13News Now Investigation: Identity for sale

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by Nick Ochsner, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 5:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 6:29 PM

HAMPTON -- You could be giving away more than just old clothes and unwanted household items when you drop off a donation at a non-profit thrift store.

A 13News Now Investigation found sensitive, personal documents for purchase at the Goodwill outlet store in Hampton.

The outlet store puts miscellaneous items for sale by the pound after it is deemed unworthy of being sold in a Goodwill retail store or does not sell in a timely fashion.

13News Now investigator Nick Ochsner visited the Hampton store four separate times and walked out with documents containing personal information each time. Among the items he found were credit card statements, prescriptions, veterinary invoices and receipts containing computer security codes.

Danielle Cronin, a spokeswoman for Goodwill in Hampton Roads and Central Virginia, said personal documents are frequently included among the thousands of donations the Goodwill in Hampton receives each year.

Cronin said it is not unusual to spot social security cards, paychecks or even entire wallets. That's why, she said, staff members sort through each donated item by hand before it is put out for sale. Personal items are considered to be anything with a name or address on it.

"That is immediately taken to the store manager," Cronin explained. "We will do our due diligence to make sure that we try to get that sensitive piece of information back to that person and then, if we haven't heard back or there's just not success in getting that item back to that person... then it is put into a container for document destruction."

But 13News Now was able to purchase documents with sensitive personal information despite Goodwill's thorough sorting process.

Learn More: How Goodwill processes donations

Cronin pointed to the large volume of donations as a reason human error could lead to documents accidentally getting on the sales floor. Goodwill's Hampton location alone processed 19,000 donations in just the first quarter of 2014.

"It's not an error-proof system," Cronin said. "You take an organization like Goodwill that has a long-standing, well established donation processing system... I do think there's going to be some slip-throughs."

On at least one occasion, our items were weighed for purchase with the sensitive information on top. The cashier didn't do anything to stop or discourage the purchase of the potentially sensitive document.

Cronin said Goodwill is changing its training and policies as a result of our investigation.

"We have already started looking at that part of the point of sales system and making sure we give it one last check," she said.

We took the items we found at the outlet store to Detective Brandt Hess, who investigates financial crimes and identity theft for the Hampton Police Department.

"If I was a con man looking to find information on you, this would be the starting block," Hess said, looking at the documents we obtained.

Hess said identity thieves are always looking for ways to get information about new victims.

"Right here, the documents I see here, not a lot of information I can immediately use but they are certainly pointing me in the right direction of getting your information," Hess said.

Learn More: How to protect yourself against identity theft

Cronin, with Goodwill, said sensitive items are most frequently found in men's jackets and women's purses. She urged those making donations to thoroughly check their items before bringing them in.

Hess said the best way to dispose of a document is to shred it.
 

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