New Identity Theft Unit to launch post SCDOR data breach

Published: Sep. 26, 2013 at 11:40 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2013 at 11:52 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – A new Identity Theft Unit designed to help consumers protect their privacy will launch next Tuesday at the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs.

At the close of this year's legislative session, a new identity theft protection law was passed. In it was the green light for consumer affairs to add four new employees solely dedicated to address Identity Theft concerns.

The unit is being implemented close to a year after millions of South Carolinians learned their personal information had been compromised through a data breach at the Department of Revenue.

"It's exciting, I think we've seen the need for it here after the Department of Revenue breach," said Marti Phillips, the new program director for the Identity Theft Unit.

In addition to Phillips' position, the Identity Theft Unit includes a program coordinator and two administrative assistants.

"During the aftermath of the Department of Revenue breach, we had staff who were handling their day to day job duties, as well as, handling the telephone calls that were coming from consumers," said Carri Grube Lybarker, the administrator for the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The SCDCA says there were 33,000 calls to agency's main 800 number just from November of last year until March of 2013. The department's phone bill was 10 times higher than usual in January of 2013 than in previous years. Now six months later, the calls about identity theft concerns have continued. "Unfortunately it's kind of the day and age that we're living in right now," said Lybarker.

Consumer Affairs officials say South Carolina ranks 17th in the nation for Identity Theft complaints. The ranking has increased from 36th in 2005. Lybarker says it could be because more people are aware of how to report complaints, but it could also be because there are more identity theft crimes. Either way, that's where the agency is hoping the new unit will step in.

"Whether it's somebody who's just looking for information to prevent and deter identity theft or if it's for that person who believes they have been a victim or somebody has been subject to the security breach…they can contact us, and we can guide them through the process of mitigating the circumstances," added Lybarker.

While the Department of Revenue data breach brought attention to ID theft concerns, consumer affairs officials say the need for a unit like this has existed for some time. "Even before the Department of Revenue breach occurred, our office had received 84 security breach notices that affected more than one million South Carolina consumers during a three year period," said Lybarker.

Now the hope is that consumers not only know to call consumer affairs, but can trust there's a group of people dedicated to helping them through an ID theft crisis. "I think it will be nice to have someone's name and someone's direct line that they can contact back with any additional questions," said Lybarker.

Lybarker says the original proposal for the Identity Theft Unit included 10 full-time employees with the hopes that the unit could mediate on behalf of the consumer. The final identity theft protection law gave the department four new employees dedicated to the unit. "Now that it's four full-time employees, we can't engage in the direct assistance, but we can engage in the guidance and providing information on the state and federal laws that are available to the consumer," added Lybarker.

Lybarker says the additional employees are a bonus for the department which saw 40 percent of its workforce cut back in 2009. "Adding any kind of new employees to be able to provide a service is a great feat for our office," said Lybarker.

The Identity Theft Unit goes live in less than a week on October 1st, which means they will be up and running to help consumers navigate the transition between Experian's Protect My ID coverage and the newly contracted CSIdentity.

If you want to talk to someone in the Identity Theft Unit come October 1st, call the main line at the Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 922-1594.