Identity theft can haunt you for years

If you're among those who have had your identity stolen in the South Carolina Department of Revenue's cyber attack, your first indication may be strange charges showing up on your credit card account.

From that point on, it can take months or even years for you to get your financial life back in order.

The most common line of attack for identity thieves is to use your personal information to apply for credit cards and of course, you won't know that until it's too late.

"They may be clever enough to change the address so that the card is sent directly to the criminal and the victim can be unaware of it," said Barbara Marshall of South Atlantic Bank.

Your name and Social Security number are key pieces of information you use to file your income tax return. An identity thief can use those for multiple things.

"Theoretically, somebody could file a fraudulent tax return, have a refund direct-deposited to their account in your name," said Myrtle Beach CPA James McIlrath.

Also, brokerage accounts can be opened and loans taken out without your knowledge.

McIlrath says there's enough other personal information publicly available, like on your Facebook page, a clever identity thief could literally take over your life.

"You've heard stories about people that have houses in places where they've never been and mortgages with those houses," he said.

McIlrath advises his clients to check their credit reports at least 3 times a year and immediately report any fraudulent charges.

Don't assume you're in the clear, if nothing suspicious shows up within a few months after a security breach, like the one at the Department of Revenue.

McIlrath says a smart thief might wait a year or more before using your identity.

"Once that information's out there, we don't change our Social Security numbers, we don't change our name, so that information is out there and around, so you're going to want to be very protective of your credit and what's going on with it."

The security breach affects anyone who has filed a tax return in South Carolina since 1998.

McIlrath says he's worried about people who have moved out of the state since then and haven't heard about the security breach.

If you know people like that, he says you should tell them about it right now, so they can check their accounts immediately.