Missouri state senator files bill to block social security numbers to guard against identity theft

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Independence Democrat Paul LeVota saw our Fox 4 News investigation in May on Missouri death certificates posted on-line, he had a thought.

"We shouldn't be helping the criminals come up with the social security numbers," he said.

LeVota was referring to the Missouri Secretary of State's practice of posting death certificates 50 years and older, with social security numbers fully readable.

"That is the key for identity theft right there," LeVota notes. "Take that social security number and use it in bad ways."

Those bad ways include identity theft, which experts say is made easier by easy access to social security numbers. That's exactly what Jane Wolff of St. Louis thought.

She was 12 and on a fishing trip with her parents, another couple, and five other children when the adults disappeared on the Osage River.

"And the next morning they still weren't back and I called, and we walked to the nearest house, told 'em, 'they weren't back,'" she remembered all these years later.

That was March of 1963. Now in 2014, the family learned their parents' death certificates are posted online and with social security numbers open for anyone to see.

"I was shocked," Wolff said. "My parents can't give permission for that information to be given away. So why should the government give that information to somebody else?"

The Secretary of State's office told Fox 4 News in May that it was only following the law, which it says requires documents to be posted in their original form.

LeVota says he has talked to the office and Secretary of State Jason Kander, and they are not opposed to changing the law. So LeVota has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that does just that: social security numbers cannot be posted except in rare circumstances. Documents posted that include them must have the numbers redacted. LeVota knows many in his district are involved in genealogy, but he believes the bill strikes a balance:

"When I saw that I thought, how can we still provide these open records to the people of Missouri, so they can study their genealogical background, whatever they want to do with those type of documents, but still secure the social security number? Which is the key in this instance," he explained.

LeVota says he thinks his measure will garner bi-partisan support. And that's good news to Wolff and her family, and she believes her parents, who she does not want to see become victims in their passing. Parents she still misses dearly, all these years later.

"There are times in your life, even as an adult, you think, your parents should be there," the mother of two herself said, fighting back tears. "When you get married, when you have your own kids. But they're not."

Wolff's late mother Mabel may be at peace to know things are being taken care of right away.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Secretary of State's office told us the Missouri archives is currently developing a process for removing social security numbers on these public records to both comply with state law and protect family privacy.

Sen. LeVota said he's pleased to hear that's going to happen, even before his bill becomes law. It's also good news for the Missouri Banker's Association, which had lobbied for the change as well. We'll keep you posted.


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