RETURN TO HOMEPAGE OF THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
09/18/05 WARREN COUNTY, VA AND KING GEORGE COUNTY, VA CIRCUIT COURT CLERKS PUT CITIZENS' RECORDS AT RISK... They're available online again.
In unbelievably stupid moves, two Virginia Circuit Court Clerks - Charles V. "Vic" Mason of King George County, VA and Jennifer R. Sims of Warren County, VA are making their citizens' records available online again. Unbeknownst to most people in their respective counties, Mason went back online in July of this year and Sims went back online in 2004. Here's one record that Mason has put online...
Both of those counties' sites were shut down in 2002 due to public outrage over such personal (albeit public) information being made available in the Clerk's records - the very records that Clerks take an oath to protect which are recorded in their offices for safe keeping. Millions of those records all over Virginia contain Social Security numbers, dates of birth, signatures, and other very personal information like the info in Final Divorce decrees as do records held by Clerks in every other state.
Jennifer Sims was elected in 2003 to complete retiring Circuit Court Clerk William Hall's, 8 year term. Hall was the Clerk at the time when BJ Ostergren sent out hundreds of letters to people telling them their Social Security number and other personal information was online thanks to Hall. Those letters were mailed from Richmond, VA on Dec. 4th, 2002 and because of snow, they were slow to arrive in Warren. The outcry and outrage of the citizens who got that letter caused Hall to shut the site down by Dec. 9, 2002.
Back in 2002, King George's Clerk, "Vic" Mason, was using the county's website to put his records online and letters were sent into the county by Ostergren telling the citizens their records were available on the internet. Since he was using the County's website to "host" his internet records, the Board of Supervisors shut his site down on Oct. 15, 2002 after a contentious hearing where they heard from Mrs. Ostergren who addressed the Board and then they questioned Mason. Every Board member at that time had a document recorded in the Clerk's office with SSNs on it - mostly on mortgage papers (Deeds of Trust).
But it has just been discovered by The Virginia Watchdog that Clerk Sims and Clerk Mason have both put the records back up online for remote access. For $25 a month ANYONE can sign up and sit in their homes 24/7 and dig for private information and SSNs in Warren County's site and for $100 a month ANYONE can sign up to access the tens and tens of thousands of SSNs in the King George Clerk's site!!! All ANYONE has to do to have remote access to this treasure trove of SSNs is to give a notarized signature, address, and pay the fee and they're in like Flint. Then from the privacy of thier home or office ANYONE can sit there 24/7 and print out records containing SSNs.
When asked by The Virginia Watchdog on 9/13/05 how many people are into the Warren remote access site, Sims answered, "Eight." Mason has 20+ subscribers. So for eight people these Warren records are available again online. For eight people, Sims has put all those records at risk. And for 20+, Mason has put his citizens' records at risk in King George County.
How many of those people have shared their password even though they're not supposed to? Maybe none, but since the Clerk cannot deny ANYONE from signing up, then what's to stop one person from acting as a "front person" for a group of identity thieves? Nothing. Or what's to stop one person from signing up and then printing out and selling the SSNs and other private info like minor children's names and DOBS to his friends/terrorists/stalkers/pedophiles? Nothing. In this time of identity theft, you'd think both of these people would have exhibited better common sense.
It's time to get our legislators to change the law and prohibit these records from being made available online. After all there is a vast difference between sitting in one's home digging in those records 24/7 for SSNs and having to drive to the courthouse during working hours and finding them. Let people put forth a little effort if they want to steal identities, snoop, etc. There have been cases of identity theft in states where the identity thief was caught and admitted he got the SSNs off the Clerks' sites.
So to get into a veritable treasure trove of Social Security numbers which are on many financing statements (UCCs), deeds of trust, name change documents (which are generally found in final divorce decrees), state and federal tax liens, overdue student loan liens, child support liens, powers of attorneys, judgments, etc. just sign up. VA law requires that the records shall be open to everyone. (COV 17.1-208) and no difference can be made between paper records and electronic records per former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore in this opinion rendered in December of 2002. The only records a person cannot get into or have access to are sealed court documents, but one VA Clerk even had several of those online.
Sims nor Mason apparently are proud of what they are doing since neither have a website telling the public they are online and neither one has the application/agreement one has to complete to get into the sites online. For an example of what I mean, here are links to Norfolk and Fairfax where those clerks have everything they are supposed to have online telling people how to get into their websites and people's records/business since they offer these records by remote access also. Apparently, they know the public will be outraged when they find out these records are available via the internet again.
You can get the application from Mason by calling him at 540-775-3322. Sims can be reached at 540-635-2435.
The Virginia Watchdog just discovered this report published in April 2005 found here which states this fact about Warren. Although the report has some erroneous information in it, it's worth reading because it states when all the Circuit Court Clerks in VA will be going online with our records/lives/personal information or already are online which 14 out of 120 are. The erroneous information is found on page two at the bottom in footnote #3 where it states what a "land record" is. "Land records" are not just "deeds, deeds of trust, maps, and plats." No, "land records" is an all encompassing term meaning much more. The definition of "land records" as it refers to these records is found in the report from 1998 that they cite in that footnote. (Look on Page 49 in the middle of the top paragraph) which is linked here. "Land records" means almost every record recorded in Clerk's ofice. (Click here for a list of types of "Land Records." )
But shouldn't people have to drive to the courthouse to see this private (albeit public) information? Why should these Clerks be spoon feeding criminals since those SSNs are all over the place in those records? And why should children's names be shown online in final divorce decrees which contain "name change documents" which are considered a "land record?"
It's because our Virginia General Assembly without thinking of the "unintended consequences" in 1997 unanimously voted to allow the clerks to put these records online. Here's the bill from back then, and here are the votes by the Senate and the House.
In 2003, Del. Sam Nixon put in a bill that could have brought the whole online records mess to an end but even though his bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, our Virginia Senate gutted/trashed his bill and made it totally worthless. Read about how it happened here and see who was behind making that bill worthless. The hearings are on TAPE to prove what is written in that article...
To see how much your Circuit Court Clerk has expended on this online records mess from 1998 thru 2004 go to this other report and start reading at Page 22. And remember the citizens have paid this Technology Trust Fund fee everytime they have filed something at the Clerk's office like a deed or mortgage document, etc...
WHAT CAN YOU DO? CONTACT YOUR DELEGATE AND SENATOR AND DEMAND A BILL THAT WILL PROHIBIT INTERNET ACCESS FOR THESE RECORDS. Tell them to repeal the law they passed in 1997 allowing internet access to the records.