Unit director Marti Phillips says, "The most common has been tax identity theft, so people using your information to file a fraudulent tax return to get your refund. Then you go to file your taxes and you realize somebody's already done it, beaten you to the punch."

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) South Carolina residents have been keeping the state's new Identity Theft Unit busy, with its four employees answering 3,766 calls since the unit was launched last October. It was created after hackers got into the state Department of Revenue's computers and stole the personal information of 3.6 million taxpayers.

Unit director Marti Phillips says, "The most common has been tax identity theft, so people using your information to file a fraudulent tax return to get your refund. Then you go to file your taxes and you realize somebody's already done it, beaten you to the punch."

She says the best defense against that is to file your taxes as early as possible. If you are the victim of tax identity theft you will be able to get your refund eventually, which means all taxpayers pay for those ID thieves who file fraudulent returns.

The unit provides information to identity theft victims. "We can't act on their behalf but we can definitely make sure they notify the right people, and that there's no silver bullet. There's no, 'Oh, all I have to do is monitor my credit reports.' That's just one tool available. You have to monitor financial accounts. You have to monitor your mail. You have to monitor your EOBs from insurance companies to make sure somebody's not using your information to get health care," Phillips says.

She says the next most common types of ID theft they see are financial, meaning someone using your debit or credit cards or using your information to get new cards, and then government benefits fraud, where someone uses your information to get benefits like food stamps or unemployment benefits.

There have been no confirmed reports of anyone becoming an identity theft victim because of the DOR hacking, but only because it's almost impossible to determine where an ID thief got the information he's using, Phillips says.

"Even if you have somebody file taxes using your information and it's kind of right after one breach, you don't know how long someone had your information, they sold it and they sold it again and then someone used it. So it's really hard to track and pinpoint which breach," she says.

You can contact the state Identity Theft Unit online at http://www.consumer.sc.gov/consumer/IdentityTheft/Pages/default.aspx or by phone at 1-800-922-1594.

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