COLUMBIA ó We know, we know: Itís been a hectic few months. Youíve been busy. And thereís still time. But as long as thereís time, thereís time to forget. So now that the holidays are winding down and you have Ė or soon will have Ė your official notification from the state informing you that youíve been hacked, itís time to act.


Whether you think of it as a New Yearís resolution or simply an item for the to-do list, hereís a smart way to start 2013: Sign up for the services the state of South Carolina is providing to help protect us after allowing the Social Security and bank account numbers and other sensitive data of 6.4 million consumers and businesses to be exposed to hackers.


The yearís worth of credit-monitoring that the state is paying Experion to provide might or might not be worth anything, as itís unlikely that hackers will use this sort of stolen data so quickly. But Gov. Nikki Haley and the Legislature will be under tremendous pressure to continue spending our tax money to provide monitoring beyond the first year, so itís good to go ahead and get in the protection pipe-line.


Beyond that, the state will be trying to convince people to sign up who havenít, and likely as not it will spend more of our tax money to do it. By signing up now, we save ourselves the money it would cost us to track us down.


Perhaps more importantly, signing up for the temporary taxpayer-provided credit monitoring gets us credit-resolution assistance for life. If you become a victim of identify theft, an Experion agent will walk you through the fraud-resolution process.


But as that implies, credit monitoring doesnít prevent identity theft; it alerts us to it sooner than might otherwise be the case, and the resolution service makes it a little less painful to recover. To reduce your chance of being victimized, youíll need to consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. This should prevent anyone from taking out a loan or opening a credit card in your name.


Of course, it also means youíll have to temporarily lift the freeze if you want to apply for credit, but that might be an inconvenience worth living with under the circumstances.


To learn how to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report, and to get tips about other ways to protect yourself, go to the state Consumer Affairsí website Ė www.consumer.sc.gov Ė and select ďConsumer Alert: Special Edition Ė Identity Theft.Ē


To sign up for the Experion credit monitoring and credit-resolution service, go to protectmyid.com/scdor and enter the code SCDOR123 when prompted. Or call 1-866-578-5422.


Experion will ask for your Social Security number and other personal information when you sign up; this is normal. What is not normal is for the state or anyone else who is acting legitimately to contact you and ask for that sort of information; if anyone does, do not provide it.


Businesses sign up for protection from Dun & Bradstreet at dandb.com/sc/ or 1-800-279-9881 and from Experian at smartbusiness reports.com/SouthCarolina.


Individuals and families have until March 31 to sign up for free credit monitoring, but the sooner you sign up, the sooner your data will be monitored.