The slip-up we told you about in the Summit County clerk’s office was not an isolated incident.
As of late last week, at least 11 other Social Security numbers were visible online, and we know of at least three earlier cases in which numbers were redacted only after their owners pushed for a change.
None of this would have been a big deal a couple of decades ago, when credit-card and other forms of remote payments weren’t nearly as commonplace. But Social Security numbers have become the key to identity theft, a nightmare that hits more than 11 million Americans each year.
As we noted a week ago, a Stow woman who was looking at the online records of the Summit County Domestic Relations Court spotted a divorce case in which neither the man’s nor the woman’s Social Security number had been blacked out, as is required by law.
The good Samaritan pointed out the problem in December, using the main email address listed on the clerk’s own website, but nothing was done. She sent two more emails over a four-month period, but still got no response. Only when the Beacon Journal contacted Clerk of Courts Dan Horrigan did anything happen.
Horrigan said the lack of action was indefensible, apologized, and immediately removed the document in question.
But more work remained.
Acting on information from readers, your favorite columnist sent a list of documents containing 10 Social Security numbers to the clerk’s office on Thursday morning. In less than three hours, all of them had been fixed.
Worth noting: This problem predates the current administration. Some of the faulty documents date to the reign of former clerk Diana Zaleski, who retired in 2006.
During the Zaleski era, one family hit the trifecta.
A few years ago, Deborah Matheny of Akron was looking for a document she had misplaced, then realized it would be available online. So she punched up the clerk’s website and found what she was looking for. To her horror, she also discovered the document was carrying Social Security numbers for both her and her ex-husband.
She looked through the other online documents associated with her case (most cases contain multiple PDF files) and saw six other occasions when her most precious personal digits were displayed for the entire wired world to see.
Horrified, she immediately phoned the clerk’s office and talked to an administrative assistant who promised the numbers would be eliminated within the hour. They were.
But then Matheny checked the online records of her mother and her sister, both of whom had gone through their own divorces, and discovered their numbers were visible, too. Two documents in her sister’s file still carried them, and three slid through in her mother’s case.
Says Matheny: “My suggestion to everyone who has ever been through the Summit County court system for any reason is to go online and check every single clickable document in every single document entry to make sure their information is not open to public access.”
Sounds like good advice.
Also keep in mind that overlooked Social Security numbers are not limited to domestic relations court. One caller last week told me about a Social Security number that appeared in a criminal case in which a filing had been made to expunge the record.
Horrigan says that if you discover your Social Security number has been left exposed, the best way to get it redacted is by sending an email to?SummitCPClerk@cpcourt.summitoh.net or by calling any of these 330 area code numbers: 643-2210, 643-2212 or 643-4870.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.