SAN ANTONIO - In this age of identity theft, we've all learned to take precautions. We shred our documents, delete suspicious email and never give out our social security numbers. But it turns out our sensitive information is wide open on a government website for anyone to take.
News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila shows you why it's there, and what you can do about it.
At the Bexar County Clerk's office they recently put up cameras to watch people who might be trying to steal your identity using the county's own computer system. But to really be protected you have to take action.
You see, their database could contain your wedding date and the name of your spouse; the address of your home and how much you paid for it; even legal documents from child support to powers of attorney.
If you did it in Bexar County, it's there on the county clerk's public website.
As Lynn Hughes discovered, some of these documents still have your sensitive information on them.
“Right there on the same website they have my social security, my date of birth, my ex-wife's name, my children's names and where I live,” Hughes told News 4 WOAI.
All he had to do was register his email address to get access to everyone's documents -- even those belonging to Bexar County's most private residents.
Hughes showed us how easy it was to pull up property and legal records for Spur Manu Ginobili, actor Tommy Lee Jones and singer George Strait.
Hughes can't understand why some of the social security numbers, drivers license numbers and birth dates haven't been redacted, and calls the county's database a goldmine for identity thieves.
“This database shouldn't be accessible to anyone,” says Hughes.
We figured there must have been some kind of oversight, so we immediately contacted County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff. But to our surprise, he told us he knows all that sensitive information is on the website.
“I’m not allowed to touch these public records,” Rickhoff told us. “I can't restrict. I don't have the capability to touch any of these open records. They all belong to the public. We just maintain them.”
That's right. An estimated 1,100 pages of records go right up on the website everyday, and no one goes through them to remove personal information. The law doesn't require it.
There is a measure of security: a person has to register to use the site, so law enforcement can trace the IP address of your computer and what you looked at.
“We track everything that everybody looks at on the website,” explained Rickhoff.
And if anyone uses your information to come in and file a forged document, there are those cameras we talked about earlier.
“We take a full frontal shot of that individual, and because it's time-stamped, we know what document you are recording,” Rickhoff said.
But all that evidence is only helpful if you suspect someone's been tampering with your information. That's why Rickhoff says everyone needs to monitor what's under their name on the county website -- just like you check your credit report.
After we contacted them for this story, the county clerk's office made a change. They put a new form on the website, so you can request your social security number be removed from all your documents.Click here for a link to that form…