Video: Is town hall helping identification thieves?

By Lisa Myers Senior investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/5/2007 5:24:17 PM ET 2007-02-05T22:24:17

Cynthia Lambert never imagined that getting a speeding ticket would turn her life upside down.

She was shocked to discover that a county court in Ohio routinely posted traffic tickets and other public records on its Web site.

"I just never dreamt that they would scan that ticket and put it online for anyone to look at," she says.

It revealed key personal information — driver's license number, date of birth, Social Security number, address, and more. And it wasn't just nosey neighbors trolling the site.

A ring of identity thieves was taking those public records and creating fake IDs — opening credit accounts, forging checks and racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges using her name and others.

"I felt incredibly violated," says Lambert.

"These governmental Web sites are publishing personal documents and that is really aiding and abetting identity thieves globally," says Dan Clements, who runs an ID theft security firm called Card Cops.

NBC News found state and county Web sites across the country that, with a few clicks of the keyboard, give identity thieves what they need to take over someone's life.

Want a name, address and Social Security number? Try a site from the state of Missouri. We blocked out vital information, but they didn't.

Want a New York identity? Try another site. You might not pass for Donald Trump, but you can find his Social Security number.

And for ID thieves, one Florida site we found is the mother lode. Military discharge papers posted online reveal information the Pentagon won't even disclose: signatures, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, even closest relatives.

In Ohio, a frustrated Cynthia Lambert finally sued the county.

"The one entity that I thought was there to protect citizens, the county government, was spoon-feeding these criminals," she says.

Before long, the county stopped posting parking tickets and other public records. Some other state and local governments also are removing personal records. 

But experts say in many cases, the damage is already done. Thanks to your government, your personal information may already be floating in cyberspace forever.

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