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The threat of online public records
Your personal information may appear in online public records -- yet another avenue for identity theft.
Protecting your identity

Risks of online public records

Full dates of birth also concern him, because they are key pieces of information ID thieves need. County marriage records provide easy access to this information.

While private-sector data brokers can only legally sell complete Social Security numbers to law enforcement agencies, government agencies and licensed private investigators, plenty of public records themselves contain Social Security numbers.

A lot of states still allow the Social Security number to be on certain court records, which of course become public records.

Certain court records may expose SSNs. "The court records that contain your Social Security number for purposes of spousal and child support or when you're entering a decree of divorce -- a lot of states still allow the Social Security number to be on those court records, which of course become public records," says Mari J. Frank, attorney and author of "Safeguard your Identity." Even those states that do keep them confidential still expose those numbers to many court employees, she adds.

How to find your own records
Unfortunately, online public records aren't housed at one particular Web site.

"There's no central source. (People) simply Google themselves and they have to think about their lives, what states have they been in, where they are most likely to be in state records, governmental records, local county records. There is no central clearinghouse," says Smith.

Searching online for public records will likely return some results for information brokers, who aggregate and resell, or offer free of charge, data from such sources as public records, publicly available information and directory assistance.

One of the major data brokers, ChoicePoint, lets you access your public records through its ChoiceTrust Web site for free. Besides your CLUE report, ChoiceTrust also lets you obtain your work history report and tenant history report, gratis. All these are provided at no cost once a year as a result of federal law. Frank says you should check your work history to see if anyone has been working under your Social Security number, and your tenant history to see if someone has used your name to rent an apartment and get utilities.

"ChoicePoint is one of the biggest brokers of them all, and most of the other information brokers actually buy from ChoicePoint," she says. Examples of other data brokers include US Search, Intelius and Abika.

Credit reports also contain some public records information, such as liens and judgments. Check all three of your credit reports for free by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.

If you don't want to do the legwork yourself but remain curious, you could pay an information broker to perform a background check on you. Job hunters might find such a service particularly useful because most employers do background checks on potential hires, and these are somewhat based on public records. You'll want to correct any errors before your prospective employer sees them.

-- Posted: April 21, 2008
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