THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
This email shown below was sent out this past Tuesday night (11/01/05) to the Treasurer in the City of Poquoson, VA, Donald T. Joyner (and others in that City's government) about the publication of confidential Personal Property tax information on the Treasurer's website and the fact he only required someone's SSN to get to that information which meant that an "ex" spouse could snoop in his/her ex's business or anyone who had someone's SSN like off a public record like a final divorce decree at the courthouse. As of yesterday, the Personal Property tax "links" were removed by Mr. Joyner. Here's how his site looks now... Westmoreland County, Fredericksburg, and Culpeper Counties have all taken off the internet the confidential PP tax records.
When are Frederick, Shenandoah, Giles, Louisa, and Orange Counties going to do the same and when is Fairfax County and Prince William County going to stop "publishing" PP tax info on their websites? They should have no more on their sites than what a person would see in the Personal Property Tax books at the Treasurer's office which is name, address, and amount of taxes paid - but NOT the items for which the tax is paid. That is confidential but these Treasurers/Tax Administrators don't get it! If a person walked into their office with another person's SSN and asked for the PP tax records, the Treasurer wouldn't give out the information...so why give it out on the World Wide Web?
Someone needs to file a lawsuit and also approach the Commonwealth's Attorney in each locality to prosecute these Treasurers who are violating COV 58.1-3 A & F. A Commonwealth's Attorney has taken a oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth, but will they protect their crony friends and let this violation of the law slide in those counties? For another story about the "Disclaimer" referred to below, click here. And lastly, a trip was made to the Circuit Court Clerk's office in York County yesterday where Poquoson's records are stored and SSNs were obtained on "public records" to show how easy it would be to get into the Treasurer's PP tax records thereby putting his constituents PP Tax info at risk....
Now here's the email:
Note: Please see that all City Council members get forwarded this email as well as Eileen M. Addison, Commonwealth's Attorney, who I am requesting now to start prosecution of Treasurer Joyner for violating COV 58.1-3 A & F for "publishing" confidential Personal Property Tax information.
The Virginia Watchdog
Dear Mr. Joyner, City of Poquoson Treasurer:
You are using the same online Personal Property tax program that the Westmoreland County Treasurer and the City of Fredericksburg Treasurers and a few others are using: however, those two have pulled down all their links to the Personal Property Tax info and I am requesting that you also do the same. Here is what your site looks like found at
I am specifically concerned that you have published confidential "Personal Property tax" information on the internet in violation of COV 58.1-3 A & F under the mistaken belief that by requesting a person's SSN that this information is protected. Nothing could be further from the truth... And it's a Class 2 misdemeanor for ANYONE to "publish or disseminate" the information which includes you.
When ANYONE clicks onto any of the several links to Personal Property taxes - or "inquiry" links for PP taxes - on your site such as the Personal Property Public Inquiry and the Yearly Personal Property Taxes Paid, they are able to enter ANYONE's SSN that they happen to have (like an Ex-wife's or Ex-husband's or ANYONE else's they happen to find over at the York County Circuit Court Clerk's office where SSNs are in those records by the tens of thousands. So you are enabling ANYONE to sit at their home computer and look up confidential Tax records. (Note: we do understand that real estate is public so we cannot complain about that.) But not only ex-wives/husbands could get to this info, but bank employees who have access to your SSN, car dealers you might be buying a car from, phone company employees or people you could buy cell phones from at the mall who want your SSN, credit card companies, debt collectors, snoops who have found the SSNs at the courthouse in the records, etc. All could get into someone else's confidential PP Tax info which is protected by COV 58.1-3 linked here:
Since it against the Code of VA to publish this information, you should shut down all access to the Personal Property Tax records. Being able to pay a bill online is one thing where someone just has to give a credit card number and an account number and pay a certain amount but to have someone's SSN and then be able to access confidential records is quite something else!!!
90% of VA Treasurers allow the tax bills to be paid online but they do not allow any sort of access to the Personal Property tax information like you and Orange, Louisa, Frederick, Giles, Culpeper, Shenandoah, Fairfax, and Prince William are doing. Just you folks. The others only allow the bill to be paid using an account number and printing out a receipt and then the taxpayer are out of the site - they have NO access to what they're paying the bill for (ie a boat, plane, motorcycle, or car etc.) but that's not the way you are doing it. You are breaking the law and you took an oath to protect those records.
Then there's the matter of that worthless "Disclaimer" you have on your site. It's also on the others' sites who are doing the same thing as you and it will not protect you from being sued or even being prosecuted. You put those confidential records on the interner and then you say in your Disclaimer that the "CITY OF POQUOSON relinquishes any responsibility for the use of another person's Social Security Number, without their consent, in order to view or alter their tax records" but yet you are the one putting them at risk in violation of the law. And you say "altering" someone's records? You have to be joking. You even admit in that "Disclaimer" that you are breaking the law when you say you are "publishing" that information in this sentence: "The CITY OF POQUOSON Treasurer's Office makes every effort to produce and publish the most current and accurate property tax information possible."
And then you say "Neither CITY OF POQUOSON nor the Treasurer's Office assumes any liability associated with use or misuse of this data. So you put it at risk against the law and then are not responsible if someone gets to it and "misuses" it? That is unbelievable! Would you like your "ex" - if you had one - to know your confidential PP Tax info? What about your next door neighbor who may go to the Circuit Court Clerk's office and get a document there with your SSN on it and then get into the info? That's all you're requiring - a SSN that could be found at the York County Circuit Court Clerk's office which by the way I am visting on Wednesday (tomorrow) to find records with SSNs on them. My only recourse if you choose not to pull down all links to the PP TAx info will be to get records with SSNs on them like mortgages or judgments or Final Divorce decrees, and then scan them in and print them on my website and then link to your site. That way not only one person will see the records but anyone in the world who gets onto The Virginia Watchdog website will be able to see people's SSNs on actual public records from the Clerk's office...
You are well aware of our mission to get this confidential PP tax info off the internet and I hope you will put some thought into immediately shutting down the parts of your website as Westmoreland and the City of Fredericksburg have has done that deal with or show any vehs/boats/planes/buses etc. someone owns. No one has the right in this state to know that any other person even owns any tangible personal property much less the year, make, type, or Vehicle ID number. You should be showing on that website NO MORE than someone would see if they visited your office and looked at the "Personal Property Tax book" which as you know ONLY shows name, address, and AMOUNT of tax paid - but not the items for which the tax is paid.
And further do you or anyone else think that the IRS would put our Federal tax info on the internet and then ONLY require a SSN to see Federal tax info or our state tax info? NO! If that were true, then I could be into Jeb Bush's and wife's records, Colin Powell's and wife's records, CIA Director Porter Goss' and wife's records, Tom Delay's and about 16,000 other people's records since that's how many SSNs I now have accumulated during my battle to stop the VA Circuit Court Clerks from putting their records on the internet. See "examples of public records" (top section of the The Virginia Watchdog website) that are shown. Since the VA legislature has voted to allow Circuit Court Clerks to make the records they hold available on the internet like Deeds, mortgage papers, final divorce decrees, judgments, tax liens, etc that contain SSNs by the gazillions then I have started printing some to show how I'll print more! But over the past 3 years we have raised awareness to that problem and we feel confident that something major will be done in the next session to stop the scheme as we call it. But if we are not successful, then "ANYONE" will be able to sit in their homes and get into people's private (albeit public) business from their home/office computer. When people realize that then "ANYONE" who gains access - and "ANYONE" will be able to - then can sit in their home and find SSNs on those records and read the details of a Final Divorce decree, mortage, will, etc. All the details are on The Virginia Watchdog site about that issue.
I hope we are not forced to make a point by printing records out of your Clerk's office and show people's SSNs but we will if you do not break all links to the PP Tax info. Someone has led you astray by letting you think this is okay but it will just take one lawsuit against you to prove we're right and for you also to be prosecuted. If we do print rcords, remember that any we print will be PUBLIC RECORDS and nothing can be done to us, but you printing confidential PP Tax records is another matter.
Thank you and I'll look forward to hearing from you. I'd like to put an end to this crusade soon but it depends on you...
BJ Ostergren, Founder
The Virginia Watchdog
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)