He said he never went looking for the files, just found them by accident last Friday when he stepped outside of a bar next door to answer a phone call. But once he realized what they were, he took photos and saved about four dozen files to show Action News. We looked through them and found many of the files contained clients' sensitive information, like checking account numbers. One of those files was Lorraine Barrow's. She sold a house in 2004. She exclaimed, "Everything, social security, my phone number, address. Wow."
Joanne McNabb heads up the California Office of Privacy Protection: "Well that's one of the identity theft horror stories we don't like to hear. That is the kind of information that can be used by bad guys to create a lot of problems for people. It's known that dumpster diving is one of the ways that identity thieves get personal information."
London Properties President Patrick Conner apologized to the affected clients, "Definitely sorry for any breach of confidentiality but the fortunate thing is that real estate do contain very little personal information on clients. Christine: "I have to disagree with that. I flipped through some and I found social security numbers and checking account numbers, things that clients wouldn't feel comfortable sitting in a dumpster." Patrick: "That would be an anomaly."
London Properties told Action News company policy is to always shred old real estate files. In this case, a new employee accidentally left the files in these dumpsters. When they realized their mistake, they immediately retrieved the files and shredded them.
But that wasn't until Monday. And the files were dumped on a Thursday afternoon. London Properties officials said they would've taken care of it sooner if the person who found the files contacted them instead of Action News. Conner pointed out, "I don't think the person that found these files did the right thing. I did not know that these files, some of these files were thrown away. And had I known when this person allegedly found them, I would have been in the dumpster myself."
The realtor claims a London Properties/Reliance Marketing employee was told about the files as soon as Friday night. Meantime clients like Lorraine Barrow are feeling pretty vulnerable, "I'm sick to my stomach and my husband is furious."
At least her file is now in the hands of the Department of Real Estate, which is now looking into the matter. The DRE says the California Civil Code requires businesses to implement reasonable security procedures to protect customers' personal information.