Are you Open to Identity Theft?

By: Glenn Ginsburg

Have you heard of the term "phishing"? Phishing is a term used to describe the act of sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. The e-mail directs the user to visit a Web site where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers, that the legitimate organization already has.

But, did you know that some of your personal information, such as social security number and home address just might be on the Internet? If you purchased real estate and a deed was recorded and your social security number was on the document you might be surprised to find the document accessible via Internet. As the Internet (Information Highway) has grown so has access to the local Clerk of Courts records. By searching your local Clerk of Courts website is where you can find your recorded deed with your social security number plainly visible to all.

In the State of Florida, Florida Statue 119.0721-5c, (similar laws may have been enacted in other states) provides for the Right of Redaction- the process of removing sensitive information from a document prior to its publication. The statue provides for the following:

On or after October 1, 2002, any person preparing or filing a document to be recorded in the official records may not include a social security number in such document, unless required by law.

Any person may request the Clerk to remove any social security number from an image of an official record available on the Clerk's public Internet website or otherwise made electronically available to the general public. Such request must be made in writing and delivered by mail, facsimile, or electronic transmission, or delivered in person, to the Clerk of Courts Recording Department. The request must specify the identification page number that contains the social security number to be redacted. No fee will be charged for the redaction of a social security number pursuant to such a request.

The steps you should take to protect yourself:
1)Look over all the documents related to the purchase of your property, which are included with your closing paperwork. Find all documents that may be recorded through the Clerk of Court's Office. Generally, the documents would be the deed, mortgage, and mortgage note.
2)After your closing, you may have received some documents which were recorded these are generally date and time stamped by the Clerk's Office.
3)Contact the closing agent Title Company or attorney and ask them to assist you in finding the official book and page number of the recorded documents. Some real estate agents may also be able to assist you.
4)Request the removal of sensitive information in writing and obtain a receipt from the Clerk of Courts Office for the request.
5)Be sure to re-check to verify that the sensitive information has been removed from the documents. Consider using the Clerk of Courts website on the Internet to verify the redaction.

Sensitive personal information can also be found in other court documents and you should be aware of this as well.

It is most important for you to remember the request of redaction is your responsibility to protect your sensitive information. A little time spent now doing the research and follow-up, is significantly less than the process of fighting identity or credit card fraud. PROTECT YOURSELF!

(c) Copyright 2006, Glenn M. Ginsburg. All rights reserved.

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