One Million Records Missing From County Site

David Bloys   View David Bloys's profile on LinkedIn

Posted 10-03-12

If you depended on the Tarrant County Website in 2008 for any kind of professional due-diligence report, or you contracted with an abstractor who did, you should know nearly a million records were missing from the County Clerk's Website for six months according to Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia.

Garcia made the announcement in a press release last week announcing the missing document were back online. Garcia said she took the documents offline six months ago after the Tarrant County Sherriff's office notified her that suspects arrested in New Mexico might have mined data from county websites nationwide to create false identities.

The Tarrant County Clerk's office immediately began an audit of the twelve million public records the county has online to determine which documents contained sensitive private information. Garcia immediately ordered the removal of a million records from the website. We applaud Garcia for being more concerned for the security of Tarrant County citizens than the convenience of international data miners and identity thieves who exploit the county online records for both legal and illegal purposes.

Unfortunately Garcia, wavered in her dedication to the citizens of Tarrant County and has put the documents back online with no assurance from either the website or the Clerk's Office that all the sensitive information has been redacted, or that the information is reliable or authentic.

You Are At Risk - Not the Clerk or the Clerk's Website

The Tarrant County website disclaimer emphasizes that the County Clerk does not certify the authenticity of the information contained on the site and assumes no responsibility for any information you may find or not find. The website disclaimer states, "The County Clerk shall under no circumstance be responsible for any error or omission which may occur in these records, nor liable for any actions taken as a result of reliance upon any information contained within this web site from whatever source, or any other consequence from such reliance".

Mitigating Risk for Abstractors and Title Companies

Every search you do online is an opportunity for a missed document that could someday result in million dollar suit against you. In the Tarrant County example any search you did has a one in 12 chance of having records you never would have seen. If you are concerned about the integrity of your reports and protecting your company from lawsuits and claims against your E&O you should carefully examine the disclaimers of websites used as a resource by your company, employees or contract abstractors. Most website disclaimers state clearly that you cannot rely on their website for accurate information and only your company is at risk if you ignore their warnings.

If you find a 1 in 12 chance of being sued too risky for your company or customers, you can mitigate your risk by relying on insured local abstractors who physically visit the courthouse. You can find Texas abstractors who believe you and your customers deserve accurate information from a responsible source here.

Mitigating Your Personal Risk

Garcia suggests searching the county web site and then asking for a redaction form from your county clerk if you find unredacted information. This is always a good idea but should you really have to search for your sensitive records that should never have been placed online in the first place. A better idea is to ask your local county official to remove all document images from the county web site. Very few states require county officials to publish public records online but only to make them available at the courthouse. If any of your documents are visible on the county web site it is your local officials who have put you at risk. Contact information for county officials is available at the National Association of Counties Officials. If you would like a local lawyer to analyze your case for free you can click here.

Mitigating Risk for County Officials

If you are a county official responsible for posting public records online you may want to read how disclaimers won't keep you in office if your website is found to be used by criminals to steal identities in Donít Let Identity Theft Rob Your Election . If you think redaction will protect you or your constituents it may be because you believe the hype of redaction software salesmen.  You should read The Truth About Redaction.

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