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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

Stephens cautions that different companies may find different information, and your employer's background checker may not return the same results.

What to do if you find your SSN
While searching for your online public records, you may find mistakes, as well as more information than you would like available online. If you find your complete, nine-digit Social Security number, consider taking certain steps to safeguard your identity.

Safeguard your identity
What to do if you find mistakes:
To fix errors in your public records, you must contact the agency responsible for furnishing the record to get the information corrected.
Should you opt out?
Some information brokers may allow you to opt out of their databases. Not every data broker offers the option, however. "I'd say roughly half of them (do), roughly half of them don't," says Stephens, adding that information periodically gets refreshed in their databases as new data arrives. "Your opt-out is only going to be good as of the date you exercise the opt-out. And as soon as they refresh their database, in all likelihood, the information is going to be repopulated. Essentially it's an exercise in futility."
What to do if your SSN is exposed
Depending on the law in your state and where you find your Social Security number, you may or may not be able to take action if your Social Security number is exposed in an online public record. "If there's not a law against it in your state, you're not going to be able to require the person who posted it to remove it," says Stephens.

To find out what the law is in your state, Attorney Frank suggests doing an Internet search for "public records" plus the name of your state, or checking the attorney general's Web site or your state's Web site for information.

You can try writing to the governmental agency hosting the information, return receipt requested, asking if they can truncate the Social Security number. Barring that, you may be limited to taking precautionary steps to protect your identity.

Protective actions you can take
If you find your Social Security number posted publicly on a nongovernmental Web site, demand that the company take it down ASAP.

-- Posted: April 21, 2008
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