THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
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WHAT IS THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG WEBSITE ALL ABOUT?
The Virginia Watchdog website - which is NON-PARTISAN (we go after all stupid legislators) is about "public" records which contain SSNs, DOBs, home addresses, mother's maiden names, minor children's names, signatures, health information, and financial account numbers being made available online by the following state agencies: Court Clerks, Recorders, Registers of Deeds, and Secretaries of State. Our mission is to get people to realize that this is happening all over this country - not just Virginia - and that they and their identities and personal welfare are at risk. Fifty nine Virginia Circuit Court Clerks are offering access to the records via the internet.
Why have states' legislators allowed the records held by those elected officials to be made available online when you used to have to travel to the courthouse to see them? Answer: to serve "special interests." Those records used to enjoy "practical obscurity" within the four walls of courthouses, but no more. You have left a paper trail in any place you have lived so your info soon will be available in anyone's home since it is "public" record. But should it be that easy to see?
WHERE IS IT HAPPENING?
ANSWER: All over this country. Almost every state is in the process of putting these records online if they haven't already.
Click here to see examples of legislators' and others' PUBLIC records with SSNs on them that have been made available via the internet already in many states and also for links to certain sites spoon feeding criminals. If the people whose records are among the examples are (or were) online with their SSNs on them, then yours is, too, if it's on a public record like a deed, final divorce decree, guardianship paper, power of attorney, judgment, state or federal tax lien, death certificate (like in Arizona), UCC, etc.
In one county that we know of in particular in FLORIDA, the Court Clerk even has car license plate numbers, height, date of birth, and Driver's License numbers on his "courts" site right under names and home addresses!
Only Florida and NC allow redaction of SSNs right now on the internet record. But it's not only SSNs that should NOT be available in people's homes. Just the fact that the records have home addresses and signatures on them make them dangerous to have online. A signature can be "captured" right off a computer screen and then misused by anyone to wreak havoc on your life.
Some states are worse than others about the amount of records that have been put online already with personal info in them. And some Clerks and Secretaries of State have already pulled records off the internet because they contain SSNs and other personal info. To find out how this happened in VA, please read this...
In Virginia, lawmakers passed a special law to allow internet access to the Circuit Court Clerk's records without any forethought to the unintended consequences of making those records available online and many Clerks in Virginia are already offering "remote access" right now to a veritable treasure trove of SSNs, minor children's names, mothers' maiden names, DOBs, digital signatures, and financial account numbers.
Most people do not have a clue that a "governmental" agency is exposing their SSN via the internet in these records, but because those SSNs are on public records, ANYONE can have access to them. Here's Virginia's law about access. However, Virginia lawmakers are supposed to take up the question of redaction of just the SSNs in January 2007 when the General Assembly meets again. But what about the other personal info on the records?
WHY IS IT DANGEROUS TO HAVE THE RECORDS AVAILABLE VIA THE INTERNET?
Identity theft is rampant all over this country and there have been linked cases of ID theft to online records. And mortgage fraud is rampant, too.
BJ Ostergren, founder of The Virginia Watchdog, has had her fingertips on literally millions of SSNs on these sites along with other personal pieces of information like children's names, etc. She has actually printed out or downloaded 18,000+ SSNs and taken the time to call many people and tell them. She has also sent out a few thousand letters telling people their elected officials have put the SSNs on the internet. But it takes time to wake the public up to what's going on. She needs to be on Oprah Winfrey or some other national show where people can learn about this and help stop it and get the records back into the safety of the four walls of the courthouses.
These court records are also a good source for pedophiles esp. if final divorce decrees are available online like they are in Virginia (and some other states) on the Circuit Court Clerks' (or Recorders') remote access systems showing children's names and their personal info in final divorce decrees.
So it's just not financial ruin that can come from this idiocy of spoon feeding criminals. Burglary, stalking, kidnapping, rape, or murder can happen as a result of someone reading your personal (albeit public) records on their home computer. You could also be thrown in jail if someone uses your identity to commit a crime and here's a Washington Post story about how one man was a victim.
And these records also endanger every cop, prison guard, FBI agent, CIA agent, Secret Service agent, Doctor, nurse, judge, celebrity, single/abused woman, etc. who has a record filed in one of these systems that ANYONE can get into from their home computer. If they own property, then their home address and signature and other info like maybe a SSN will be online and ANYONE can see it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Find out if your state agencies mentioned above have court/land records online or available in a remote access system.
Tell your friends.
Email your state (not congressional) legislators.
Write letters to your local newspapers telling your neighbors if you find your county's records are available online.
Tell the Clerks and legislators to shut down those websites for the protection of the people who may have a SSN or some other personal info on a record.
If they don't, then do your talking at the polls. Vote your Clerk/Sec. of State/Recorder/ etc. out of office the next time they come up for election.
And don't let these Clerks, etc. mislead you about this issue. Here's Virginia's law which says the Clerks MAY provide "remote access" to the records. It doesn't say "shall." And if they start talking about the Technology Trust Fund, ask them to show you the law that mandated they take the money. Such a law doesn't exist.
If your county isn't online yet in YOUR state, it soon will be. It's just a matter of time.
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)