(WJLA) - We are meeting Brenda Lover for the first time today - but we knew something stunning about her prior to the introduction.
What we know is enough to steal Brenda's identity, and we could do it potentially to millions of others - getting our hands on their social security numbers and doing exactly what scammers do: put together a puzzle online.
Brenda had assumed she would have privacy when she filed for bankruptcy, but it's not guaranteed for the millions who file every year. They are all required to supply social security numbers, and under federal law, the courts do keep them secret - except for the last four digits which we found easily on the web.
And that's only the beginning,
"There are hosts of companies that have consumers' personal information, and it's a problem," says Steve Toporoff with the Federal Trade Commission. He explains that scammers can assemble personal information bit-by-bit, just like we did, by pulling numbers from the feds and data brokers:
"In a thief's hand, you could open up bank accounts, you could get loans, in some cases employment...social security numbers are the keys to the kingdom so to speak when it comes to identity theft."
But the FTC wanted Congress to close up the gates, and in a report from 2008, they pointed out the ways companies might track or display social security numbers so scammers could cobble them together, and then the agency suggested created a national standard. But there is still no fix that Toporoff is aware of six years later.
Brenda Lover is now fully aware that she could be a victim of an identity thief - who may not simply stop at finding her number:
"I'm really surprised, really surprised -- things have to change."