Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Government Social Security Numbers. Come and get 'Em!

Here is why identity theft is so rampant! (sent by one of my PhD students who is an ID theft specialist). From the Des Moines Register, September 2, 2008 -
Thousands of Iowans' Social Security numbers – including Gov. Chet Culver’s (right)– can be obtained online for free through a statewide Web site sponsored by elected officials.

The Web site,", includes home mortgage records and other documents from each of the state’s 99 counties. A national security watchdog is demanding the numbers immediately be redacted.

Access to Social Security numbers makes it easy for thieves to steal a person’s identity.

The Web site was launched in January 2005 by the Iowa County Recorders Association.

Records older than six years old commonly include Social Security numbers. Most newer documents do not include the numbers.

West Des Moines resident George Davey even found an old credit card number on one of his public documents posted on the Web site. After looking closer at the site, he was able to pull more than 50 Social Security numbers in less than an hour, including Culver’s and that of Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro.

“If I can get 50 Social Security Numbers in minutes, then just imagine how many a team of skilled hackers could get over a one month-long period,” Davey said. ”Hackers are not the cause of identity theft, careless government agencies and holders of information, are the cause. Imagine what they already have.”

Betty Ostergren, a Virginia resident who runs her own watchdog Web site, is demanding the state protect its residents and immediately redact the numbers from the site. Otherwise, she's threatened to post the mortgage documents that include Culver's and Mauro’s Social Security numbers.

Ostergren’s husband was a victim of identity theft several years ago. She advocates for reforms on her web site:

“I am willing to print all three of these documents and more that I have downloaded if that site doesn't get shut down,” Ostergren said. “If they only black out just a few Social Security numbers like these people's, that is wrong and unfair to people who have no clue this is going on. They need to protect all or no one’s.”

Officials from the county recorders association couldn’t immediately be reached but a project manager for the Web site said the group works aggressively to keep such information private. For example, some records such as tax liens are not available for download because they often include Social Security numbers, said Phil Dunshee.

Dunshee acknowledged that there are Social Security numbers posted in many of the older mortgage documents. He said his group will redact the numbers when requested.

“Obviously this is a very important source of concern. We take it seriously. That’s why we have the policies that we do,” Dunshee said.

Mauro said he is concerned about the situation, noting that his office has, for years, removed Social Security numbers from voting records.

Culver spokesman Troy Price said this morning he too is concerned. He said the governor's office would respond after further reviewing the situation.

Lawmakers this year passed a bill that allows Iowans to place a “security freeze” on credit information, prohibiting thieves from opening unauthorized accounts.
A separate bill mandates that Iowans are notified by businesses if there's an unauthorized release of their personal information, such as their Social Security number or credit card number.

State Sen. Steve Kettering, a Lake View Republican, worked on a committee that successfully pushed for the notification law. Iowa government should take the same steps and send letters to each citizen if their Social Security numbers have been made public, he said.

"I've always been a believer that government ought to do what it requires private enterprise to do," Kettering said. "If the state has put people at risk, the state should take that step."
This is why we need to activate the Public Sources Identity Theft Protection Training and Education Program (PSITPTAEP) that we have been urging state governments around the USA to implement! Our own governments at the local state and federal level are putting our confidential information out there so you don' even need to hack a web site!


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