emergency no-bid contract for the service last October.
But Experian did not bid for a second year of coverage. That means the company will begin charging $11.88 for a year of credit monitoring after next month. An email sent out last weekend to those currently enrolled in the program offered the option.
“We wanted to let you know that you are now eligible to renew your membership for just 99 cents a month,” the email said. “That’s less than $12 a year to extend the proven identity protection that you have come to know and trust.”
But the state Budget & Control Board is still in the process of awarding a $10 million contract that would allow victims to continue with their free credit protection under a new company. Officials hope to award that contract next week. That means taxpayers who stay with Experian would be paying twice for the protection, once taxes are factored in.
“It is our goal to protect the private information of South Carolina citizens, and we want to ensure that individuals are aware of the state provided credit and identity theft protection available for a second year,” DOR Director Bill Blume said in a statement Tuesday.
The DOR encouragement came as many South Carolina lawmakers question how state officials are going to notify the approximately 1.5 million people who signed up for the Experian protection.
“I think the important thing is that people understand they don’t have to renew this monitoring service with Experian,” State Sen. Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) told South Carolina Radio Network. “If they’ll just hold off for a little bit, then that service is going to be provided to people.”
A DOR spokeswoman would not say if the agency had further plans to alert residents about the change in companies. For now, all communications with those enrolled in the protection are handled by Experian.
State Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson) says he’s concerned many residents won’t know about the switch. “Experian has this database where they can market to individuals. I don’t have a way to contact my 100,000 constituents to tell them to wait,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “This is what I was afraid of last year, when we spent $12 million with them, was they would have this advantage.”
State Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia) called the situation “massive chaos.” He criticized Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration for not getting the word out earlier about free protection. “I really wish the governor would set up a hotline with the Department of Revenue and get in front of this,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Give people some explanation as to what they should do.”
Bryant and Massey said they would try to reach out to constituents through town halls and emails and warn them not to purchase the additional Experian service until first reviewing whatever new company is hired next week. Bryant acknowledged that some residents may wish to stay with Experian to avoid giving sensitive information to a second company.
The current contract expires on October 24.
Experian officials said they decided not to participate in the bidding process because they felt $10 million was not enough for them to meet South Carolina’s requirements. “(T)he marketing, service and product delivery requirements of the State were extensive compared to current limitations of the State appropriated budget,” spokesman Greg Young said in an email.