By Katie Fenton
Delivering on a campaign promise, which constitutes a cornerstone of best practices in government, Town of Hempstead Clerk Kate Murray recently announced she will take decisive action to protect against personal and corporate identity theft in municipal government. Joined by Supervisor Donald Clavin in the town clerk’s office, Murray announced that she will curtail the town’s publishing of unredacted social security numbers and federal tax identification numbers, also known as employer identification numbers, on the municipality’s website. The previous administration included the unredacted social security numbers and federal tax ID numbers of several town vendors and consultants on resolutions, which were displayed on the town’s website, exposing individuals and business entities to identity theft and fraud.
There were about 100 instances of unredacted social security numbers or federal tax ID numbers in town board resolutions or accompanying documents, going back four years, making the effort a 20,000-page project for the town clerk and her team.
“I made a commitment to the residents of Hempstead to protect the personal information of people who do business with the town, ensuring that they would be protected from identity theft and fraud,” Murray said. “At the same time, I will make certain that the public will have full access to transparent information on town vendors and consultants. Indeed, the names, business addresses, disclosure forms and other pertinent information will remain intact on all online resolutions. In short, we can guard against identity theft and still provide full disclosure and transparency to the taxpayers of our township.”
Clavin added that it is the town’s duty as a municipality to be proactive when it comes to protecting the personal information of residents and anyone who does official business with the Town of Hempstead.
“I thank Town Clerk Kate Murray for her leadership in the fight against identity theft and fraud, and I fully support her efforts,” Clavin said.
Resolutions for prospective vendors and consultants are created for the supervisor and town councilmembers to review and consider at town board meetings. Additionally, the documents, which provide for important goods and services, are posted online for the public to review. The previous administration neglected to partially or fully redact social security numbers and federal tax ID numbers from the resolutions, ultimately exposing vendors and consultants to identity theft and fraud. A social security number, name and address are all that is required to establish bank accounts, secure financing and undertake a variety of transactions that could create fiscal chaos for victims. Similar fraudulent activity can victimize corporate entities by misuse of federal tax ID numbers.
“I am taking a stand on this issue to ensure that individuals and companies are not exposed to fraud,” Murray said. “Partially redacting personal information, such as social security numbers and federal tax ID numbers, is an important step in preventing crime.”
At a press event on the identity theft issue, the supervisor and clerk displayed three enlarged copies of resolutions that were posted by the previous administration. Both of the resolutions included personal information, which exposed an individual and a corporation to identity theft and fraud. Murray obscured the information to avoid further risk to the parties involved.
“No one should ever have to deal with the frustration and stress that comes with being a victim of identity theft,” Clavin said. “By taking the initiative to safeguard our township, the Hempstead Town Clerk’s office, led by Kate Murray, is setting a model for other municipal offices across our region.”
Murray declared that she is working with the town attorney to finalize steps to curtail the display of unredacted social security numbers and federal tax ID numbers from public display on the township’s website. She also noted that she is exploring state legislation that would prohibit the online display of this type of personal information.
“I am happy to take important steps to protect innocent people and forthright businesspeople from becoming victims of fraud and identity theft,” Murray said. “Issues like this are among my list of priorities aimed at making government more efficient, effective, responsive and transparent.”
After solving the issue in the town clerk’s documents, Murray looked into other areas of the municipality’s website and found many contracts that included the same kind of sensitive information. With Clavin’s support, Murray and her team quickly tackled the needed redactions in the contracts, removing all of the personal information in just one day.
“I don’t want to say definitively that absolutely every aspect of the website is clean, but I’m very comfortable saying that 100 percent of the town clerk’s documents are clean, 100 percent of the contracts uploaded there are clean and, going forward, now all the departments know that kind of information has to be redacted before the documents are uploaded to the website,” Murray said. “It’s a nice, clean slate going forward.”
—Additional information provided by the office of Don Clavin