One of the fears of filing bankruptcy is whether or not one’s privacy will be breached. This fear arises from that fact that Bankruptcy is a public record. This means that anyone can show up to any bankruptcy proceeding or pull your bankruptcy paperwork. Section 107 of the United States Bankruptcy Code gives any individual the right to this information. Once upon a time as a result of section 107, anyone could pull a petition and your full social security number, full bank account numbers, and full credit card numbers. Result; identity theft, invasion of privacy and an all around feeling exposed.
In 2002 the Judicial Conference and the E Government Act of 2002 wanted to change the policy regarding full disclosure of identifying information in a public record forum. The result of this change was that social security numbers were to be redacted except for the last four digits.
Additionally all account numbers are to be redacted regardless if it is a bank account or a credit card account. In an effort to protect children, names of the children are to be removed from tax returns sent to the trustee and the ages and gender are the only things listed on the petition.
The judiciary and government have taken steps to protect your privacy in this public forum. So you should feel safe, or should you? There are scenarios that you should be aware of that could actually expose your social security number.
If you read Bankruptcy Rule 2002(a)(1) you will find that the 341 Notice for the Meeting of Creditors shall include your full social security number unless the court orders otherwise. At first thought you might think this is no big deal because your creditors have your social security number anyway so no worries.
Although it is true, most of the credit card companies, mortgage companies and car lenders do have your social security number but let’s think of other scenarios. You provide your attorney with an address for a creditor but you did not take the time to verify the address or you wrote it down wrong by accident. If your attorney does not double check the address then the mail may go to a bad address.
So the bad address mailing will do one of several things. The mailing will either go to someone who it was not intended for or it will go to the dead mail bin at the post office or it is returned to your attorney. Now let’s analyze the dead mail bin or the wrong recipient. Your 341 Notice with a non-redacted social security number maybe opened and exposed without your permission or knowledge. The bottom line is that people are curious and their curiosity just may lead them to opening up the mail so see what lies inside.
One other scenario may be critical and that you should be aware of. Let’s say that you are in a relationship and the relationship is horrible. It may even be abusive. At this point you leave this relationship in order to protect yourself. However before you left you either became a co-debtor with this person and or you owe this person money.
Because the Bankruptcy Code requires that you must list all your creditors your abusive ex will have your social security number when the 341 Notice arrives. Even if the ex does not create identify theft with your social number he/she can run our social security number through an Internet search and discover your new address and employer.
How do you protect yourself from the scenarios outlined above? Bankruptcy is a serious legal proceeding and it deserves your full attention. Take the time to provide your attorney with the billing statements of the credit card debt. Take the time to verify the medical debt provider and address. Tell your attorney if you are afraid one of your creditors and need to restrict access to your social security number and address. If this is the situation your attorney may be able to file a Motion to redact your social security number and address to a particular person.
Remember that knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have about the bankruptcy process the more power you will have to protect yourself.
Written by Kansas City Missouri Bankruptcy Attorney, Rachel Lynn Foley.
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Last modified: May 7, 2014