Papers with personal info found in Check into Cash's trash

May 23, 2007

By Christine Des Garennes

File boxes stuffed with documents containing the personal information of payday loan customers were found in a local trash bin Tuesday morning.

The trash bin off North Prospect Avenue contained documents from Check into Cash, a company that issues payday advance loans. The bin, in an alley adjacent to the shopping center in which Check into Cash is located, contained boxes filled with hundreds of papers, such as consumer loan documents, account registers, collection notes, customer history reports and customer information sheets. They included Social Security numbers, addresses, photocopies of driver's licenses and other personal information.

The News-Gazette confirmed the bin's contents on Tuesday morning after receiving a tip about the documents on Monday afternoon.

"Wow. That's something," said Roberta Hazen, who with her husband, Roger, has taken out payday loans from Check into Cash. "Why did they just dump it? Nowadays you should shred everything before you throw it out. They should have been more cautious," she said.

A Check into Cash manager who declined to give his name said the boxes were mistakenly thrown away and employees, when alerted to the mistake on Tuesday, promptly removed them from the trash.

The company takes privacy issues very seriously, and it is not company policy to throw out documents such as those found in the Dumpster, the manager said.

The company has initiated "a very thorough investigation process to find out what happened," said Lauren Hosie, associate general counsel for Cleveland, Tenn.-based Check into Cash. "We're taking steps now to remedy what happened," she said.

The company has fired the employee responsible for the disposal of the documents. And it is in the process of notifying customers whose information was in the trash.

"This puts their customers at risk for identity theft," said Paul Stephens, policy analyst with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a California-based consumer advocacy group.

An identity thief could use personal information such as Social Security numbers to pose as someone else and open cell phone accounts, credit cards and other accounts.

A state law which took effect in January makes it a crime for people to knowingly facilitate identity theft by throwing out information that the public could gain access to without shredding or destroying the information.

"The law states that you have to prove a person who was lax with these business records had the intent to commit identity theft or some violation of the Illinois Financial Crime Law," said Champaign Deputy Chief Troy Daniels. The department does not have any plans to open an investigation.

Stephens with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said he has often heard of situations where retiring physicians or dentist offices have mistakenly disposed of old medical documents without shredding them or when companies go out of business and customer information is left in a building without being disposed of properly.

He called the Champaign Check into Cash situation a security breach because someone could have taken or copied personal information and later use the information to open accounts. He advises people to place a fraud alert on their credit reports, order a copy of their report from each of the three credit bureaus and examine those reports carefully. Plus, they should monitor their reports, he said.

In Illinois, residents can also place a security freeze on their credit report, meaning new creditors cannot access a person's credit report or extend credit to someone without approval from that person, who secures access to the credit report with a password.

People can request a free copy of their credit report by visiting or calling (877) 322-8228.

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