OKLAHOMA - Within courthouses across Oklahoma thousands of court records are available to anyone who asks for them--including identity thieves. Oklahoma City Police Department's Chief spokesman said false accounts could be created in your name with just part of that information included in state records--and it's all there legally.
"By all means it is very possible for someone to take legal court documents and commit identity theft," said OKC Police Captain Dexter Nelson. "Because in the state of Oklahoma those documents not only bear an individual's name but they bear sometimes dates of birth, social security numbers and addresses."
And he says they've seen it happen.
"Witnesses that were listed in a court case, someone involved in that case accessed the public records through the public records network and used that information to contact witnesses and do other things," said Captain Nelson.
We collected district court records from Marshall, Stephens, Carter, Murray and Love counties to see what information is available. They included arrest affidavits, probable cause affidavits and information sheets. Two had only a name, one listed a name and date of birth, another a name and address..four included names, birthdates and addresses, 2 had names, birthdates and social security numbers listed. Of the two documents that had all four pieces of information, one had the social security number blacked out.
But some people said there's a reason the information in these documents needs to remain public. Because sometimes it can even help people maintain their privacy.
OSU media law professor Joey Senat is on the board of Freedom of Information Oklahoma--a statewide coalition for open government. He sayid the amount of identifying information on documents can vary and explains how it can help protect privacy.
"Because it can help distinguish between you and someone else with the same name," said Senat. "And I've seen examples of that where someone is getting phone calls--reporter for example--getting phone calls from creditors because they have the same name as someone else but they have to keep showing them, my date of birth is different."
The Oklahoma State Supreme Court has considered rules restricting personal information on public documents in 2008 and 2011, and rejected the proposals both times. However, Senat said a provision in the Open Records Act requires municipal courts to remove social security, credit card and bank numbers from municipal cases.
He added that the information on public records helps us get a closer look at the people in our lives--from business partners to romantic partners, and said restricting information won't help solve identity theft.
"it is a serious problem," Senat said. "But it needs to be dealt with in an adult way with more than some simplistic than we're going to take information out of public records."
Captain Nelson said it's difficult to protect yourself if your information is in public records. But you can protect your identity in other ways by shredding unwanted credit card applications, asking for a credit report and reviewing credit card statements. Online court records we looked at sometimes listed addresses and birth dates, but none listed social security numbers.