WRAL Investigates

Is your Social Security number online?

Posted February 18, 2010

WRAL Investigates

— Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Approximately 10 million Americans have their identity stolen every year. For identity thieves, Social Security numbers are like gold.

On one side of the issue, the Federal Trade Commission offers tips to prevent and react to identity theft. Chief among the tips: Keep your personal identifying information secure.

Yet another federal Web site makes the Social Security numbers of North Carolinians who file for bankruptcy readily available.

Is your Social Security number online? Is your Social Security number online?

Nan Flake is one of the people whose number was available for all to see. She filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago after Hurricane Floyd destroyed her business near the Pitt-Greenville Airport.

Flake didn’t have flood insurance and was forced to sell her home, a cottage and all of her stock to help erase the $500,000 hole left by Floyd. She didn’t qualify for help since she filed for bankruptcy.

After receiving the news that her Social Security number was posted online, Flake said it felt like reliving a nightmare.

“I’ve been punished enough. I don’t want to be punished anymore, and you just brought it to my attention that they are still punishing me in a way,” she said. “It’s scary that the federal government allows this to stay on record.”

Paul Stephens with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a watchdog group, says the federal government "is the biggest offender" when it comes to not protecting Social Security numbers.

In December 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court approved rules changes that full Social Security numbers could no longer be listed on bankruptcy filings. That change was five years in the making, a result of then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's war on identity theft.

Ashcroft mentioned one arrest where a suspect was selling Social Security numbers on eBay. At the same time, those numbers were free on the federal court system's Web site, and they still are.

For people like Flake, that's not good enough.

“They should take them off, do away with them. They're smart enough to have a program to wipe it right out,” she said.

Everyone WRAL spoke with, from bankruptcy attorneys to the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts, admits that it is a concern. However, current judicial rules do not allow changes to filed documents.

Any changes to the rule would take millions of dollars, a lot of manpower and years to implement, which is little consolation to people like Flake.

8 Comments

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  • hotweld8 Feb 19, 1:59 p.m.

    When you get a traffic ticket your social security number , address and name are broadcast over the police radio for anybody with a scanner to hear. Which makes it public info.

  • jrfergerson Feb 19, 8:56 a.m.

    Their comment that "Any changes to the rule would take millions of dollars, a lot of manpower and years to implement" sounds like they need to hire new computer people that know what they are doing that could blank out that block of information for all the world to see. Like all government runed organizations I say start at the top and fire them all and put someone in there that can do the job the US citizens pay them to do.

  • Timetogo Feb 19, 8:40 a.m.

    "...if your SSN is ever compromised the US should give you a new one and void the old one..."

    I totally agree! If they can give anyone who testifies for the government a new identity, they can give us, who they have helped crooks to steal our identity, new SS#s.

  • WRAL SUCKS ASS Feb 18, 7:44 p.m.

    “They should take them off, do away with them. They're smart enough to have a program to wipe it right out,” she said.

    No they're not. The US government has proven that time and time again.

  • irishale Feb 18, 7:07 p.m.

    "A Social Security number should only be used for getting Social Security and Medicare - not for credit reporting or as a school ID - If we quit using it for all these things then it would be insignificant."

    Amen... I mean, it's called a dang SOCIAL SECURITY number for crying out loud.

  • Tax Man Feb 18, 7:02 p.m.

    A Social Security number should only be used for getting Social Security and Medicare - not for credit reporting or as a school ID - If we quit using it for all these things then it would be insignificant. No one number should have so much data attached to it - it is just dumb. And if your SSN is ever compromised the US should give you a new one and void the old one.

  • mulecitybabe Feb 18, 7:00 p.m.

    Thanks for exposing this problem, WRAL, but was it really necessary to make note of the web site so the identity thieves can go straight to it? Think, yall, before you post helpful hints for crooks.

  • whatelseisnew Feb 18, 6:40 p.m.

    SO far for me the Veterans Administration and a State agency has allowed my information to be subject for theft. They both sent me nice letters telling me they revealed my information and it would be important for ME to carefully monitor my credit information. How lovely, they mess up and solve it by putting it on my back. I think we should outsource all Government Jobs to Japan. Perhaps we can get some quality into our Government workforce.