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Opinions mixed on Jefferson County records breach

October 31, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Opinions differed Thursday over how much of a security threat was posed to county residents when Social Security numbers were included in a new Internet-based county records search program that was launched last week.

Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan, whose office oversees records like property deeds, judgments and tax liens, said she wanted to put the records online to help people do record searches more efficiently.

But the new online program, which started Oct. 24, was taken down Wednesday after Maghan realized people's Social Security numbers were in some of the records.

Maghan said her office is running computer software to remove, or redact, the numbers and that it will take about a month to do the work.

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At the regular Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday morning, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said he could not understand how computer software used to put the records online attached itself to sensitive personal information.

"I'm just very curious," Boober said.

Maghan sought to calm concerns that large numbers of people might have seen Social Security numbers.

Maghan said about 211 people used the new records search program and most of them were looking at their own property deeds.

"It was not broadcast nationally," Maghan said.

In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for a Parkersburg, W.Va., computer company that supplied Maghan's office with computer software to remove Social Security numbers played down any concerns over security threats.

Anyone stealing someone else's identity needs more information than a Social Security number, like a date of birth, for a credit card application, said Chris Herrington, a senior developer for

The records being put online have been open to public view in Jefferson County for about 200 years, so it's "not anything new. I don't see it as a tremendous security threat of any kind," Herrington said.

The vice president of public relations for the state Division of the Better Business Bureau in Charleston, W.Va., disagreed.

Someone with another person's Social Security number can obtain loans and credit cards under that number, Amanda Tietze said.

When someone defaults on loans using someone else's Social Security number, it can take years for the victim to recover from a wrecked credit history due to the scam, Tietze said.

Other than someone having a person's bank account number, Tietze said "one of the worst things to be compromised" is access to a Social Security number.

"It's kind of serious," Tietze said.

Later in the day, Boober issued a press release saying that the threat of identity theft is continuous and he asked county residents to be vigilant to the illegal use of personal information.

"Any questions or instances of misuse of personal information should be immediately reported to law enforcement," Boober said in his statement.

Commissioner Dale Manuel inquired if it can be tracked as to whether someone's Social Security number was viewed online. If it's possible, perhaps the people whose numbers were viewed should be notified, Manuel said. It's important to "find out what's going on and notify the people," Manuel said.

County resident Ed Burns suggested the commission hire a credit monitoring agency to keep tabs on the situation and take the money for the service out of Maghan's budget.

"It was a really stupid thing to do," said Burns, referring to the inclusion of the Social Security numbers in the records program.

A credit monitoring agency can report if there is anything unusual or suspicious that appears on a person's credit report.

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