Local dumpster diver and security specialist Matt Malone was looking through a Central Austin dumpster this weekend when he noticed something odd.
"It actually said social, SS and had a pound sign,” he said.
Malone stumbled across hundreds of Social Security numbers and the names of abused and neglected kids thrown out by the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, of Travis County.
"It filled the bed of my truck,” Malone said. “It looks like an entire office that had been accumulated over several years."
The truckload would have been the jackpot for any identity thief.
"The reason is – and it goes back to the Social Security thing, which is permanent – so a child gets one when they are born, but they don't use it until they are 18,” Katie Stephens with the University of Texas' Center for Identity said.
The state legislature set up the university’s Center for Identity in 2010 to study identity theft. It found out that children have a one in 40 chance of having their identity stolen before they turn 18.
"There is this 18-year period where this number that allows someone access to money isn't in use, and nobody is checking it, and so that is why thieves love them,” Stephens said.
Luckily for CASA, the data was returned and then shredded. CASA says it was thrown out accidentally when a senior director retired.
CASA executive director Laura Wolf released the following statement:
After reviewing three boxes of documents, we have determined that one of the boxes did not contain CASA material, and the other two boxes contained primarily non-confidential CASA material. Unfortunately, however, there were confidential documents that appear to have been accidentally thrown away instead of being shredded. This was a serious mistake that we deeply regret. We are redoubling our commitment to confidentiality by instructing our staff that everything should now be shredded instead of being thrown away, just to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. We appreciate that this was brought to our attention and, most importantly, that the documents have been returned to us. They are now being shredded.
The University of Texas' Center for Identity has apps to teach children about protecting their identity. It also has curricula for schools and tools for those who have their identity compromised.
Go to identity.utexas.edu for more.