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  • Social Security numbers found lying in street

    Posted on February 21st, 2010 admin No comments

    Sensitive documents mysteriously appear in Des Plaines, putting identities at risk

    Social Security Numbers Lying In The Street

    The W-2 form of Jeffrey Simmons of Santa Rosa, California, lies on the ground on the 1000 block of East Touhy in Des Plaines, Ill., on January 28, 2010. The W-2 came from MEDHQ, LLC in Westchester, Ill. Hundreds of documents including W-2 forms, financial and retirements statements, credit card accounts statements, and among others were found blowing in the wind.

    When Elida Cruz worked in the banking industry, she assured clients that their personal information would remain confidential.

    So, imagine her horror when she learned that much of her own information, including her Social Security number, birth date, phone number and job history, had become astonishingly public, floating down a Des Plaines street in a cloud of half-shredded paperwork.

    Hundreds of sensitive, intact documents — including W-2 forms, investment account balances and job applications — were inexplicably swirling around Touhy Avenue and Eastview Drive on Thursday afternoon. After being tipped to the airborne paper trail, the Tribune contacted some of the people and companies listed on the documents.

    None of them knew how the papers could have ended up in the street.

    “I am pretty much disgusted with this,” said Cruz, 47, of Chicago, who was notified that at least 17 documents with her Social Security number (the apparent remnants of an old job application) had been retrieved. “All of that is sensitive information. You would think your stuff is secure.”

    Privacy experts say the loss of confidential paperwork illustrates that even in an electronic age, stray documents remain a danger.

    “It’s a lot more frequent than people would suspect,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. “Most of the time it’s just not discovered.”

    His group, which pushes for tighter privacy laws, tracks breaches of sensitive information. Though computer hackers are behind most such data loss, careless document disposal still causes problems. Since 2006, the clearinghouse has noted 33 cases of legal, medical and financial paperwork discovered in trash bins.

    Losing track of sensitive documents can have serious consequences.

    Washington, D.C., attorney Christopher Wolf, founder of the Future of Privacy Forum and a partner at Hogan and Hartson, said state and federal laws on data security have gotten tougher in recent years. Companies that lose records often must announce it publicly, he said — a public relations nightmare.

    “These laws certainly have spurred compliance, and every major corporation now understands they have a data security obligation,” he said. “Companies know they can’t put sensitive records on the curbside or throw them in the Dumpster. It’s not to say that never happens, but it’s rarer.”

    Many companies contract with vendors to destroy their paperwork. That is the case with MedHQ, a Westchester firm that provides business services to healthcare providers. Some of its employees’ 2009 W-2 forms were found in Des Plaines.

    Tom Jacobs, MedHQ president, said he called his shredding company (he declined to name it), but no one there claimed responsibility.

    “I don’t know how it could have happened,” he said. “It is really upsetting to know there might be some documents out there that are loose like that. We are down near Oak Brook and don’t have any customers in that area.”

    David Collins, owner of Lindy Manufacturing, a metal stamping company in Downers Grove, said his business does all of its shredding in-house. He also had no clue how employees’ 401(k) statements from several years ago could have escaped.

    “It disturbs me a lot,” he said. “You just have to trust that these people (with access to sensitive papers) will do the right thing.”

    Robert Johnson, executive director of the Phoenix-based National Association for Information Destruction, said a good shredding company maintains an unbroken chain of custody over its documents, with a screened employee taking them from locked container to locked vehicle to secured shredder.

    He guessed that a recycling company or waste hauler might have been the source of the Des Plaines paperwork.

    “It would explain why materials from disparate sources would have ended up in one place,” he said.

    Des Plaines police said Friday they had no reports about the paper trove.

    The National Insurance Crime Bureau, whose Touhy Avenue headquarters are close to where the documents were discovered, had its employees collect as many as they could and plans to return them to the people named in the papers.

    “If we see who belongs to the stuff, we will get it back to them,” spokesman Frank Scafidi said. “It’s definitely not ours.”

    Freelance reporter Krystyna Slivinski contributed to this report.
    (see original article
    here)

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