Quick Thinking Prevents Massive ID Theft Heist

February 2, 2007

Associated Press


The New York Department of State on Friday froze portions of a Web site listing commercial records that identity thieves could have used to access the Social Security Numbers of some New Yorkers -- including billionaire mogul Donald Trump.

It took the department more than three hours to block the information from being viewed after The Associated Press alerted officials to the problem.

The New York Department of State's Web site had posted commercial loan documents containing Social Security Numbers that could be viewed with a simple name search.

"Governmental Web sites should not make it easy for identity theft criminals to access personal information," said state Sen. Charles Fuschillo, a sponsor of numerous laws targeting identity theft.

The forms are posted by the department to let lenders know the current financial status of loan recipients. As a prerequisite for loans, many banks first research a debtor's name to ascertain their credit worthiness.

Trump was traveling and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The posted information also included the social security numbers of many farmers who had previously taken out loans for farm equipment and machinery.

Julie Suarez of the New York Farm Bureau said many farmers across New York could have been hurt by the release of the information because some lenders list the private numbers on the forms to track customers.

"We've done a lot of research on this and we are getting increasingly concerned," she said Friday before the information had been removed. "It's an optional part of the form, but not everybody knows this."

Earlier this month, the Vermont Secretary of State's office took down similar Internet links to business files that contained the Social Security Numbers of individuals.

Identity theft affects approximately 10 million Americans each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The Social Security Number postings were discovered by B.J. Ostergren, a Virginia privacy rights activist.

It was unclear late Friday how long the information was available on the site, and the Department of State did not immediately return calls seeking clarification.

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