Chuck Oates

Norman, OK, USA

Monday, March 19, 2007

 

 

Some URLs You Need to Know

The other day I e-mailed some of my students information about Web addresses that house information about public records that has always been available at court houses, but is now readily available to anyone with an Internet connection.  Also, there are some private information sites I didn't include that would probably be useful, as well.  To let everyone know what's out there and to put everyone on a more or less equal footing, I'll repeat and expand on that information now.



http://www.odcr.com/    Oklahoma District Court Records

http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/casesearch.asp    Oklahoma State Courts Network

First, you need to know that everything from traffic tickets to driving under the influence citations (DUIs) to even more serious transgressions, as well as things like protective orders, misdemeanor and felony convictions, etc., etc. within the State of Oklahoma can be found at the two URLs listed above.  Parties to marriage license applications, civil suits, divorce proceedings, and so on are summarized there, also.  The information is searchable by last name, and optionally, first name and middle initial, as well as several other keys and qualifiers.  You may be interested to know if that really cute guy you met at the College Union yesterday had three protective orders issued against him last year and is in the process of being divorced by his abused spouse.  Also, you should put your own last name (only) into these search fields and see what potential employers, landlords, and others who access this information are going to find.  You may be VERY interested to find that there's an OutStandingWarrant (OSW) out against you for, say, failure to pay a fine that you actually did pay, but the State's records failed to record.  If you're stopped for a traffic violation with an OSW on your record, you're in for a trip downtown in handcuffs, fingerprinting, and, at least in days gone by, probably a strip search and an overnight stay in the local hoosegow.  That happened to a friend of mine.


There's not much you can do about information that actually pertains to you, but you should pay particular attention to information on people with names similar to yours.  This information may be misattributed to you at some point and you'll need to know where it came from.  Potential employers are not too likely to care much about the illegal left turn citation you received when you were 18 years old, but particularly if your last name is Smith, Jones, Brown, Davis, or some other common name, they may attribute to you the DUI conviction of someone with a name similar to yours and silently eliminate you from consideration for a job.  (Put your last name or first name into the search field at www.onelook.com and see how common your names are.  The results may surprise you.  The rhymezone.com link that appears will give you even more detailed information.)  If you find something very derogatory about someone with a name very similar to yours, be sure to distinguish yourself by birth date, full name, city of birth, and other information—perhaps even note that you're NOT John Quincy Doe, also known as John Q. Doe, who was just released from the Oklahoma State Slammer after serving time for an armed robbery conviction—on applications for employment, rental housing, credit, and the like.  Those of you with common surnames (last names Smith, Jones, etc.) who are of child-bearing age should consider naming your children with uncommon given names (Caden, Meryn, Amethyst, and the like) to make your offspring less susceptible to this kind of problem.



http://www.annualcreditreport.com/    The truly FREE annual credit report site.

Speaking of credit, you should certainly check your credit information at least yearly.  A federal law now requires that all three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax, make available to you FREE your credit report, but alas not your credit score, once a year.  You might consider checking, say, your Experian report each April, your Trans Union report each August, and your Equifax report each December to provide yourself some measure of free year-around information on what's being posted about you.  If it's derogatory, true, and really about you, there's probably not much recourse, but again if the information is false or is about someone with a similar name, there are procedures to at least get your side of the story told in the credit report.  If you want your credit score with these, you'll have to pay a few dollars to get it, but your credit information itself is absolutely, positively, and utterly free once a year.



http://www.oklahomacounty.org/assessor/    Oklahoma County, OK Tax Assessor

http://www.oklahomacounty.org/coclerk/default.htm    Oklahoma County Clerk

http://www.clevelandcountyassessor.us/iView/iView.asp    Cleveland County, OK Tax Assessor

http://search.cogov.net/okclev/      Cleveland County Clerk

(others easily obtainable by Google, Yahoo, or other search engine queries)

Those of you who own real estate, engage in certain business activities, or receive settlements from others to pay for treatment for injuries sustained in a traffic accident may be surprised to find that complete details of your transactions in these activities are not only on file in the court house, but are also available to anyone with an Internet connection and a computer.  All real estate transactions and Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) transactions are on file with the county clerk of the county concerned.  All real estate tax information is on file with the county tax assessor of the particular county.  For Oklahoma County and Cleveland CountyOklahoma, the websites of these organizations are listed above.  You can look up the approximate market value, square footage, owners, sale price, a current image and floor plan sketch of any house in Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties on these two sites using the owner's name, the property address, or the legal description.  Again, these have always been public records in the United States, but not until a few years ago were they available to so wide a group as all Internet World Wide Web users.  The availability of this information implies that those of us who like to keep our residence addresses, house size, house price, and so on private are summarily out of luck.  There's absolutely nothing you can do about it, but now that you know that your home address is this accessible, you may be able to take appropriate actions to increase your security, if you feel that it's necessary.  Anyway, forewarned is forearmed, so consider yourself forearmed and dangerous, to mix metaphors.



Google Search:  "LastName, FirstName MiddleName"  Texas Dept. of Vital Statistics Info

Those of you born in the fair state of Texas may or may not be happy to know that virtually all your vital information, including your birth date, probably your parents' names (including your mother's maiden name), your date of marriage, your spouse's name and both your ages at the time, and a myriad of other information has graciously been made available to practically everyone on Earth by the Texas Department of Vital Statistics.  The DVS quickly removed (six months—quick for government folks) the birth records from the Internet some years ago, but not before www.rootsweb.com quite legally obtained copies of all of it and posted it on their own website.  If you perform a Google search with a native Texan's (maiden) name in the form "LastName, FirstName MiddleName" (with the quotation marks), you'll be treated to most of what there is to know about the circumstances of their birth.  Oh, and if you don't know their maiden name, but do know the name of the Texas county where they grew up, you can probably access their marriage data, since many brides choose to be married in their hometown.  I used this technique, together with an unusual family name used as a middle name in three family generations, to find the early-college girlfriend, since married and then re-married, who wrote me the letters described in my "How to Become a Med-Math Instructor …" blog post available from www.ChuckOates.com under Personal Items.  I wrote her and thanked her for unknowingly reaching out across 35 years to help make a college teacher out of me again (finally!).  BTW, since I know you're going to try it anyway, the search on "Oates, FirstName MiddleName" does, in fact, yield the desired result.  It almost goes without saying that I do not use my (adoptive) mother's maiden name for the answer to that particular security question.  There's not much I can do about the fact that my birth date and parents' names are now in full view of everyone, however.  It's an identity nightmare.


Conclusion

Now that you know all this stuff is available, whaddaya do?  As I pointed out in a few places above, sometimes you can use it to your advantage.  More often, however, you'll need to do what you can to keep the information, particularly the information of someone with a similar name, from being used against you.  If you live in Oklahoma, you've been provided one pretty amazing tool by our usually groveling-to-business-interests legislators.  As of 1-Jan-2007, you can send certified letters to the Big Three credit bureaus and for $10.00 get absolute control of who gets your credit information.  If you invoke this option, no NEW creditor can check your credit status without your explicit permission.  It's a bit inconvenient, because you have to wait up to three days, pay another $10 to establish a passcode, and submit paperwork each time you want someone new to check your credit, but for us old fogies whose credit is long established and who don't open new accounts much or buy cars on credit, it's not a big problem.  The advantage is that it makes it very difficult for an identity thief to do anything "productive" with your identity, like establish new accounts for himself in your name.


I hope this information helps you both find information that you need and helps you stay informed about what's available about you via the Internet and its Web!




Oh, BTW outfits like peoplesearch.public-records-now.com or www.switchboard.com and its partner find.intelius.com can easily unearth much of the information described above, plus one's age, former residences, family members' names, and much more, sometimes for a fee of a few tens of dollars.  They cater to "skip tracers," those who busy themselves hunting people who have skipped town to avoid some unpleasantness like unpaid debts.


Privacy is dead; long live the Internet!    %^(