Theodore's World: How One Man Averted an Identity Theft Epidemic

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October 13, 2009

How One Man Averted an Identity Theft Epidemic

How One Man Averted an Identity Theft Epidemic

A San Francisco landlord, saddled with sensitive documents, did the right thing

NBC Bay Area news


In a small, empty office in San Francisco's Cow Hollow, landlord Billy Tookoian surveyed a fraudster's dream: 46 cardboard boxes of personal information.

The boxes were the detitrus of what was until last year a thriving business, Financial Title. Then the economy tanked, and the company folded up its locations all across California, including the one Tookoian rented to it.

"They basically abruptly closed shop," he said as he walked past the company's logo still affixed to a white wall. "Turned the lights off, closed the door and walked away."

The company walked away, but it left behind a few souvenirs of its time there.

The office desks and chairs were left at the ready for the morning workforce. Also left behind: the 46 boxes, containing personal information for about 2,000 clients.

A bankruptcy firm that handled the closure worked out a deal that allowed Tookoian to take control of his building without a lengthy court battle. But in exchange, he was left responsibility for all the personal files.

"We had 2,000 to 3,000 files," Tookoian said. "As a landlord and a condo owner, didn't feel comfortable just throwing them out in the recycling bin."

So while he figured out what to do with the files, they languished in a corner of his building.

Tookoian fingered through the boxes, bearing Social Security numbers, copies of checks, bank information, credit reports, even thumbprints.

"I guess the best way to describe what's in those files is an identity theft fraud starter kit," said Tookoian.

According to consumer advocates, 10 million people in the U.S. will fall victim to identity theft each year. Joe Ridout of Consumer Action says situations like Tookoian's have become more common as the economy takes a toll on businesses : "One of the hidden consequences of this economic mess we've been in over a year now is that a lot of businesses are failing and as they fail they leave behind a lot of information that could contain something very important about you and me."

Ridout says the Federal Trade Commission has implemented new laws requiring businesses to properly dispose of sensitive personal information. So far, an Illinois mortgage company was fined $50,000 for throwing personal records in a dumpster. But fines like that are rare.

"I think most of us underestimate how much of our personal information is just lying about in numerous businesses across the country," Ridout said.

In Tookoian's case, there is a happy ending for Financial Title's customers, who probably had little idea that a lifetime's supply of personal information was sitting in a cardboard box, guarded by a single deadbolt. Last week, a company that specializes in destroying sensitive documents hauled off all 46 boxes from Tookoian's business.

And left him with the bill.


Wild Thing's comment..........

Thank God this man did the right thing. This would have been a total nightmare for those in the files he had if he had done something else with it. Even if he didn't himself if he had decided to let bad people have it or something.

"Identity theft is the number one consumer crime in America, and still growing rapidly. Many employers are beginning to realize that identity theft protection can be a highly valuable addition to an employee benefits program. "Identity theft is the number one consumer crime in America, and still growing rapidly. Many employers are beginning to realize that identity theft protection can be a highly valuable addition to an employee benefits program".

How bad is identity theft these days? It is huge and it is now the number one crime in the US. Many people are concerned with Identity Theft and one recent Headline read; "Identity Theft; Have they Got You Yet?" Well when I read that, I thought to myself, actually they have. Indeed, Internet Identity Theft, hacking and phishing scams have now topped the amount estimated in illegal drug sales in the United States; Ouch!

Many companies ask us for personal data and we are assured we are safe in giving it to them, but each week we hear of a company losing data? Next, many of these companies are required to collect the information due to Know Your Customer Laws, generally enacted to prevent international terrorists move money or purchase items to use for evil purposes.

Then we have the government asking for data, most people worry about this; you know BIG BROTHER or the Movie 1984? Still with the interconnectedness of government computers and all the data from IT systems, which are to figure out your every purchase, move etc. some fear that their privacy is being violated and also fear that their data and personal information may end up in the hands of criminals.

So, what is the future of IT and are the fears cited by groups like the "Electronic Privacy Frontier" non-profit group warranted or can we allow this information for use to help us and not penalize us or be used against us in the future?

Will the new IT Systems streamline data to help people or should we worry about let's say big government or its potential misuse and either way is the data safe? So that is the question of the day. And my question to you is how do you feel about this? What safeguards should be in place? And do you trust the system or IT infrastructure with your data?

Lots of questions these days surrounding Identity Theft. I certainly hope this article is of interest and that is has propelled thought.

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This article that Richard sent me is so timely because as I mentioned in my other posts there is something so special happening

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just enter my name

Chrissie Siggelakis

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....Thank you Richard for sending this to me.

Posted by Wild Thing at October 13, 2009 06:48 AM