- Update: Puerto Rico birth certificates remain valid through September 30, 2010
- Under a new Puerto Rican law, all birth certificates issued will be invalid on July 1, 2010
- A large percentage of identity-related crimes in the continental US stems from stolen Puerto Rican birth certificates
- Know how to protect yourself from identity theft through your birth certificate
Puerto Rico birth certificates won’t expire until October 1, 2010. The government extended the validity of the birth certificates for another three months to give citizens a longer transition period in which to apply for a new certificate*.
Puerto Rico began issuing new, more secure, birth certificates on July 1, 2010 to combat fraud and identity theft. The government hired new employees and extended their work hours to deal with the demand for new certificates. You can apply online for a new certificate at www.pr.gov.
There’s no rush to apply for a new certificate unless you need it for a specific purpose, like to get a passport. If you simply want a Puerto Rico birth certificate for your records, wait a few months before applying to avoid the rush of applications.
One of the most valuable pieces of information for an identity thief is your birth certificate. After all, it's easy to "become you" if he has an official document saying he's you. What can you do about it?
A Puerto Rican law passed in 2009 says all birth certificates issued by the Puerto Rican government will be invalid as of July 1, 2010. Why?
Identity thieves can and do strike anywhere, but a hotbed of activity is Puerto Rico. It's a territory of the US, meaning anyone born in Puerto Rico, or born to native Puerto Rican parents, is automatically a US citizen. There are hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican birth certificates. And according to a government report, they've been the target of identity thieves for years because they're not being protected properly.
As a result:
- Thousands of certificates have been stolen from schools and businesses, sold on the black market for up to $10,000 each, and then used illegally to get passports, driver's licenses or Social Security benefits, just to name a few things
- About 40% of the passport fraud in the past few years stems from Puerto Rican birth certificates
The law is supposed to stop these crimes and abuses. Among other things, the law:
- Requires the Puerto Rico Health Department’s Vital Statistics Record Office to issue new forgery-resistant birth certificates beginning July 1, 2010, upon your request. There's a $5 fee for the new certificate; the fee is waived for people over 60 and veterans
- Bars any public or private entity in Puerto Rico from keeping or storing an original Puerto Rico issued birth certificate. Government agencies, schools, and private employers may request to see and copy birth certificates, though
The Puerto Rican government recommends that you request a new certificate on July 1 only if you have a specific need for it, such as applying for a passport or enrolling in school. If you want or need one for your personal records only, it's suggested you wait a while, maybe a month or two.
What It Means To You
Even if you're not from Puerto Rico, there are things to take away from the story. How easy is it for someone to get your birth certificate? It depends on the state where you were born. In some states:
- Anyone can request and get a copy of a birth certificate - even a "certified" or official copy - simply by filling out a form and paying a fee, usually between $10 and $20. This is called "open access," and it's used in at least 14 states
- Certified copies of birth certificates can be issued only to the person whose name is on the birth certificate, or a parent, child, sibling or someone else who can prove a legitimate and genuine need for it. The person requesting usually has to give proof of identification and a reason for the request. This is called "restricted access," and it's used in at least 36 states
So, it may be easier than you think for someone to get your birth certificate.
What You Can Do
If you have a copy of your birth certificate, keep it with your other important documents. If a school or employer asks for a copy, make sure they get a regular photocopy - not a certified copy - and ask about the security measures taken to protect it and other personal information on file.
If you think you've been the victim of identity theft:
- Call your state's vital records office and ask if anyone's requested your birth certificate recently. They may or may not have the information, but it's a place to start
- Contact the US Department of State's Passport Services office and request information about passports that may have been issued in your name. It's a crime frequently committed with stolen or forged Puerto Rican birth certificates
- Contact your state and local lawmakers and ask them to toughen the laws on access to birth certificates in your state
Identity theft is a serious and growing problem. Protect yourself by protecting your personal information, including your birth certificate.
*LexisNexis VitalChek, the parent company of Lawyers.com, is the official provider of new government-issuesd birth certificates and other vital records.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Is a birth certificate issued when a child is still-born?
- I asked my child's school to return the certified copy of her birth certificate but they said it was part of her permanent record. Is there any way I can get it back?
- My travel agent suggested I carry my birth certificate whenever I travel out of the US. Is that good advice?