Forsyth County residents now know at least one of the parties who had access to their personal information, as the Tax Commissioner’s Office released a name tied to last month’s accidental release of nearly 20,000 Social Security numbers.
Black Knight Financial Services Inc., which is headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, was one of two parties that received a file with the Social Security numbers of thousands of Forsyth property owners.
The company, which works with mortgage and real estate industries, governments, consumer lending companies and in the field of capital markets, “re-transmitted the information to three business affiliates,” reportedly without knowing Social Security information was in the file.
While Black Knight’s attorney did not name the three affiliates the company sent the files to, the attorney “did confirm that Black Knight sent retractions to all three and received confirmation that each had deleted the file.”
The mistake was realized in mid-November, but the Tax Commissioner Matthew Ledbetter, waited until mid-December before sending letters to residents, many of whom received theirs Dec. 19-20.
In the letter, dated Dec. 19, Ledbetter said, “On November 18, 2016, my Office became aware of an inadvertent release of certain property tax digest-related information, a portion of which contained the Social Security numbers of some county property owners. This information was erroneously made available electronically to two authorized parties, who had requested other non-confidential tax digest data.”
The second party, which has not been named, was “a resident of Forsyth County who had requested public, non-confidential electronic tax digest information,” the office said in an emailed statement to the Forsyth County News.
“As a private resident who responsibly and immediately brought this error to our attention, we choose not to provide the resident’s name in response to general media or individual inquiries,” the statement added.
The tax office said they do not know why the resident requested the data, other than to “analyze the county tax digest.”
“Intended use cannot legally be required or considered when responding to a request for public record information, or prior to making it available,” the office said.
Tax data is frequently released to financial agencies such as Black Knight and is a matter of public record, the tax commissioner’s office said.
“With the exemption of Social Security number information, which was in this case erroneously not redacted prior to release, all other information contained in the data is non-confidential and public record,” the office said. “It is a common practice for local tax offices and other governmental agencies to provide bulk access to public data.”
In response to inquiries as to why only one property owner received a letter (if a property was co-owned), the office also said, “While an individual property record may contain from one to seven names, only one Social Security number (if one was present) was assigned/listed per record.”
In the case of spouses who jointly own a property, only one of the two people had their Social Security information released.
The Tax Commissioner’s Office is offering those affected MyIDCare services, which include a year’s worth of credit monitoring, a $1 million insurance reimbursement policy, identity theft educational materials and recovery services.
The deadline to sign up for the free service is March 20, 2017.
“It is our belief that the release of information in this situation has been contained and that the risk of identity theft is remote,” the tax commissioner’s office said. “We also hope that the year of credit monitoring offered will provide those Forsyth County citizens an extra layer of comfort. At the end of the year the county will assess whether any claims of identity theft have been reported by affected citizens to determine if additional action is warranted.”
The incident hotline can be reached at 1(844) 256-8540 Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., and the MyIDCare website can be found at myidcare.com/forsythcountyga.