The recent increase in data breaches has many consumers thinking twice about where they do business, where they share their personal information, and how they monitor their finances and credit. But the reality of the changing identity theft landscape is that the “old ways” of identity theft and data breaches are still a threat, even if they’re not as newsworthy as hacking or cybercrimes.
Citizens in one Florida town are learning that the hard way. After a DeLand, Florida, woman spotted an unbelievable amount of litter flying out of a truck—reportedly by accident—along a busy highway, she took a closer look at the full-sized sheets of paper covering the side of the road. Official documents that had been tossed in a trash dumpster were now strewn about, documents which contained everything from names and addresses to Social Security numbers and birthdates for a lot of people.
Even though this incident is accidental in nature, this certainly qualifies as a data breach, or an event in which highly sensitive stored information was not safeguarded. But what could have caused this data breach?
Further investigation showed that an area building had been sold, and that these documents had been left behind in the building when the ownership changed hands. When the new owners had the building cleaned out, the papers were thrown in a dumpster outside instead of being permanently destroyed, despite the fact that former employees’ personal identifiable information was included in the paperwork.
It might seem like this wasn’t all that big of a deal, especially if you compare this data breach to something like the Target breach or the MedStar hospital system’s ransomware attack. Admittedly, identity thieves probably aren’t resorting to roaming the highways, hoping to find dropped pieces of paper; however, “dumpster diving” for personal data is still a viable threat in identity theft, and it’s why consumers are warned to shred any important papers before discarding. More importantly, this breach demonstrates a lack of care on the part of those who gathered this information in the first place. No employee records should have been left behind when the property changed hands, but that was actually the case.
While you can’t personally guarantee what will happen to your information once you turn it over to an employer, a creditor, or a government agency, you can ask the hard questions about how this information is stored and protected. At the same time, if you work in a location that stores large amounts of personal data, find out what your company’s policies are for protecting the people who’ve turned over their information. With more attention to this kind of detail and more awareness about the need to protect the public, hopefully these types of accidental breaches will stop.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.