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Online records could contain personal info

Posted October 20, 2008
Updated October 22, 2008

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— The surprise that Donna Eason says she found online was not a good one.

While doing research on the Johnston County Register of Deeds' Web site over the weekend, Eason saw her and her husband's Social Security number on housing documents posted to the site.

"I was furious," she said. "Because everything is on the Web now."

The office removed the information almost immediately at Eason's request, but the problem is statewide and leaves registrars of deeds, like Craig Olive, frustrated.

As many as 22,000 online records in the office contain that same information. And many people have no idea.

"The law is not tough enough to help protect the citizens I serve," said Olive, who heads the Register of Deeds office in Johnston County.

The state's Identity Theft Protection Act, passed in 2005, only allows a register of deeds to remove a Social Security or bank account number at a citizen's request. It also prevents new documents from being filed with personal numbers.

But that means little for people with old documents that date back decades. Anyone can still go to the register of deeds office and find that personal information on public computer terminals and the paper copies.

"Anybody can come in," Oliver said. "It's open public records law, and they can get them a Social Security Number."

Each year, Olive says, he sends a letter to Johnston County's state lawmakers saying consumers are at risk and that software can remove all personal information at once.

And Donna Eason says she would like to see it happen.

"They're just making it easier for thieves," Eason said.

But the issue of redacting personal information from old documents is complicated, says Jeff Gray, a legislative lobbyist on law enforcement issues who also served as an assistant attorney general when Gov. Mike Easley was attorney general.

"Essentially, you're changing a legal document," Gray said. And that's not something that should be done without careful thought."

Under law, citizens have the right to ask the Register of Deeds or Clerk of Courts for their Social Security Number be removed from online postings, Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, said.

The Registers of Deeds pushed for the provision because, at the time, Talley said, because they did not have the resources to remove the information from older documents.

"We're glad to hear that (Olive) would now support a law that would require Social Security numbers to be removed," Talley said.

In the meantime, Olive says he plans to notify residents who have personal information online.

Anyone can look up their records by going to the Register of Deeds Web site in their county. Olive says that on the Johnston County Register of Deeds site, navigating takes some "know-how" so it might be difficult for a thief to find, but still, it's a concern.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • coolwill Oct 22, 2008

    Think about it for identify theft, all you need is a name and address and any credit info, (voting, loans, driver’s licenses, retirement, medical, social security, etc...) your government is making this possible with your tax dollars. Any one not looking for info on them self should have to register on line with the deeds office and request the info and explain why and it could be mail or emailed to them just not for them to sit there and browse or go in the office and look it up. There is so much dumbness in theses governments. Public information should still be secured. This government does not even know who is in this country and what name or info they are using, it could be yours and they may have gotten it from your city or county office.

  • abbync2001 Oct 21, 2008

    It is up to each person to search his records and ask for any shown SS numbers to be removed.

    Speaking of identity theft, are we sure this is the same Registrar as shown on the website?


  • Squeek Oct 21, 2008

    The only ones that need my SS# are ones that are giving me some money.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Oct 21, 2008

    If a law was passed that would only allow a SS Number to be removed at the citizen's request, then that same law should have mandated that all citizens receive notification that they have that option. Most would opt to have it removed. But most didn't know they had an option, or that the SS Number was even out there on the web. They obviously didn't think this law through.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Oct 21, 2008

    This is scary.

  • Timbo Oct 21, 2008

    That's what happens when you have government: people that are incompetent and don't give a rat's behind.

  • mrtwinturbo Oct 21, 2008

    They should start using 3D Barcodes instead of S.S numbers online, this would at least stop most people in their tracks

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Oct 21, 2008

    I bet the officials would move quickly if it was their social security number posted on the internet.

  • redwarrior Oct 21, 2008

    You can find lots of information about people online, if you know where to look....

  • OMG52 Oct 21, 2008

    That's right, put it on the news and online so EVERYONE will know where to go and look for the information...... The county should have had the forethought to know that is would not be a good situation and in the best interest of their citizens.

    Now, instead of taking the social security numbers off the documents online, everyone has to notify them to take the numbers off.

    What they should do is make it so that the person logging in to get the information has to LOG IN using their social security number....