FAIRFIELD, Calif. (KTVU) - Access to a trove of sensitive personal information is still as simple as a $2 entrance fee at several Bay Area auto salvage yards, a follow up investigation by KTVU discovered.
In 2014, 2 Investigates discovered documents containing social security numbers, birth dates, and other valuable information were left behind in vehicles towed to at least three Pick N Pull yards.
A company spokesperson told KTVU it was Pick n Pull policy for employees to clean out cars upon intake, but a follow up visit revealed some vehicles were still not being emptied before being made available to customers looking for spare parts.
Still an Easy Target
A recent visit to a Pick n Pull yard in Fairfield turned up a pile of important documents in the back seat of a black Acura. 2 Investigates found tax statements and other documents containing the address and Social Security number of a local man. An apparent family photo was still in the front seat.
KTVU's Eric Rasmussen gathered the paperwork and dialed a phone number on one of the documents. The Acura's owner said he gave the car to his son and wasn't exactly sure how it ended up at the Pick n Pull yard. His son didn't want to go on camera to talk about it, so 2 Investigates mailed the documents to him.
2 Investigate found several more cars with sensitive documents inside cars at Pick n Pull in Oakland. One Mercury sedan contained a time sheet with a woman's Social Security number and signature. Another vehicle had a garage door opener in the cup holder. A clerk at checkout allowed KTVU to take the clicker for no extra fee, but the original owner could not be located.
Identity theft experts told KTVU the revelation isn't giving criminals any new ideas -- they're already known for trolling any sources of personal information.
Some Signs of Improvement
Despite some glaring exceptions, KTVU cameras documented more vehicles that appeared to have been cleaned out compared to what was found in 2014.
Pick n Pull's parent company, Schnitzer Steel, declined a request for an on camera interview, but a spokesperson e-mailed a statement:
"It is our company's policy to safely remove, recycle, and dispose of items left in cars to the best of our ability and we continually implement process improvements for the proper recycling of these vehicles at all our Pick-n-Pull facilities."
Some Bay Area drivers told KTVU they're getting the message too.
"You have to strip everything (out of your car). You can't have your last name, any of your numbers, any of your identification," said a woman who only gave her first name, Suzy, out of concern for protecting her identity.