13 January 2007

Identity Theft and Vital Records Access

Genealogists need to be concerned that public concern about identity theft could restrict access to vital records. Studies "claim" that easy access to vital records are a significant part of identity theft--yet these studies never cite any specific studies and elected officials use these "studies" as reason to limit access to vital records, in some cases records of people long since deceased. Family historians need to be on the forefront of making it clear to our elected officials that access to vital records is not the real problem.

Those who are active in identity theft usually are stealing the identities of multiple people and typically do not bother getting copies of birth certificates. Typically they get access to people's social security numbers, credit card numbers, credit card applications, etc. via means outside of vital records agencies. Think about the last story of identity theft you heard in the media---were you warned about your birth certificate? NO. You were told to protect your private information, not leave personal information "unshredded" in garbage bags, etc. Rarely is one told to go to the courthouse and shred your birth certificate so someone cannot make a copy of it.

Identity thieves typically work with large numbers of victims. It is impractical to obtain copies of all their vital records.

Obtaining copies of vital records now requires identification. In the last year we needed copies of birth certificates for everyone in our household. In three cases, the person needed to show identification in order to obtain the certificate. I had to show my driver's license to get my daughter's certificate and before I got the copy she compared the name on my license with the father's name on the record. The only reason my mother didn't have to show ID to get my birth certificate is that everyone in the rural courthouse already KNEW who she was.

Another item at play in the identity theft arena are lending institutions who are eager to give "instant" credit in order to get the sale. Instant credit applications are not necessarily subject to the amount of scrutiny that other applications are.

And complaints about the SSDI are unwarranted. That database is USED by financial and other institutions to quickly check for social security numbers of DEAD people so that applications with those numbers are denied. DUH. And frankly any bank that issues a credit card to a dead person deserves to be left holding the bag.

For more about records access and identity theft, check out the posting by a professional genealogist in Connecticut.