Identity theft could happen to any one of us at any time. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), about 9 million Americans become victims of identity theft every year. Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses this information to commit further crimes. The type of personal information typically stolen includes social security numbers and credit card numbers. These thieves may use your stolen identity to write bad checks under your name, take out loans, apply for credit cards, get government benefits, or even get a job.
Identity theft is such a serious crime because it can damage your reputation, finances, and credit history. In fact, it was found that some of the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11 had actually opened bank accounts and rented apartments using stolen identities.
Retrieving your social security number is usually the key ingredient for thieves to perpetrate their crimes. We are often required to provide our social security numbers to financial institutions or government agencies for various services. Employers may also request social security numbers for their records. In many cases, social security number can be found on public records such as land records or records from court cases. As such, while the federal and local governments have been working hard to create easy access to public records, they have also had to work on protecting social security numbers.
In 2001, the federal courts banned social security numbers from appearing on documents that would become public records. Furthermore, many states, including Maryland and Virginia, have enacted their own laws that prohibit certain personal information from being placed on documents filed with their courts or government agencies. However, one problem with these new laws is that they may only apply to documents filed after a certain date. Thus, any documents filed before the law was enacted could still reveal social security numbers. As such, many states have taken an additional step to redact social security numbers from their records. It can be a costly procedure for the government to go through records and redact information, but it is a price worth pay for. In 2006 the Macomb County in Michigan spent over $400,000 to redact social security numbers from 4.8 million property records. This week, another Michigan County, Oakland County, announced that it would be redacting social security numbers from all photocopies of public documents. In 2007, California passed a bill that required agencies to redact social security numbers from documents before making them available to view by the public. Even in states that do not have laws mandating redaction, there options for citizens to request that their social security numbers be redacted from public records. For example, in Arizona, the Arizona Revised Statute § 11-461, allows people to request that their number be redacted from records that are available on the Internet. In cases such as these, it is recommended that you perform records searches under your name to determine whether you social security number appears in records relating to you.
If you are concerned about the availability of your social security number to the public, visit the Free Public Records Directory to access public record search resources. This website provides access to dozens of public record types, including land records, business records, and vital records.