FOX 29 Investigates: Sensitive Employee Info Dumped On Street

FOX 29 Investigates: Sensitive Employee Info Dumped On Street

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Identity theft costs Americans one and a half billion dollars a year.

The damage from identity theft makes shredding personal information always a good idea. FOX 29 investigates brings us the story of sensitive records, which should have hit the shredder, not the streets.

A Philadelphia woman finds two overstuffed bags dumped in her backyard. Normally, this is not a big problem, unless there are reams of sensitive information inside.

It was a Wednesday morning back in mid-August when Linda Goode, of the Cedarbrook section of Philly, glanced out her back window.

"...I seen the bags and I'm like, ‘what are these bags doing out here...'" recalls Goode. Two big, overstuffed trash bags, with what looked like folders busting out of them, sat in front of her driveway. Her neighbor joined her outside.

"And she was like, ‘Linda, what's in it?' I said, ‘a bunch of folders.' That's when I opened it. We saw it and I was like, ‘oh, I got to get on the phone,'" remembers Goode.

Goode called the cops and then called her state representative. After neither responded, she contacted FOX 29.

"A picture, driver's license and photo ID and social security number," she tells Jeff Cole.

Crammed into the torn-up trash bags were personnel files from a local company. They were chock full of social security numbers, dates of birth, copies of drivers' licenses, home addresses, phone numbers, medical information, payroll history and even tax documents.

"It's a heaven for ID theft. It is all these employee files with their names and addresses city, state zip codes, social security numbers," reflects Goode. "This stuff is supposed to be shredded not just tossed out somewhere."

Goode wasn't sure what to do with it all, but she sure knew it couldn't stay in her backyard. Not wanting to keep those documents outside, FOX 29 gathered up the folders, tossed them in our vehicle, and hauled them to the station.

We poured through the stacks and stacks of files, which we estimate number over 400. Every single one we looked in had personal information that the former worker would likely not want released. Some even contained detailed medical information, including a document which revealed a worker's struggle with depression.

"They're fully readable, viewable documents with a lot of sensitive information that should be protected..." says Bill Latorre.

Bill Latorre is a former 20-year state cop who oversaw investigations in the sprawling Philadelphia region. He now runs a security consulting firm.

"I've taken reports from people over the years that have just been devastated by the impact that this has made on their lives. It can affect your credit for years and there are a lot of steps you have to go through just to erase the damage done to somebody's credit," says Latorre.

FOX 29 has found that the hundreds of personnel files came from the Gordon Supply Company, an auto parts distributor formerly of Montgomery County, Pa. Gordon's owners sold out five years ago, but some of its sensitive personnel files apparently were left behind in a company building.

More on that in a moment, but first meet Linda Huggett. Huggett worked as an administrative assistant for Gordon Supply for just two weeks back in 2007. Her file is in this stack that FOX 29 recovered. We pulled her file, complete with her home address, emergency contacts, social security number, date of birth, and brought it to her.

"What do you fear that somebody could do with this information?" asks Jeff Cole.

"Steal my identity, ruin my credit, have access to my house," answers Huggett. "It's horrible. I feel violated."

We found another worker in the same predicament. He asked that we withhold his name and shield his face because of his present job. He worked for Gordon Supply for six months, 14 years ago. His file held tax and health care information.

"You see this as a violation of your privacy?" asks Cole.

"Absolutely, absolutely. There's stuff in there people could do some real harm to me, my name and my life," he says.

So how did the files end up on the street?

According to Herb Gordon, the former owner of Gordon Supply, the bags containing the files were mistakenly set out for trash pickup by a tenant, who'd just leased his building.

Gordon told FOX 29 on the phone, "I supposed it was my fault, I didn't realize the files were still in the building… I hadn't been in there for a long time."

The tenant told FOX 29 that the files were already in trash bags inside the property and he didn't look inside them before he dragged them to the curb.

Pledging this time to shred all 400 employee files, Gordon sent a worker to FOX 29 earlier this month to haul them all away.

According to an attorney who practices labor in the region, what happened with the files is "not illegal" under Pennsylvania law and Herb Gordon did move to get them back and pledge to shred them when we alerted him.

But some of his former workers remain "concerned" by the "potential" for exposure of their personal information. If you have questions about your work records, then one suggestion is to ask your employer's H.R. director to explain the company's document retention and destruction policies.

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