Is your SS number online? Quite possibly

Is your SS number online? Quite possibly »Play Video

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- She asks her identity to be hidden -- after finding her social security on line, posted there not by some identity thief, but by the State of Washington.   

And she wasn't alone. Not by a long shot.

This isn't just a few errors posted by mistake. It’s tens of thousands of social security numbers matched with names on a site anyone can access.

Sandi, the woman who asked not to be identified, said she was scared to death when she first saw her Social Security number online.

"I'm terrified that information on me or mine will be used in some criminal way,” she said. “You know, I don't have a lot, but I want to keep what I have."

Sandi's name and social security number were on a website operated by the State of Washington's Secretary of State. According to the website, Sandi wasn’t the lone person to have her Social Security number put online. In five minutes, she found ten more people.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. More were found in Washington state's digital archive center in Cheney, Wash. At last count, more than 42,000 people had their Social Security numbers online -- about half of them from Spokane, Wash.

"For Spokane County, there were almost 20,000 that we discovered,” said Washington State Archivist Jerry Handfield, who said the Social Security numbers were used as an index term for everything that was filed.

Handfield is the man responsible for transferring tens of millions of the state's most precious paper documents into a digital format. He went to work quickly scrubbing the digital records of all Social Security numbers as soon as he was alerted to the problem. Almost immediately, Handfield’s co-workers found and cleaned nearly 25,000 files last week.

A victim of identity fraud himself, Handfield says he took the problem seriously from the start.

"I know about this stuff, and I want to make sure that we have the layers in place to deter somebody and make it difficult,” he said.

The state's original documents, some stored six stories below ground near the state capitol, already had those layers of security. And now, the millions of records kept digitally are also safer. They’re protected from those who could use vital information for their own financial gain.

"If it had been somebody with criminal intent this could have been really scary for a lot of people,” Sandi said.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State says his office now trains local agencies how to store documents so the Social Security numbers don't show up online. Also, Washington is the lone state in the nation to store all of its records digitally. More than 86 million public documents have been recorded in the data base since it began digital archiving in 2004.