Think Your Social Security Number Is Secure? Think Again

By DAMON DARLIN The New York Times February 24, 2007

It should come as little surprise that Social Security numbers are posted on the Internet. But, says Betty Ostergren, a former insurance claims supervisor in suburban Richmond, Va., who has spent years trolling for them, "people are always astounded" to learn that theirs is one of them.

Mrs. Ostergren, 57, has made a name for herself as a gadfly as she took on a lonely and sometimes frustrating mission to draw attention to the situation. With addresses, dates of birth and maiden names often associated with Social Security numbers, she said, they are a gift to data thieves.

But in the last few weeks, Mrs. Ostergren's Web site, The Virginia Watchdog -- with the help of lobbying from an unexpected ally, America's farm bureaus -- is having an effect.

One by one, states and counties have started removing images of documents that contain Social Security numbers, or they are blocking out the numbers. Four states, including New York, have removed links to images of public documents containing Social Security numbers.

Snohomish County, Wash., for example, said Wednesday that 61 types of documents, including tax liens and marriage certificates, would be blocked. (The documents are supposed to remain public at courthouses or state offices.)

On Wednesday, the Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, issued a legal opinion that county clerks could be committing a crime by revealing Social Security numbers on the Internet.

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Monty Solomon
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