THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
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10/11/05 Since this story was posted, it was discovered that the Fairfax County, VA Treasurer and the Culpeper County, VA Treasurer are putting the same records at risk! Contact a lawyer to file an injunction to stop this. The confidential records are at risk!
TREASURER OF WESTMORELAND COUNTY, VIRGINIA PUTS CONFIDENTIAL PERSONAL PROPERTY TAX RECORDS ON THE INTERNET
Some elected officials need to be thrown out of office for not using good judgment such as the Treasurer of Westmoreland County, Virginia for exposing confidential tax records to ANYONE who can come up with someone's Social Security number (SSN) and last name to access the records. People who could have or get that SSN to get into these records could be an abusive ex-spouse or ex-partner, car salesman, tow truck drivers, a data mining company, a credit card company, a bank, an insurance company, a data broker company, a credit reporting company, a debt collector (even one out of state), a police officer/FBI/CIA employee who wants to snoop without a warrant, a bank employee, an identity thief, a "crooked employee" of any of the aforementioned companies, or a neighbor who finds the requisite SSN in court records at the local courthouse. The only thing any of these people and others who have your SSNs have to do is type in the last name and SSN of ANYONE who owns personal property in Westmoreland County and find out their tax information and home address thereby putting the citizens of the County at risk. Or they could change the address of the person thereby making identity theft easier...or just do it to wreak havoc on an enemy.
Elizabeth Nash, the Treasurer, who hasn't given a thought to how she is endangering the citizens, was contacted by The Virginia Watchdog when it was discovered over three weeks ago that Nash had just put confidential personal property tax records on the internet and all it took to access them was a person's last name and SSN. Ostergren told Nash that ANYONE could even take a trip over to the local Circuit Court Clerk's office and find thousands of Social Security numbers in those records like in judgments, final divorce decrees, mortgage papers, notary commissions, UCCs (commonly called financing statements), and state/Federal tax liens, and then they could go home and from their home computer get into Westmoreland citizens' confidential personal property tax records. But with her set up now someone out of state can even access people's personal information rather than going to her office in the county.
Nash was told that what she was doing was reckless not to mention endangering this information and that she should shut down the personal property tax site.
Carol Gawen, the Westmoreland County Commissioner of the Revenue, was also contacted the same day and asked why these records were on the internet since they originate in her office. She was astounded they were, claimed she knew nothing about it, and literally sounded like she would have a heart attack since she knows that the records are confidential under state law - unlike real estate tax records which are considered "public records" and are also online in Westmoreland. And thanks to Ms. Gawen the website to the Personal Property tax records was shut down that day after she raised her objections with the Treasurer, BUT they are online AGAIN thanks to Nash. Nash has a contract with a company in Tennessee to make them available online and, apparently, Nash and this Tennessee company are hell bent on having them online...
But where is the Commonwealth's Attorney in this? Doesn't the Westmoreland Commonwealth's Attorney have the power to seek an injunction to stop this? Of course. But any citizen who has records on this site could also seek an injunction to pull the plug on this AND they could seek prosecution of the Treasurer for endangering these records. There is NO WARNING on the website about the records being confidential; however, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor to let anyone except the rightful owner read them.
T. Scott Harris, Commissioner of the Revenue for Hanover County, VA said, "I don't see any valid purpose for having personal property tax records online in the first place - a person should know what vehicles, etc. they own."
The Hanover County Treasurer, M. Scott Miller, refused to comment for this news story even though he is the current President of the Treasurer's Association, but according to Harris, Miller has no personal property tax records online like Westmoreland; however, a tax bill in Hanover can be paid online, but no one can access what personal property is owned by someone like on the Westmoreland County Treasurer's website.
Here's the link to the Westmoreland County site where all you have to have is someone's SSN (even if you are outside of the state) and last name to find out through two different ways/searches 1) how much they paid in yearly personal property taxes or 2) what someone's personal property is. (NOTE: Personal property includes automobiles, trucks, buses, motorcycles, motor homes, trailers, semi-trailers, aircraft and boats.)
The Virginia Watchdog's founder suggested to the Treasurer who obviously didn't listen during that telecon weeks ago to use something like an account number AND a password or PIN which would provide more security to the records but still wouldn't protect them 100%. But a look at the Treasurer's website today reveals that all is needed is still only the SSN and last name. Apparently, Treasurer Nash is unaware of something called "hacking". If the records are online and they are, how long will it be before they are hacked into and the confidential records are compromised? Click here to read about just how may data breaches have occurred just this year. Her site is not "hack" proof. No site is really "secure."
A recent article on The Virginia Watchdog website tells how Charles V. "Vic" Mason who is the elected Circuit Court Clerk of neighboring King George County has made his court records available via the internet - complete with SSNs. Read the story... Nash and Vic Mason are truly the king and queen of stupid.
Questions to ask Nash: Why is she putting people at risk? Whys does she want them on the internet anyway? Why doesn't she use something other than a SSN to access the records? Why should a company in Tennessee be hosting the records or even have access to them? And who has access to the "backup" records? Where are they stored? In Tennessee or Massachusetts? Did she take bids on this using the Virginia Public Procurement Act? And under which state's laws will any disputes with the host company be settled? Virginia or Tennessee? Why is she doing this? And why should the County Administrator be pushing the scheme? Someone should FOIA a copy of the contract... And lastly the citizens should force her to RESIGN!