A man has stolen the identity of dozens of people, all due to Alabama's publicly accessible online court records. His successful attempt at garnering personal information from a state website has stirred up a conversation regarding the system's vulnerability to identity thieves.
Brian Colby Alexander has been charged with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy for allegedly obtaining the names, home addresses, birth dates and even Social Security numbers of 43 people from the state's trial court records website, Alacourt.com. According to federal prosecutors, the website had a lengthy list of individual's Social Security numbers displayed on the site for all to see. Former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's identity wasn't even protected in the records. His Social Security number was listed twice - both handwritten and typed - on a case involving political campaign violations, reported the Seattle Times.
Most states do not disclose this type of information on their websites for obvious reasons. They normally remove personal information about people before records are posted online. But anyone with access to the internet could have seen this information on the Alabama website.
Alexander worked with an accomplice by the name of Elizabeth Barashes, to steal the information from the website and open a number of bank accounts, request loans, create fake state driver's licenses, and obtain debit cards. He netted more than $24,000, prosecutors wrote in court filings. Barashes documented each identity they took in full detail inside of a notebook, court documents reveal. She has already pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, but won't be sentenced until June of this year.
In light of Alexander and Barashes' actions, several advocacy groups and organizations like the Associated Press delved into the website to find out just how easy it was to obtain the information. What they found was startling for Alabama residents. The Associated Press discovered numerous Social Security numbers ranging from minor offenses like speeding to a severe offense like murder. The report raised concerns for those who have been victims of rape, who could be targeted and attacked again if the wrong people get a hold of their address. A recent case identified a rape victim in a student dorm room at the University of Alabama.
The spokesperson for Alabama's Administrative Office of Courts claims he will look into the matter. However, state law provides that a clerk or custodian of online court records can not be held liable for the theft of any personal information included in documents filed in the clerk's office.
Victims who are concerned about their information being put on display are encouraged to notify the courts or a local prosecutor to have it redacted.
If you have been accused of identity theft or any other theft-related crime, you deserve a quality defense. Remember, a charge for a crime does not guarantee a conviction. Call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online for a consultation.