News for Public Officials and the People They Serve

How Criminals Use Online County Records

What uninformed "experts" aren't telling you

David Bloys - News For Public Officials


A common, often repeated myth among proponents of online records is that,” Nobody has ever documented a single case of identity theft using the online records." Usually, the “expert” will end the statement with a disclaimer that says, “that I’m aware of.”

While some “experts” may choose to ignore the evidence, a growing list of cases have been documented by law enforcement and the criminals themselves.




Drug User Confesses


Signatures  & Notary Seals Copied


Thief Steals Home


Hamilton County 2002

Franklin County 2007

New York

County Clerk becomes victim


Political Opponents Steal Lt. Governor’s Identity


Children’s Identities Breached


Names, Signatures, & Notary Seals Used to steal homes.


Identity theft lawsuit filed against County


Arizona (Number one in the nation for identity theft)
Drug user shows police how he uses the County Website to forge checks

Just before Christmas 2005, Maricopa County Officials were denying that criminals  were using the County Website, while a 23-year-old methamphetamine user was showing Scottsdale officers how he used the County Recorder’s Website to steal identities.

The suspect showed officers something they had not seen before. Browsing a government Web site, he pulled up a local divorce document listing the parties' names, addresses and bank account numbers, along with scans of their signatures. With a common software program and some check stationery, the document provided all he needed to print checks in his victims' names--and it was all made available, with some fanfare, by the county recorder's office. The site had thousands of them.


This metropolitan area, which includes Scottsdale and Phoenix, has the highest rate of identity theft complaints in the nation, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Even members of the Scottsdale police force have had their identities stolen.

Source: Technology and easy credit give identity thieves an edge – TOM ZELLER,, New York Times


Florida (Number 6 on the FTC's ID most affected list)
Signatures and Notary Seals copied from County Website
Law enforcement officials say deed forgery is particularly rampant in South Florida, and especially in Miami-Dade County. Typically, property thieves target homes and vacant lots that seem abandoned or have delinquent taxes and multiple liens -- signs an owner isn't attentive.

Signatures and stamps for the deed can easily be copied from online images of property records on Miami-Dade County Clerk's website,” said Dennis Haber, president of the Attorneys Real Estate Council..

''It's so easy; I'm reluctant to say it because it might encourage people if you put it in print.'' Haber said.

After that, all it takes is a trip to the store, the County Website and then the clerk or county recorder's office.

''You can go to Office Depot to get a document and walk into any courthouse in Florida and pay 10 bucks to record it and you own a home,'' said Sgt. Richard Davis from Miami-Dade County Police's economic crimes bureau.

Criminals steal houses through deed forgery – MONICA HATCHER Miami Herald.
Deed Fraud Rampant in Florida's Online Records –


Identity theft lawsuit filed against Grant County

In another example, the recorder's office in Grant County, Indiana, pulled all of its document images from the Internet in July after a lawsuit related to identity theft was filed against the county. "There are no definite plans to put them back up on the Internet although Social Security Numbers will be redacted starting next year," said County Recorder Dixi Fischer Conner.


Counties work to hide personal data - Jaikumar Vijayan, COMPUTER WORLD


Texas (Ranked # 4 in the FTC's list of most affected states)

Signatures and driver’s license numbers used to steal home
Police in Frisco, Texas reported the fraud as a new twist on identity theft where criminals used a copy of a signature and driver’s license number to file a fraudulent deed with the Denton County Clerk's office. If Sergeant Gina McFarlin knew where the thieves might have stolen the sensitive information, she didn't say.

News for Public Officials researcher Lisa Ramsey found the victim’s driver’s license number and several copies of her signature on the Denton County Clerk’s subscription Website. We may never know if the Clerk’s Website aided the thieves who stole Paula Cook’s home, but it seems clear the Website offers everything the thieves needed. The county is needlessly exposing hundreds of thousands of Denton County residents.

Thief steals home Steve Stoler,  WFAA -TV Dallas/Ft Worth
Clip-Clip, Paste-Paste and Their Home Was His – News for Public Officials

Ohio (Ranked near the middle, coming in as #26 on the FTC list)
Identity thieves confess: everything they needed was on County Website
Kevin Moehring pled guilty in July of 2002 to using the Hamilton County Website to steal the identity of Jim Moehring, general manager at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. The tool for the identity theft was a speeding ticket given to Jim Moehring that was posted at the court clerk site.

''He had everything: Social Security, address, height, weight, birth date, signature -- everything,'' Jim Moehring, general manager at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati said. With that information, Kevin Moehring was able to run up $11,000 of credit card debt before he was arrested.

In December, 2004, a day after Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann announced he was removing 320,000 public documents from his Web site to protect privacy, attorneys for a Cincinnati woman said Hartmann made the move after she sued him following the theft of her identity.

Christian Jenkins, attorney for Cynthia Lambert, said, "They (County Officials) were dismissive, saying 'You can't prove it came from us,'"

That changed, though, when Blue Ash police made an arrest in an identity theft case and the arrested person admitted he was part of an identity theft ring that used the clerk's Web site as a major source of personal information to steal identities.

"I have seen increasing numbers of identity theft," Hartmann said. "We have had a number of cases where police have told me the bad guys got the information used to steal identities from my Web site.

Sgt. Joe Boyatt, chief of the Blue Ash Police Department's Criminal Investigative Section, confirmed his department has made arrests of identity thieves who confessed to getting personal information to help their crimes from the clerk's Web site.

In March of 2006, Hamilton County’s Website problems resurfaced in a big way. Federal authorities revealed that they had busted up an identity theft ring in southwest Ohio. The suspects created false identification documents, opened credit accounts and produced counterfeit checks in several states. According to published reports, Social Security numbers and other information gleaned from the Hamilton County government Website were allegedly used to steal nearly $500,000.

Dirty Laundry, Online for All to See - New York Times By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Website Flap Impacts any public office handling records containing confidential data - Middletown Journal
8 accused of identity theft – Associated Press
Suit may have led to ID purge – Cincinnati Post

Franklin County Ohio

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


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.... read full article.


New York (Number seven in the FTC's ID theft hit parade)
County Clerk victim of identity theft
“I am a victim of identity theft. Just recently my social security number was stolen”, Suffolk County legislator Edward Romaine said from his Riverhead office.

Romaine saw $25,000 disappear from his bank account when someone stole his social security number. While he didn’t say where the thief found the number, as former county clerk, Romaine wants to call attention to -- and seek changes in -- the county's Web site and its practice of making very personal data a matter of public record -- accessed with a tax map identification number, also public record.

Source: Suffolk Clerk Victim Of I.D. Theft – WCBS-TV New York


Maryland (Number 13 for number of victims per capita)
Political Opponents Steal Lt. Governor’s Identity
Sometime around July 2005, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee research director Katie Barge, and/or her deputy, Lauren B. Weiner, discovered Steele’s Social Security number on some court records. The number was then used to impersonate Mr. Steel to obtain his credit score. Video from WBAL-TV Baltimore indicates the court document bearing Steele’s Social Security number was found online.

According to the prosecutor's statement, which Weiner said was accurate, she used Steele's Social Security number to access his credit score on a Web site designed to let people view their reports.

Under a plea agreement reached with prosecutors, the misdemeanor charge against Lauren B. Weiner could be dropped in a year if she completes 150 hours of community service and commits no other offenses.

An attorney for Steele said the lieutenant governor is considering a civil suit against Weiner, 25, and the Democratic committee to learn more about what he called "a dirty trick."

Democrat Pleads Guilty in Steele Case – Washington Post

Utah (Number 14 in the nation for identity theft)
Children’s Identities Breached By State Website
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.

"Operation Protect the Children" was a joint investigation by the Utah Attorney General's Office, Office of Inspector General for the Social Security Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The investigation uncovered an alarming new crime spree involving illegal aliens and identities stolen from victims under the age of 12.

Attorney General Shurtleff said, "Children are vulnerable even if parents do everything right."

Investigators checked Utah state records and found that approximately 1,800 social security numbers, belonging to children under of 13, may have been compromised.

The suspects allegedly used the young victim's social security numbers to get jobs, start businesses and open bank accounts.

Source: ID Theft Isn’t Just For Grown-ups - Utah Attorney General Press Release, July 15, 2005



Names, Signatures, and notary seals used to steal homes

James Andrew Ryan pleaded guilty to four counts of forgery involving fictitious quitclaim deeds. In each instance, Ryan went looking for what he judged to be run-down homes with unkempt yards. He wrote down the address and researched the owner's name through county records. Ryan then forged the owner's name on a quitclaim deed and finished it off with a bogus notary public seal. The phony quitclaim deed, showing the owner's interest conveyed to Ryan, was then recorded at the Pierce County, Wash., auditor's office.

Subsequently, the county removed some types of document images that contain sensitive information from the County Website .


Run-down home an invitation to fraud


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