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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Private data seen on state Web site

Contractor pulls up his Social Security number

A Washington Department of Labor and Industries Web site that allows consumers to check contractor licenses was shut down for several hours Tuesday after a Spokane electrical contractor realized his Social Security number was exposed.

L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer said the problem was apparently a side effect of recent software upgrades. Internet robots were continually accessing the site searching for information, she said, frequently crashing the system in the process.

The defensive measures exposed the Social Security numbers if a viewer was clicking around the site, as contractor Jason Maas said he was Monday night. Someone with a job he was bidding brought it to his attention, he said.

“I was able to pull up my own Social Security number,” Maas said. “I immediately thought of identity theft.”

Maas said it did not take him long to get the numbers of about 30 other contractors, electrical and plumbing. Among them was Ron Fuller, L&I’s chief electrical inspector, who holds a master electrician’s license.

Maas said he walked the L&I technicians through the process that allowed him to look at the numbers.

“We had a hard time recreating it,” Fischer said.

Anyone attempting to use the site Tuesday got this message: “This online service is currently unavailable due to software maintenance. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Other L&I sites remained accessible.

Besides notifying L&I, Maas said he called Local 73 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to alert members to the potential for ID theft. The department should notify everyone with a license that their numbers might have been exposed, he said.

“We’re certainly taking it very seriously,” Fischer said. “Privacy is extremely important.”

Maas said he will discard the numbers he accessed.

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