TAMPA - Social Security numbers are easy enough to find, if you are looking on local government websites.
The I-Team first exposed the issue in an investigation last week in Pasco County. Now, we’re learning the problem is happening in Hillsborough County, too.
We recently knocked on the door of a Sun City Center retiree’s home and handed her a document. She was surprised to see it had her Social Security number printed on it.
We are not using her name to protect her identity, but her identity isn’t all that hidden. We found her personal information by typing her name into a search on the Hillsborough County Clerk’s website.
“Did you have any idea something like this was out there on a county website?” asked I-Team investigator Michael George.
“No...no,” she said.
Our first investigation uncovered dozens of Social Security numbers exposed on the Pasco County Clerk and Pasco County Property Appraiser websites (see http://wfts.tv/LzGdSi ).
We searched other counties’ sites, and found the Social Security numbers of a dozen people in Hillsborough County after just a few hours.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said the retiree.
“Do I excuse any mistakes? No, I don’t,” said Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank.
The Clerk’s office is tasked with posting more than 35 million documents online. Florida law requires clerks remove Social Security numbers from newer documents, but the law doesn’t make the same requirement of older documents.
Regardless, the Clerk’s office works to redact older documents as well as newer ones. They use an automated program to scan and remove Social Security numbers, as well as employees’ own searches.
Most Social Security numbers are removed from documents, but in some cases, the information can be missed, especially if the document is older or handwritten. Frank says they take the issue seriously.
“Official records is a very important department. It’s dealing with the lives of people. We can’t have sloppiness or anything that’s not efficient,” she said.
Frank says they hope to upgrade to a more thorough computer program next year. In the meantime, they want to know if a mistake was made. The Clerk’s office is encouraging the public to look themselves up and contact them if personal information is exposed.
“If anybody knows that their private information, and that includes Social Security, bank numbers, credit card numbers, anything personal that’s in the public way, let us know right away,” Frank said.
If you are a Hillsborough County resident and you would like to see what documents are posted under your name, go to the clerk’s website at http://www.hillsclerk.com/publicweb/home.aspx . Click on “Online Services” on the left side of the page, then “Online Searches”. You can look at official records, such as divorce and mortgage documents, or court cases.
You can go directly to the records search by going to http://pubrec3.hillsclerk.com/oncore/Search.aspx . Type your name into a search and view the documents to look for personal information.
If you find that a document shows personal information you want removed, first, write down the “book number” and “page number” for the document. Then, you can fill out a form to have it removed at this link: http://www.hillsclerk.com/publicweb/WorkArea/showcontent.aspx?id=5011 , or you can call the Hillsborough County Clerk’s Office Records Department at (813) 276-8100, extension 4367.
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