March 2008

Demanding Accountability

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Your Identity Supplied by County Clerks
Offices Give Away Private Information

By Ron Lee

Jackson County, OR - During an investigation into the legitimacy of Federal Tax Liens (FTLs) the US~Observer uncovered a cache of private information accessible from a home computer as well as by going into a county clerk's office and doing a simple search. The source was the Jackson County Clerk's Office and the public records they make accessible - specifically the FTL documents.

On the FTL documents you can find a persons full name, address, and most importantly their social security number. A person could simply go into their county clerk's office and write down hundreds of individuals' information. Or, you can pay them (in Jackson County's case) 25¢ for a printed copy of the FTL document with all of your information. What a score!

According to, "Your full identity goes for $10 - $150. That includes name, DOB, address and social security number. Surprisingly, your social security number will fetch a paltry $5 - $7. They are more valuable when attached to the rest of your personal info."

Sitting at a county clerk's office for a few hours could net you several hundred names quite easily. Which could be quite a lucrative day even if you were only making $10 per identity.

According to the Social Security Administration's (SSA) web site (, "Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. A dishonest person who has your Social Security number can use it to get other personal information about you. Identity thieves can use your number and your good credit to apply for more credit in your name. Then, they use the credit cards and do not pay the bills. You may not find out that someone is using your number until you are turned down for credit or you begin to get calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items you never bought.

Someone illegally using your Social Security number and assuming your identity can cause a lot of problems."

The SSA web site goes on to say, "The Social Security Administration protects your Social Security number and keeps your records confidential. We do not give your number to anyone, except when authorized by law. You should be careful about sharing your number, even when you are asked for it. You should ask why your number is needed, how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give out your Social Security number."

While it is true that government agencies have started protecting your information by not showing your complete social security number, there remains a wealth of accessible "identities" on records that pre-date this push for privacy.

For instance, in Washoe County, Nevada, their clerk has been working to protect all of their information. According to Kristen at that office, "We're not allowed to have it on the document by law. The last four can show. We're working on March of 2003 going backwards. All new ones that come in just show the last four numbers.”

As for Jackson County we were told by a clerk that all information since 2004 was being protected by the IRS not sending out the whole social security number on their documents. However, during our investigation we found that social security numbers were provided on FTL documents until January 2006 - still giving an identity thief hundreds if not thousands of possible identities to steal. According to the clerk, they have no plans at this time to go back in the files which are public record and protect your information.

Editor's Note: Contact your county clerk's office and find out what information they have on you. Not only might you find out your information is readily available to identity thieves, you might discover you have a federal tax lien that you might not have discovered until trying to sell your property, but this is another story ..

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