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New Law May Not Go Far Enough In Preventing ID Theft

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JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. — Beyond the computers, the Register of Deeds office in Smithfield is packed with paper records dating back centuries. Some of the powers of attorney and separation agreements from recent decades contain personal bank account numbers. Many of the deeds of trust and death certificates also contain Social Security numbers.

And these records are open to anyone, including thieves who steal identities.

"If somebody really wants to get somebody's Social Security number, they can investigate and come to any Register of Deeds office," Craig Olive, of the Johnston County Register of Deeds, said.

Because of the risk of ID theft, Olive said he welcomed

a new law

that allows consumers to request the removal of important numbers, such as Social Security numbers, from documents.

The problem, he said, was that the law does not go far enough.

It applies to those records only online. Consumers cannot have numbers blacked out from paper files and internal computers. And to have the personal information blacked out online, beginning in December, consumers must make a written request to the Register of Deeds.

"I think we should add additional protections," N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

Cooper said he pushed to give consumers the right to remove sensitive numbers from public paper files, but various groups resisted because it adds more headaches for governments. The attorney general also said there were legal obstacles in altering public documents.

But, Cooper said he would try again.

"We hope we can come back in with more legislation to say, 'Hey, now that you've done this, let's go back and clean it up even more,'" he said.

Until then, Olive said he continues to be worried about ID theft because public records remain open to criminals.

"Our office is very vulnerable," Olive said.


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