Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

B.J. Ostergren is a proud Virginian, known as “The Virginia Watchdog” who I call “The Pit-bull of Personal Privacy”. She is in a tireless, relentless pursuit to protect citizen’s privacy from governments who post our personal information online. How does she do it? By publishing politician’s personal information online that she gets from their own states websites.

Some insight to how our data is managed. Publicly appointed government employees known as Clerks of Courts or County Clerks or Registrars, are responsible for handling and managing public records including birth, death, marriage, court, property and business filings for municipalities all over the country. Every state, city and town has their own set of regulations as to how data is collected and then disseminated to the public.

A Federal law called “Privacy Act of 1974, from Wikipedia : establishes a code of fair information practices that governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personally identifiable information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies. A system of records is a group of records under the control of an agency from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifier assigned to the individual. The Privacy Act requires that agencies give the public notice of their systems of records by publication in the Federal Register. The Privacy Act prohibits the disclosure of information from a system of records absent the written consent of the subject individual, unless the disclosure is pursuant to one of twelve statutory exceptions. The Act also provides individuals with a means by which to seek access to and amendment of their records, and sets forth various agency record-keeping requirements.

Over the years this law has been translated by many that essentially allows the posting of public data online including documents that include Social Security Numbers. I’ve seen social Security Numbers online for Jeb Bush, Colin Powell, former CIA Director Porter Goss, Troy Aiken, and even Donald Trump. All free, all posted online compliments of the US Government.

B.J. discovered years ago that Virginia, her home state and other states were posting our records online and saw how this could contribute to identity theft. She has said she downloaded as many as 22,000 Social Security numbers from deeds, mortgages, tax liens from the Web sites of circuit courts, registers of deeds and secretaries of state. She made a concerted effort to inform each agency what they were doing was at least unethical and maybe even criminal. But she was often rebuked. That’s when she fought back. When government agencies stopped listening, she started posting that states politician’s information online, on her own website “The Virginia Watchdog”. This act not only got the attention of each official, but it also caused a back lash against her in her own state.

Some states fixed the issue by redacting the Social Security numbers. Virginia was not one of those states. As B.J. persisted in informing them of the problem, as MICHAEL PAUL WILLIAMS from The Richmond Virginia Times Dispatch said, “The state decided that the person who brought the problem to their attention was the problem.”

A law passed in 2008 by the state of Virginia prohibiting disseminating such information taken from public records prohibited B.J. from posting publicly available information on her website. Read again; the law was created to prevent B.J. or anyone from posting records that were already being posted by government officials online. So it was OK for the County Clerk to do it, but nobody else was allowed.

Recently U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Payne ruled that the 2008 state law prohibiting disseminating public records was a violation of Ostergren’s First Amendment rights. Which is a win for B.J., but still doesn’t solve the problem of public records posted.

So what does all this mean to you? It means that while you may do everything you are supposed to do to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft by protecting your personal information, that your local government may be circumventing your security by posting your data online.

While B.J.’s fight has fixed some of the issues and prompted some states to redact data, the battle is far from over.

What you must do:

Visit B.J.’s site The Virginia Watchdog and become informed. This website will send chills down your spine when you see one persons quest to demonstraight whats wrong and to fight for whats right.

Next, protecting yourself from new account fraud requires a credit freeze, or setting up your own fraud alerts. This provides an extra layer of protection. In most cases it prevents the opening of new credit.

Consider making an investment in Intelius Identity Protect. Because when all else fails you’ll have someone watching your back. Includes a Free Credit Report, SSN monitoring, Credit & Debit Card monitoring, Bank Account monitoring, Email fraud alerts, Public Records Monitoring, Customizable “Watch List”, $25,000 in ID theft insurance, Junk Mail OptOut and Credit Card Offer OptOut.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing availability of Social Security numbers

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