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County Web Site Helped Thieves Steal Identities of Victims in Five States

ID Theft Statistics
  • Over 10 million identity theft victims in the US.
  • An identity is stolen every 3 seconds in the US.
  • The average cost to restore a stolen identity is $8,000.
  • Victims spend an average of 600 hours recovering from this crime


Police in Worthington Ohio say hundreds of people in five states are the latest victims of identity theft that has resulted from county officials publishing sensitive information about citizens over the Internet. They've asked the U.S. Secret Service to investigate the link between the county Web site and online identity theft.

The victim’s private information found its way on to the Franklin County Municipal Court Web site when they were charged with minor violations such as speeding tickets. Worthington detectives turned the evidence over to federal authorities after a state crime lab determined that more than 270 people nationwide may have been recently victimized by a security lapse that has existed since 2001 on Clerk Lori Tyack's Web site .

Six people are currently under investigation by the U.S. Secret Service suspected of using the Tayack's site to learn Social Security numbers and other private information needed to create false credit accounts.

The known victims of this latest breach are from Ohio, South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas and Wyoming. Although no one has been arrested yet, Worthington police seized the records and computers of two people, who implicated four others and the county Web site in the scheme.  

One suspect told detectives how the scam worked and a forensic examination of computer files by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation confirmed that the thieves went from (Tyack's) Web site to Equifax (a credit bureau) and then on to credit-card companies and banks. Worthington detective Ted Paxton told reporters he has identified more than $40,000 in illegal purchases of clothing, shoes, phones and electronics.

The thieves "were using a laptop stolen from Wyoming, but they only had it for a couple weeks," Paxton said. The city turned the case over to the Secret Service because it investigates misuse of the Internet for identity theft and because the case had broadened to include so many potential victims.

Ohio law requires that some court records are made public but does no require officials to publish any of the records online where the information can be used by criminals worldwide.

Now that the county has published your sensitive information online, local officials say they will try to locate anyone affected by the breach, but place the burden on individuals to take steps to protect themselves. They suggest verifying information in credit scores and keeping constant vigilance over your account.

Tyack said she was aware of the federal investigation but not involved in it. She acknowledged that her site has permitted public searches of court records since 2001 and the site receives more than 16,000 inquiries per day. It wasn’t until July, that she limited some information available on the Web site.

It didn’t have to happen

This isn’t the first time that local government Web sites have failed to recognize the difference between “public” records viewable inside the courthouse and publishing the same records online where criminals, stalkers and terrorists anywhere in the world access and use the information to commit identity theft and even murder. Clearly, American citizens are being stalked through records published by local government Web sites. The link, if left unbroken, could cost you time, money, freedom -- even your life.

Here are just a few examples.

·        Hamilton County Ohio - The Blue Ash Police Department's Criminal Investigative Section, confirmed the department has made numerous arrests of identity thieves who confessed to getting personal information to help their crimes from the clerk's Web site.

·        California - As early as 1987 criminals were using remote access to Public Records to facilitate their crimes. Remote access to electronic California's motor vehicle database facilitated the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer.

·        New Hampshire – In 1999 Liam Youens used Public Records available online to stalk and kill twenty-year-old Amy Boyer as she left her part-time job at a dentist’s office. U.S. Senate Hearings April 13, 2005

·        Arizona - Just before Christmas 2005, while officials in Maricopa County were denying that criminals were using the County Website, a 23-year-old methamphetamine user was showing Scottsdale officers how he used the County Recorder’s Website to steal identities. Technology and easy credit give identity thieves an edge – New York Times

·        Indiana – In December 2006 the recorder's office in Grant County, Indiana, pulled all of its document images from the Internet after a lawsuit related to identity theft was filed against the county. Source: - Counties work to hide personal data - Jaikumar Vijayan, Computer World

·        Utah - Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced on July 15, 2005 that five people had been charged---and hundreds more may be charged----with stealing and forging Social Security numbers belonging to children. Investigators found that approximately 1,800 social security numbers, belonging to children under of 13, may have been compromised by the state’s own web sites. ID Theft Isn't Just for Grown-Ups

Our forefathers saw the records as so important to a free society that they promised The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. Indeed, most counties keep the records behind steel vaults where they are readily available to local citizens and professionals with a legitimate need to access them but inaccessible to anyone outside the jurisdiction. Only a few counties have taken the records from the vaults and made them available online where anyone, anywhere in the world with an Internet connection can search and seize them.

Resource Links

Government Agencies, Foreign Companies Collide Over Online Records Issue



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