Thursday, September 16, 2010

Identity Theft from Public Records?

In Shreveport, Louisiana, someone left documents containing residents' private information unattended in a public area of a city building.  A potential identity thief could have simply swiped someone's social security number, address and other information, and opened a line of credit in their name.  Here's a local news story:

KSLA News report

The incident in Shreveport is (hopefully) an isolated incident.  But I see a lot of cases where this happens in Ohio courts.  When a creditor or debt collector files a collection law suit, the collection lawyer often files a copy of a contract or account statement as an attachment to the complaint.  These documents are filed with the clerk of courts.  Sometimes, these documents contain the consumer's social security number.  Court rules require that a social security number, and some other private information, be redacted (covered up) before filing with the court.

But I've seen a lot of cases where the collection lawyer files a social security number, un-redacted, with a clerk of court.  Normally, documents filed with a clerk of courts are a public record, available to anyone, without question.  Many clerks go out of their way to correct this when it happens.  But when a social security number or other private information is filed in court, this creates an unacceptable risk of identity theft.  Many consumer rights attorneys believe that filing a consumer's social security number with a clerk of courts is unfair and violates consumer protection laws.

If you've been sued on a debt, take a look at the complaint and all the attachments.  If your social security number or other private information appears, you should notify the attorney who filed it and demand that they redact it or have it sealed by the judge (ordered not to be disclosed without a court order).  Of course, you should also consult with an attorney familiar with debt collection.

For more information about identity theft, see:

FTC Identity Theft website

US Department of Justice Identity Theft website

Ohio Attorney General's ID Theft website

Greg Reichenbach
Bluffton OH

No comments:

Post a Comment