Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Dumped Personal Information
Most of us know to protect our personal information. But, the fact is, we often have to give out that personal information in order to do business, and wait until you see what can happen when those documents are dumped. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is ''On the Case.''
WSVN -- Cary Iglesias: "I noticed it last night, around six o'clock."
"It" is a recycle dumpster in the back of a shopping center -- stuffed with files that contain some very personal information.
There were copies of drivers' licenses, applications with social security numbers and even complete credit histories.
Cary Iglesias: "I figure, if I was a crook, that would be a gold mine."
Restaurant worker Carey Iglesias discovered the dumped documents when he went to put out recyclables and found the city container already full ... full of files.
Cary Iglesias: "I think the city fines us if we put anything besides recyclables or aluminum or glass out."
Around front, the Florida Rent Finders office had recently been vacated and, based on the information in the files, it is clear the records came from this business.
Cary Iglesias: "One of the first things I thought is, 'How would I feel if that was my information there?' And I've used Rent Finders before."
Jeff Ramer is a former customer of Rent Finders.
He was not pleased that we found information about him in the dumpster.
Jeff Ramer: "Which is shocking, that this has every bit of personal information ..."
We had his social security number, driver's license number, employment information, even his mother's name and address.
Jeff Ramer: "When they have this kind of information, obviously, they can steal people's lives whether its intentional or not. They might not intend for it to happen, but if they're irresponsible when they trash their materials, whether it be for storage space or just to get rid of stuff, someone finds it in the trash, you never know what could happen."
It is all the information a criminal would need to steal Jeff's identity or that of anyone else whose records were dumped.
Victor Johnson: "That's unbelievable because, with this, you can become somebody else."
At the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, special agent Victor Johnson looked at some of what was thrown in the dumpster.
Victor Johnson: "I can take this information and become any one of these people and just make a fortune on their credit."
I took some of the records to the West Palm Corporate Office of Florida Rent Finders.
Carmel Cafiero: "There was a container about this high and about that wide full of your customer files."
Terry McManus: "Gotcha, let's see what you got."
Terry McManus is the president of Florida Rent Finders.
He says records from the closed office should have been brought to this office and shredded.
Terry McManus: "All things that, you know, potential identity theft and other things that go on."
Carmel Cafiero: "That's right."
When he learned what had happened, McManus says he filed a police report because he says no one should have dumped the documents.
Terry McManus: "They were gotten outside of our policies and procedures by either a former agent who had a key to the office after we closed it [or a] janitorial company threw them away without our knowledge or permission. Any of those things could have happened."
McManus says he'll step up measures to protect his customers' privacy.
But, he says, law enforcement told him this kind of information is often dumped.
Terry McManus: "But, you know, we're not going to send out an investigative team like Channel 7 did to try and follow up as to what happened with these people's files because, you know, you dig through any garbage can in back, in town, and you'll find something like that."
And experts agree that some businesses are reckless with sensitive personal documents.
So keep close watch on your credit.
Victor Johnson: "It's huge. Everybody I know has a friend, a neighbor or relative who has had their identification, identity stolen like this. It's everybody."
Meanwhile, the recycle container was empty the next day. Carey Iglesias says no one is sure what happened to the documents.
Carmel Cafiero: "At home, we've learned the hard way to shred sensitive documents. But, when it comes to companies we do business with, we can only hope they do the same."
IF THERE'S SOMETHING YOU THINK CARMEL SHOULD INVESTIGATE, GIVE HER A CALL: