Identity theft doesn't always happen through sophisticated online scams or because of high-tech criminal rings. Sometimes it can be as simple as leaving boxes of documents and computers unattended for months on end.
That's what Augie Bogina of Kansas City found when he bought a building formerly occupied by the Topeka Credit Bureau and the Experian credit reporting agency. Inside the building, Bogina found the previous tenants had left "thousands and thousands" of printed documents and many computerized records behind.
Bogina, a plain-spoken, "low-tech" political consultant and planning commissioner for the city of Shawnee, purchased the building in the fall of 2004 for his company, New City Group. He was surprised to find that the office formerly occupied by Experian and the Topeka Credit Bureau was still full of furnishings, cabinets, papers, and equipment.
"We're looking at 10 to 20 computers and 6 to 8 four-door cabinets. I don't know how much paper that is, but it looks substantial," Bogina told ConsumerAffairs.com. The documents have individuals' personal data printed on them, including names, addresses and Social Security numbers.
"We didn't look at first because we'd assumed the previous tenants would've done the right thing and taken their stuff with them," he said. "There were half-eaten sandwiches on the desks it was like they all just vanished one day."
Bogina's company purchased the building from Kent Hollins, a collections lawyer with offices throughout Kansas. Hollins owns or maintains several businesses that specialize in debt collection and tracking, including Collecting-IT.com and DebtRunners.com.
Hollins currently chairs the Continuing Legal Education Committee of the Topeka Area Collection Bar, an organization he co-founded in the early 1990s. The group came together "to develop uniformity in procedures between the attorneys' offices and the court to help improve the way cases and court paperwork was processed," according to its Web site.
"Throw It In the Trash"
Hollins himself had purchased the building from the Topeka Credit Bureau in the fall of 2003 and despite repeated attempts by Bogina to get aid in removing the customer data, Hollins refused to assist, Bogina said. When he asked Hollins how to dispose of the data safely, Bogina remembers Hollins saying: "Take the stuff out back and throw it in the trash."
Hollins could not reached for comment and Experian's media relations office had no immediate comment.
The Topeka Credit Bureau had been dissolved as a business entity and was not able to help, Bogina said. All of his attempts to communicate with them were referred to their attorney.
After repeated attempts to gain assistance locally, Bogina recently contacted Experian directly. The only response came from The Staubach Company, a Texas-based real estate advisory firm founded by legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach.
Bogina then turned to the Federal Trade Commission for assistance, only to be told that no one there knew what to do either.
"People are horrified that no one knows what to do about this that someone has been so lackadaisical about disposing of 50 to 75 years worth of records," Bogina said.
In Bogina's experience, that "stewardship" is considerably overrated, and he is displeased that his company has been saddled with the responsibility of policing consumers' unguarded identity data.
"We didn't think lay people should have to dispose of the infoit's dangerous to leave it here, where anyone can come in, day in and day out."