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As a title insurance professional, there are certain aspects of the online Public Records enigma that truly frighten me. As a private citizen, they frighten me even more.
Discovering just two days prior to writing this very paragraph, that I am a victim of identity theft for the second time since turning 17 in 1999, this article certainly serves as much a personal cry for help as I hope it will prompt a rise to action by public officials.
In the following paragraph, you will read my personal opinion, from a concerned citizen only.
Obviously, when public officials first began the drive to list Public Records online and get their counties “e-capable”, they thought they were embarking on a great new service to offer their communities. Unfortunately, nobody understood how he or she would be essentially spoon-feeding criminals valuable information that ultimately assists in crimes. Many online merchants only need the correct zip code associated with a credit card number to approve a purchase. Name, correct address and phone number do not matter in many instances. As you already know, searching a name and finding a person’s zip code is extremely easy and truly a 7 or 8 year old can, and probably knows how to do this. In many instances, property values as well as Public Records are accessible to anyone online who takes the time to search including deed copies, mortgage assignments, judgment copies; many documents that can lead to severe amounts of fraud and cause innocent people mental anguish for the rest of their lives.
Deed copies can easily be read to obtain grantor and grantee information, many of which can contain information for a mother’s maiden name, which is a security code for most credit card processors. There truly are too many possibilities to list, and none of us know them all except the criminals. So, thus brings us back to the enigma of online Public Records.
How do we stop these criminals from utilizing this information? Well, first, if the information weren’t online, the criminal would have to physically search the courthouse records, thus making an investigation much easier for the local authorities and FBI divisions as the criminal lives within close proximity. Second, let’s face it. It was not a cheap project in getting your county e-capable. Since it is the people’s tax dollars paying for these elaborate systems, which in turn are ultimately putting the taxpayers at risk, why not spend just a few more dollars and assign each living person within the county a unique user ID and password that can be tracked within this and a separate security system?
This will eliminate a great amount of problems as the records can’t be accessed by someone other than the homeowner, the person tied to the public record, or the county officials. If you are able to list every public record within the last 60 years on your website, you are certainly capable of heightening security. You just can’t be afraid to ask for and spend the dollars.
In the following paragraph, you will read my professional opinion for an individual who relies on accurate public and land records in a profession of title insurance.
First, let me educate you on the amount of liability that is assumed by an insurance agent who issues a lenders title insurance policy, and an owner’s policy. By issuing an insurance policy to a lender, we insure the lender first lien position and first right to money if the mortgagor defaults. We rely on complete, accurate Public Records on each and every day we practice and on each and every loan we close. If the information provided to us is either incomplete or inaccurate from Public Records, we then are essentially sued by the lender and a claims process commences. Claims can be tax liens, civil judgments, missed mortgages, and any and all encumbrances on title. In an owner’s policy, we are issuing an insurance policy stating that the owners of the property are the true and rightful owners; no other parties have fee simple interest except otherwise through an excepted easement, which is listed in the policy.
If the records provided are inaccurate or incomplete, borrowers who paid their whole lives on a mortgage can ultimately lose the structure and land they adored, worked so hard for to purchase, renovate and build into a home. We, as title insurance professionals, are seeing a startling amount of claims due to searchers abstracting title and public land records online. This method of searching simply is not near as accurate as physically searching the courthouse indexes of records.
There must be strict guidelines as to what a title search entails, and the courthouses must accept some of the burden of responsibility of educating the searchers and even the residing community. Public officials have guidelines for recording, and a list of procedures. Why not have guidelines for how the information is extracted after recording? Something needs to be done, and the ideal time to do something unfortunately was yesterday. After all, public officials are of people of record as well. You are just as much at risk as the community members you serve.
President and CEO
TruClose Financial Services, LLC
651 Holiday Drive, Foster Plaza 5
Pittsburgh, PA 15220