KSAT Defenders consumer alert: Social Security numbers available on Bexar County website

Bexar County records accessible to everyone online


SAN ANTONIO – In Bexar County, public records aren't just available to everyone -- they are also easily accessible online.

Deeds, contracts and other documents of record are all scanned into the county computer system and easily perused by anyone who may be so inclined.

"I'm finding that Bexar County has access to all the information of my personal buying of this house," said Lynn Hughes.

He said he has serious concerns about what he's able to find online without even leaving the house.

"I've found people's bank application contracts, full date of birth, Social Security, where they work at, home phone numbers," Hughes said.      

The KSAT Defenders set up their own account, which only required an email address, name, and phone number, to search documentation online in Bexar County.

They found Social Security numbers on Power of Attorney documents. There were also women's maiden names and dates of birth on marriage licenses.

But the most alarming document was a child support lien, which showed childrens' names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.

"You have to record that. It does not mean you have to make it accessible to anybody with an email address," Hughes said.

In some Texas counties, the actual documents are not scanned in and people have to make a request for the actual document in person.

The Defenders asked Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff why his office scans entire documents into the system, as opposed to just listing them.

"You have a right to privacy. You don't have a right to secrecy," Rickhoff said.

"For privacy, you have a responsibility to protect my identification," Hughes said.

It's a fine line and one Rickhoff seemed to straddle.

He originally told the Defenders he couldn't redact Social Security numbers without an individual's permission, but when he was reminded that he was quoted saying his office was working non-stop to redact numbers back in 2007, he said they had been.

"We break the numbers off. Normally, it's just the last four digits," Rickhoff said. "I think I'm embracing the realities of the world. When you see the volumes of identity theft that are transitioning now, that brings a little more sensitivity to the issue."

According to Rickhoff, going forward, there should only be partial Social Security numbers shown on documents scanned in, but that doesn't mean there aren't millions of older documents that have yet to be changed.