A new investigation shows that, despite national warnings and privacy laws centered around identity theft, many businesses are not taking proper measures to protect employee and customer identities, ABC affiliate WFTS reports.
The report shows that an alarming number of businesses do not properly dispose of sensitive information before throwing it in the dumpster. High-profile identity theft cases usually focus on theft committed through a data breach or scam, underestimating a criminal's ability to obtain the same amount of damaging information by simply digging through a trash can.
The Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department in Florida stated that they see a minimum of three to four cases each month that involve improper disposal of personal information, the department told the news station.
The reporters sifted through the dumpster of a small office building in Tampa that housed property management companies. The reporters collected enough garbage to fill one 55-gallon trash bag, according to the news affiliate. After examining the contents, they discovered federal tax returns prepared by a company accountant in addition to a number of client files from 2002 to 2009. They also discovered that Avid Property Management, a company housed in the office building, failed to shred a large amount of cancelled checks bearing account and routing numbers from local residents, the news station reports.
In a separate location in Tampa, reporters found a dumpster containing the medical records of local patients. Medical identity theft, which allows criminals to receive medical services and file insurance claims under their victim's name, is the fastest-growing type of identity theft. In some instances, it can be life-threatening to victims during an emergency situation if their medical records have been tampered with.
The Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department said that companies often do not take proper disposal measures because it's too expensive.
"They don't want to spend the money to have the big companies come to their offices and shred these documents because it attacks the bottom line," Bodie told the news station.
The findings of this investigation are alarming as the incidence of identity theft continues to climb. Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S., affecting more than 11 million Americans annually. In order to better protect their identity, consumers are encouraged to monitor their credit reports for suspicious activity or inaccuracies.