Junk Yard Digs: How Your Personal Information Could Be Compromised - NBC Connecticut

Junk Yard Digs: How Your Personal Information Could Be Compromised

(Published Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015)

You might think you're careful when it comes to protecting your personal information, but did you ever think the crumpled up paper in the back of your car could put you at risk?

You can find more than spare parts if you sniff around a salvage yard long enough. Our hidden cameras found personal documents of all kinds littering the wrecked cars, including medical and legal records bearing names, birthdates and addresses.

There was a utility bill, which someone could use to establish a new line of credit. On a health insurance record, not only is there a name, but there appears to be a social security number.

Junkyards can be gold mines for identity thieves, especially those known as pick-and-pull lots. At one in Connecticut, you simply pay a fee to walk from junked car to junked car.

In one car, our camera found a medical record showing the birth of a baby girl. In another, we found records from a legal settlement.

From these bits of information, it wasn't hard to find addresses and phone numbers of the former drivers. We found a birth date, a driver’s license number, a gym membership with a signature on it.

Unlike the pick-and-pulls, in some other salvage yards, anyone walking through has to be supervised.

Chris Slack manages Union Auto Wreckers in New Jersey, where over the decades employees have seen just about everything left under the seat.

"Car got towed in. And the guy went to jail for 10 years and it sat in the lot. And he came back after 10 years and he found 10 grand under his seat. So you never really know," Slack said.

What drivers don't realize, according to Slack, is that papers like these could be as good as cash.

"You know, I've seen laptops. I've seen Social Security cards, insurance papers, everything you don't want to leave," he said.

David Velazquez is the former acting agent in charge of Newark's FBI Division.

"It doesn't surprise me that so much information was found in a salvage yard," he said, adding that identity thieves can use random bits of information to impersonate someone. "Identity thieves are very good at putting pieces of a puzzle together. So once they acquire a name that they can match up with an address, or a date of birth, or social security number. They can then search for the other pieces."

Experts say the best way to protect yourself from junkyard identity trolls is to invest in a paper shredder; and remember, no one starts the ignition expecting their car to be totaled and land in a junkyard.

"Don't bring your passport and Social Security and all your personal documents into the car and then leave them there for a month," Slack warned. "You never know what could happen you know."

Officials with the Connecticut junkyard where we found personal information said they do not have any policy when it comes to personal information left in vehicles at thee junkyard.

The state, however, said it's about to send out a memo to all car dealerships, repairers and junkyards in Connecticut, telling them that under the law, they are obligated to protect personal information.

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