Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Originally published: September 11, 2006
It’s scary to think that someone has stolen your credit cards and ruined your credit history. But it’s even scarier to consider that someone else has assumed your entire identity by taking your Social Security number and creating a completely different persona. Maybe it’s an illegal immigrant who’s bought your Social Security number. Maybe it’s a criminal who shares your name, and whose misdeeds are reported in your credit file. Maybe it’s a fraudster who slightly changes your Social Security number to open new accounts, knowing that credit bureau software is likely to assume the switched digits are a typing mistake. So new credit is authorized in your name -- at the fraudulent address.
Name sharingHow would you ever know? Even if you have a credit monitoring service, it won’t report on different names using your Social Security number, and it won’t check criminal records or other public records under your name. Thousands of Americans could share your name. And all of them can be confused with you in public records.
That’s the impetus behind two new products that give consumers a peek at where and how your name and Social Security number show up in public records of more than 9,000 databases around the country, containing billions of public records.
At www.MyPublicInfo.com, you can get an expensive ($79.95), but comprehensive, rundown on where your name and Social Security number appear -- together or separately -- in the following places: on public databases kept by government agencies at the federal, state and local level; on court databases around the country, including records of bankruptcies, liens and judgments; on law enforcement records for felony and misdemeanor convictions; on Internet sites that reference you; in unclaimed-asset databases of almost every state; on up to 20 years of address history from phone books and credit bureaus and much more.
This is not a service that you can use to spy on your neighbor or spouse. To gain online access to your Public Information Profile (PIP) report, you have to answer specific questions that would not be known to someone who stole your wallet.
When I ordered my PIP report, which was given free to me by the company, I was shocked in many ways. First, it took only minutes to generate a voluminous report. Could it really be that easy to find so much information? The process is so sophisticated it has been patented.
Second, the PIP had details about my life that I never imagined were in public records -- previous addresses (including office addresses) and phone numbers. It found my investment adviser registrations and corporate board member filings over the years. And it detailed how many shares I own in my cooperative apartment building. But it wasn’t just these intimate details that shocked me. Really scary was the number of records it found for people who share my name and might be confused with me.
I learned there’s another Terry Savage in the Midwest who has huge credit problems and filed for bankruptcy. The PIP report found 11 criminal records that match my name around the country. Several of those people are currently in jail for various offenses, and some are out on parole. Shocking. And disappointingly, of the 129 unclaimed assets reported in my name, none belonged to me! There was much more.
Perpetual vigilanceThe report made me think about the kind of information available, and the uses to which it could be put. That’s why the second, companion product is so valuable.
It’s called IdentitySweep (www.IdentitySweep.com), and for $4.95 a month, it provides e-mail alerts of any manipulations to your name or Social Security number. It provides automatic scanning of your personal information found in Internet directories and databases, including your name and up to three of your phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses. So if your information is stolen, you can take immediate action.
This type of public record search and warning goes far beyond credit reports and credit monitoring services. Now you’re instantly empowered to maintain control over the potential misuse of your identity. That’s worth paying for -- and that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.