It’s the key to your life: your social security number, credit report, bank account information. Experts say thieves can use any of this private information to steal your identity. We wanted to know: who’s making sure your private information is staying protected in South Carolina?
The problem became an issue recently in Greer, where personal documents were discovered trashed in a dumpster behind Merrimack Mortgage. Scott Foster was one of many consumers who’s information was found in the trash. “As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing safe anymore. You can’t give anyone your information and feel safe,” says Foster. Following a tip from a concerned viewer, we found Foster’s credit report, social security number and other private information in the dumpster. “I still can’t believe it,” he says. “This could ruin me.”
The problem is so serious that improperly disposing private documents is against the law in South Carolina. The law requires businesses to either shred, or make private information undecipherable before disposing it. Policing the problem is the responsibility of the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. Carri Grube-Lybarker is the department’s staff attorney. “The message is that you are taking in very personal information and that people are trusting you with this information that you would use it within the letter of the law and dispose of it.”
Since the state’s Identity Theft Protection Act was passed in 2008, Lybarker says her office has seen just a couple of cases of documents dumped illegally. She says even one, though, is too many. “Whether it’s one, or one hundred, or a thousand, that’s why the law is in place,” she says. She admits that crackign down on businesses that break the law is not easy. Places like Merrimack Mortgage don’t have to give any proof they’re disposing documents in the right way. Consumer Affairs relies on consumers to catch businesses in the act, and then report it. Many times, that’s after the damage has been done. “We can’t pay people to go dumpster diving all the time., but that’s why we try to get the word out through our public education.”
We wanted to know: is that really enough? “It’s enough to make anybody just livid,” says Senator David Thomas, a Republican from Greenville. Thomas had a hand in passing the Protection Act two years ago. He says consumers are constantly at risk. “You can end up spending years trying to straighten out a mess because someone was careless with the information.” According to Thomas, the state is doing what it can to enforce the law, but he admits, the system is not perfect. “That’s always going to be the issue, is how to enforce,. You’ve got to have a law in place. We’ve got one in place. Now you’ve got to catch the guy that perpetrates a bad act.”
For people like Scott Foster, the advice comes too late. “There’s nothing safe anymore,” he says. From now on, he says he’ll be more careful, keeping the key to his private information out of the wrong hands.