Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

April 6, 2007

SSN Policy Revisited

by @ 7:48 am. Filed under Indexing, Registry Ops

Here’s part of an email I received yesterday:

I happened onto this site and was surprised to see my mortgage information with my full name and social security number! This is an invitation for identity theft! What can I do to get my private information removed from public access? I saw that up there and said to myself, I’m shredding all these papers in my office and here’s the information I’m looking to protect on-line. With my signature!

The writer’s mortgage had been recorded in 2001 and on the last page, right below the space for his signature was printed: “Borrower’s Social Security Number” and the attorney handling the closing had required him to complete that line of the form. Since at least the summer of 2005, we have not allowed documents containing social security numbers to be recorded, except for state and federal tax liens and releases. In addition, any time we discovered a social security number or had one brought to our attention (usually by a customer like the one quoted above) we would immediately remove that social security number from our online records. Then, in December 2005, two things caused us to become more aggressive in our policy. First, instances of identity theft seemed to rise dramatically. Second, both the IRS and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue began sending us new liens and releases with only the last four digits of social security numbers visible. We took this as a green light to redacting the first five digits of SSNs on previously recorded IRS and DOR liens. We went through our records back to 1976 and removed all the full SSNs we could locate. Some still popup, as was the case cited above, but we take care of them immediately. I believe that makes this office one of the few governmental entities providing online access to records to have already removed the bulk of SSNs from our previously recorded documents.

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