Is your financial and personal information safe when filing a bankruptcy? The answer is a resounding “there is absolutely no guarantee”.
The other day a caller said “I used a document preparer or bankruptcy petition preparer. Certainly they have obligations to keep my social security number confidential?” Unfortunately I had to say “Oh how wrong you are.”
A document preparer, paralegal or bankruptcy petition preparer is not an attorney. Unlike an attorney there is no obligation that a non-lawyer keep your information safe. Nor, is there any legal protection of confidentiality between a document preparer and their “client”.
You hire these folks to fill out the bankruptcy forms based on the information you provide.
Think about the information you are giving this stranger: all your financial information, your children’s names, bank accounts and your social security number. You do this without the slightest guarantee that the information will be kept safe.
The paralegal or document preparer may share an office with a con artist who is skilled in identify theft.
They may leave files open on their desk so that cleaning people can see all your information or throw your financial information into a garbage can in the alley. Some people respond with “my credit is toast so what difference does it make if they have my social security number or bank account?” That person is very naive and may take the next 1o or 20 years trying to fix this one bad mistake.
So, if I use an attorney is my financial information information protected?
Normally yes, but it depends on that attorney’s commitment to their clients. Some attorneys see you as quick way to make a buck (something like a used car salesman).
These attorneys may contract with non-lawyers (most over seas) to enter all the data used in your bankruptcy.
They may not use common sense when it comes to protecting your financial information – such as closing clients files, shredding information before disposing of it and instructing all staff about their duty of confidentiality. Shame on these attorneys because they are showing a complete disregard their clients financial safety. But, unless you ask you will never know whether or not your bankruptcy attorney uses outside data entry services or takes precautions to protect your privacy. Of course, if an attorney commits a bad act you can complain to whatever agency licenses the attorney. if you complain about the bad acts of a paralegal or document preparers to the Supreme Court (where they are supposed to be licensed, but many are not) or the State Bar of Arizona the bad actor will just close up the business and start a new one down the street using another name (somewhat like a game of ‘wack a mole’.
MUSINGS FROM DIANE:
Bad attorneys, paralegals and document preparers will jump up and down screaming “foul” for my statements. I think you have the right to know about this serious security problem. Last note – never contract with anyone who you do not meet in person. Do not assume that a lawyer is licensed; check them out with the state bar where they are licensed. Here is the link to the State Bar of Arizona.
We have several videos on this site. This is one “Suggestions on How to Hire an Attorney”