No, it's not a new dance craze or statewide golf tournament. It's what public record keepers are doing in the wake of a ruling from the Lone Star State's top lawyer.
The Texas Attorney General has ordered immediate removal of Social Security numbers from all public records. That's great news for ID theft foes, but terrible news for government workers and businesses that rely on the data.
The opinion, issued last week and now filtering down to record keeping offices statewide, is not a big surprise. As noted in my blog posting of just a few days ago, it's an issue across the entire United States. For the last couple of years, it's been a topic of official debate here in Texas, but the AG's ruling caught some Lone Star State offices off guard.
The affected documents include property records (including deeds), child support judgments and tax liens. Some of the materials are in bound volumes, others available electronically. People who want or need to see the materials, such as title company employees, real estate brokers and individuals involved in mineral rights transactions, can still view them, but only after asking a county employee for the specific record and then waiting for the personal ID number to be obliterated.
Some offices have decided to err on the side of caution, placing all documents temporarily off limits. Computers that once allowed access are disconnected and some office areas are even blocked off by yellow police tape.
Other jurisdictions saw the writing on proverbial wall as well as in the public records and started blacking out SSNs. That's the case in Travis County, where the hubby and I live. Last year that office temporarily pulled its records to remove the ID numbers and so far has processed about 11 million documents.
The Texas ruling arose from an investigation by the Fort Bend Herald newspaper, which raised concerns about identity theft from public county records. The county attorney asked for guidance from the AG.
Bob Haenel, the paper's managing editor, doesn't have much sympathy for county officials now complaining about the extra work. "Go out and buy some Magic Markers, for God's sake," Haenel told reporters. "This is somebody's life you're putting out there on the Internet."
"Go out and buy some Magic Markers, for God's sake," Haenel told reporters. "This is somebody's life you're putting out there on the Internet."
Barn door post-horse: The AG ruling will definitely help protect Texans whose SSNs haven't yet made it into the very public arena. But it's little consolation for individuals whose ID numbers have been out there on the books and in cyberspace for a while.
In those cases, the damage might already be done. I hope not, because unfortunately, I know what a pain cleaning up after an ID thief can be, as detailed in this entry.
But just in case you ever do have to deal with someone stealing your good financial life, check out the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft Web page, the Identity Theft Resource Center and this Texas AG's ID Theft Victim's Kit.
Update: Texas Attorney General Jim Abbott has suspended for 60 days his opinion requiring removal of Social Security numbers from public records. The two-month delay will give the state legislature time to look at the issue.