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From the Green Valley News, Friday April 7 2006, page B5

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Genealogy & Identity Theft

If anything scares us today, itís the thought of identity theft. Newspaper stories and television news features on the subject immediately grab our attention.

What does genealogy have to do with identity theft? Across the country, state after state is legislating closure of public records to prevent identity theft. In most cases, officials cite the need for action to meet requirements of a new federal law. In fact, no such federal law exists.

If restrictions continue, it may soon be impossible to obtain the necessary vital records to identify and document our ancestors. The genealogical community is not the only group raising an alarm. The news media and private investigators are also disturbed about the ability to report news and obtain needed information in a timely manner.

In the past few months the states of California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, and most recently Colorado and South Dakota have passed or proposed legislation to close birth, death and/or marriage records for up to 100 years after the event.

Some states such as Pennsylvania now provide copies only to the person named in the record, immediate family, or one who can prove direct descent. A special form must be submitted and if the exact date of birth or death is unknown, $34 is charged for a record search. Other states require payment of from $15 to $25 for a certified copy to be used only for genealogical purposes. These measures all serve to effectively block or at least delay genealogical research, not to deter criminal activity.

Many cases of identity theft are committed by a relative or friend who can readily acquire the information needed to masquerade as the victim. Another leading cause is lack of care with personal information. Cell phones broadcast bank account numbers, social security numbers, full names and addresses to anyone within hearing range as users conduct business in malls, restaurants, doctorís offices, and airportsówherever they have a few spare minutes.

Not one case of identity theft via data from a fraudulently obtained birth or death certificate has yet been documented. Closing access to public records will have little or no effect on this crime.

Be alert to who may be listening when using a cell phone in public. Donít display information about living persons on your website. Before sharing your family history with another researcher via a GEDCOM remove living persons from the file.

Tear up or shred unsolicited charge card applications. Donít carry more credit cards than you need, and make a list of all card numbers and phone numbers necessary to report a lost card. Change your pin numbers and passwords occasionally. Question suspicious charges on your credit card statement and request a free annual credit report.

As genealogists, when we learn another state is planning restrictive vital record legislation, we canít afford to be passive. Write to the appropriate offices requesting further research into the necessity of the measure. Alert your friends to impending closures of public records. Remember politicians make concessions based on input from well-informed voters.

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