20 Mar Wisconsin–Protect our Social Security numbers. Protect our identity.
The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that identity theft complaints increased 20% in 2008 compared to 2007. Reports from Wisconsin residents soared almost 30%.
The number one identity theft prevention tip is “Protect your Social Security Number.” The FTC, FBI, State of Wisconsin Offices of Privacy Protection and Attorney General all heed the same irrefutable advice. Yet, local governments, particularly counties including Dane, facilitate Web access to our Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to anyone on the planet?
A Government Accounting Office report SSNs–Governments Could Do More to Reduce Display in Public Records,” concluded SSNs on the Internet create a broad vulnerability to identity theft.
I produced a video to educate consumers, which has received international attention. The video illustrates how simple it is to access SSNs on county Web sites. Consumer awareness and media attention has led several states to enact laws requiring county recorders to redact or truncate SSNs that appear on new and historical public records. Some states hold recorders legally accountable.
I spoke on identity theft, privacy and information protection for the Dane County Towns Association in the spring of 2007. The Dane County Register of Deeds, responsible for Web access to public records, was present. I formally introduced a guest, whose Madison Company received the Governor’s Top New Product Award for automated software and services, which many counties use to redact SSNs from public records.
Over a month ago, I discovered that SSNs were accessible through the Dane County Web site. I immediately notified the County Executive, briefing her on the risks to taxpayers and to herself. The county’s out-of-state software vendor proactively contacted me to discuss the problem after reading a news article. Yet, the county has been silent.
We should be disappointed and concerned over Dane County’s lack of attention to this financial and privacy risk, especially in light of the county’s proclaimed commitment to public safety and financial stewardship. Web access to records containing SSNs poses unnecessary privacy and identity theft risks to many, particularly to small business owners.
It appears that only a small percentage of mortgages show a SSN, so most homeowners are not likely at risk. The greatest vulnerability appears to be business owners, landlords and farmers who signed UCC-1 Financing Statements before 2000; and anyone who has ever had a Federal Tax Lien filed against them. These records are available on the Web.
A responsible solution is to restrict Web access immediately. Then, the county board must approve a reasonable and appropriate plan to protect our SSNs.
Online sources of SSNs are no secret to thieves, as some may naively assume. Thieves know about Web access–it’s been all over the Web and in government reports for years. However most consumers don’t know, and today’s approach by the county seems intent on continuing to suppress awareness.
Now you are aware to take action by contacting your state and county representatives and request that they practice what they have been telling us–”Protect Our Social Security Number.”
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.