January 11

Government site had ID-theft potential

first_imgAbout one-third of the 2 million documents on file had the borrower’s name, address, Social Security number and signature. The other two-thirds of the documents were for loans to businesses rather than individuals. Bowen’s office said it was unclear how many of the documents may have been purchased through the site, but said on an average day, about 300 were viewed online. The documents were only available to account users, which are mostly financial institutions, although there are no restrictions on who can create an account. The Web site has about 1,500 regular users, an additional 28,000 casual users and 14 “bulk” users. Bowen said the issue shows the balance governments have to strike in providing the public with access to records while also protecting privacy rights. SACRAMENTO – Hundreds of thousands of Californians’ Social Security numbers have been made publicly available for the past three years on the secretary of state’s Web site, officials said Thursday. The personal information was removed from Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s Web site earlier this week after a state legislator notified her office of the situation and the vulnerability to identity theft. While officials said there is no evidence directly linking the release of the data to any particular incidents, such information is commonly used by identity thieves. The data were available in Uniform Commercial Code filings – documents that lenders file relating to collateral securing a loan. “Making government open, accessible, and Internet-friendly while simultaneously ensuring that people’s privacy is protected isn’t always easy to do,” Bowen said in a written statement. Identity theft is a growing crime in this country, and California has the third-highest rate of such crimes, according to the federal Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse. There were about 45,000 reports of identity theft in California in 2005, or 125 incidents for every 100,000 residents. Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, said the secretary of state records were available for sale over the Internet for $6 each from 2004 until earlier this week, “making this potentially the longest running government Internet breach in California’s history.” Jones alerted Bowen’s office to the breach and has authored legislation that would modify the forms so that the SSN is no longer requested. It also would prohibit the secretary of state from releasing full SSNs to the public. The bill would also put similar requirements on local governments, such as county registrars, that maintain records such as tax liens and civil judgments. Bowen, who took office in January, has been a crusader for privacy rights and protection against identity theft when she served in the state Legislature from 1992 to 2006. She wrote several bills on the subject, including measures to prevent businesses from using Social Security numbers as public identifiers for customers; preventing public colleges and universities from using Social Security numbers as student identifiers; and removing the printing of full credit card numbers on receipts. Lenny Goldberg, a representative of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit group based in San Diego, said identity theft has become more common because it is easy to commit and difficult to prosecute. “We’ve had victims who’ve come up to testify how difficult it is to find the perpetrator and to know where they got the data in the first place, because there’s so much out there on the (Internet),” he said. [email protected] (916) 446-6723 Preventing ID theft Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If your health plan (other than Medicare) or another card uses your Social Security number, ask for a different number. Scam artists “phish” for victims by pretending to be from banks, stores or government agencies. Don’t give out your personal information over the phone, in e-mails or in regular mail unless you made the initial contact. Don’t respond to a request to verify your account number or password. Monitor your credit history. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. One idea is to order from a different bureau every four months. Call (877) 322-8228 or see www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp. Source: California Office of Privacy Protection160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more