May 14 , 2009 in Industry News

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A 10TV investigation found that some records policies at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles have not done enough to protect you and that some BMV deputy registrar clerks are not following the rules.

The system allowed Social Security numbers, birthdates, driver’s license numbers, photos and vehicle information to be thrown away, 10 Investigates’ Paul Aker reported.

The problem has exposed at least hundreds of Ohioans to the possibility of identity theft, Aker reported.

10 Investigates wanted to know how well BMV offices are protecting information and went digging for answers in Dumpsters.

We started at the Scarborough Boulevard BMV on the city’s Far East side. The same office had problems with employees selling fake identifications a couple years ago.

10 Investigates uncovered personal information, apparently thrown in the Deputy Registrar’s unlocked trash can. Inside the wads of trash contained what ID thieves would treasure, including receipts with driver’s names and license numbers.

We also found Dozens of driver’s licenses that were cut up in a way that sensitive information was easy to see, including Social Security numbers, partial addresses and birthdates. In other cases, 10 Investigates found complete Social Security numbers.

We even found an un-shredded document that revealed a man’s Social Security number, previous employers and unemployment benefits, Aker reported.

The Scarborough Boulevard branch was not the only BMV location where we found compromising information. 10 Investigates searched Dumpsters outside BMV locations on Cleveland Avenue on the northeast side and Kenny Road on the northwest side, along with the Whitehall branch. Each of the Dumpsters in the locations turned up some form of sensitive information.

In all, 10 Investigates went to 24 BMV locations in six counties and found personal information at 10 of them. We found about three dozen discernable Social Security numbers and scores of other information that the BMV is supposed to protect, including more than 100 driver’s license numbers.

We found information inside a Dumpster from Michelle. We’re protecting her last name in our report. She was not happy when 10 Investigates flashed her Social Security number that we found on a chunk of her old driver’s license.

“Something needs to be done,” Michelle said. “I mean, it’s not just me. There’s other people out there that have to be nervous now.”

10 Investigates found information from Jay, another victim of having his information inside a BMV Dumpster in Lewis Center. We found his name, address and Social Security number along with vehicle information on a registration affidavit. Jay never visited the BMV office. A car dealership sent them the information.

“Why do situations like this continue to occur with personal data, given all that’s occurred in the last year?” Jay asked.

We also found personal information from Diane. Ironically she once managed a deputy registrar’s office, Aker reported.

“I am upset about it,” Diane said. “They can get my information and take everything that I have and other people, also.”

A BMV investigative report showed that the agency dealt with a similar problem in the Akron area in 2007. The state discovered that the deputy registrar dumped the information of 36 people.

10 Investigates asked Henry Guzman, the state’s Public Safety Director, why the state did not fix the problem.

Guzman said that his office has policies to prevent the dumping of personal information but the deputy registrars failed to follow them. The policies include shredding all sensitive documents and destroying personal information on driver’s licenses.

“We give them instructions on how to safeguard all vital documents,” Guzman said. “After that happened, we created procedures and obviously it hasn’t been enough.”

The procedures included shredding all sensitive documents and destroying any sensitive information on driver’s licenses, such as Social Security numbers. The BMV also suggested that offices use locked Dumpsters.

“You can put whatever requirements in place but there will be some people that will decide they won’t follow it for whatever reason,” Guzman said.

According to Guzman, the state did not catch the problem because 10 Investigates is able to conduct investigations that the BMV can’t.

“Obviously, (10 Investigates) has time to go into Dumpsters,” Guzman said. “We don’t have that kind of time. We have 215 deputy registrars across the state.”

The BMV is taking time now. It launched an investigation based on the documents we provided. The registrars involved could lose their contracts with the state, Aker reported.

“We’ll deal with them and we’ll deal with them effectively as soon as our investigation is complete,” Guzman said.

The BMV has already started making some changes in light of our investigation.

For example, transaction receipts will no longer have the driver’s name and license together. The department is also visiting every field office in Ohio to reinforce records policies.