THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
10/28/05 - 1800 hrs
CHEERS TO THE WESTMORELAND TREASURER AND NOW TO THE FREDERICKSBURG TREASURER'S OFFICE FOR TAKING ACTION TO PROTECT CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION...
As of this past Monday, the Westmoreland County Treasurer, Elizabeth Nash, broke all links to the confidential tangible Personal Property tax information after having recognized that allowing access to that information with only using a person's last name and SSN was wrong. Here is how her site now looks. (Real estate information is public.)
Now City of Fredericksburg Chief Deputy Treasurer, Marilyn S. Kelly has also grasped this PP Tax situation regarding the internet access of Personal Property Tax information using only a SSN and last name and has told The Virginia Watchdog today that she has broken all links on the Fredericksburg Treasurer's site to the Personal Property Tax information. The PP Tax information is confidential under Code of VA Section 58.1-3 A & F. and cannot be "published" or "disseminated" and "shall be a Class 2 misdemeanor" if that information is revealed. The "Inquiry" options would allow access to year/make/VINs of vehicles, boats, etc. that a person owns.
She also has a suggestion for Treasurers using the same BAI system that will solve the problems about which The Virginia Watchdog coalition are concerned. Her suggestion is to have a citizen give their name, bill number, amount owed, and then pay without getting to any of the "details" which happens to be how most other Virginia Treasurers - except the nine who are using the BAI program and the other three who are using in-house systems (Loudoun, Fairfax, & Prince William) - are doing it. IF a person had to use an account number and a PIN then it would be hard for someone else to come up with those two items unlike a SSN which can be gotten in many different ways - like from off a PUBLIC record in a Circuit Court Clerk's office.
A person could take a trip to the Court Clerk's office in any of those counties or city and find SSNs on various public records like Final divorce decrees recorded between 1992 and June 30, 2005, 1990's Deeds of Trust, judgments/tax liens, UCCs (commonly called "financing statements"), and some other records found at the courthouse and which are OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. There are currently 14 Court Clerk's sites now available via "remote access" like Fairfax where ANYONE can have access for $25 for 24/7 for one month and have access to millions of SSNs. But if our legislators don't come to their senses and change the law, then ALL circuit Court Clerks will have to be online by July 1, 2006.
Virginia law says in COV Section 17.1-208 the records held by a Circuit Court Clerk "shall be open to inspection by any person..." And an Attorney General's opinion says it makes no difference if the Clerks' records are paper or digital. Here are some examples of actual PUBLIC records with SSNs on them... So what a great source for SSNs!
Bottom line: A SSN is not an adequate safeguard to protect that confidential Personal Property tax information since an "ex" spouse could have his/her "ex's" SSN which is the only thing required now to get to this information in those remaining seven sites now showing the PP tax info using BAI's program: Culpeper, Louisa, Orange, Frederick, Giles, Shenandoah, and the City of Poquoson. If someone wants to pay a Personal Property bill online at a Treasurer's site, then they should have to have their account number - not SSN number - AND they should not be allowed to see anymore information than they - or anyone else - would get from the "Personal Property" tax book found in a Treasurer's office. That book only shows names, addresses and amount of taxes paid which is public; however, the information regarding types of and information about tangible Personal property owned like cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, motor homes, boats, airplanes, etc. is NOT public information.
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)