Residents’ personal data sent overseas without shredding

Residents’ personal data sent overseas without shredding

By Alison Shackelford Hewitt
3/2/2006 – Shipments from L.A. County’s Social Services department included pay stub copies and Social Security numbers, official’s aide says.
By Alison Shackelford Hewitt
Copley News ServiceTens of thousands of county documents containing confidential information about local residents were sent to a recycler who shipped them overseas without shredding them, leaving the residents vulnerable to identity theft and fraud, an aide to county Supervisor Don Knabe said Wednesday.

The documents from the Department of Public Social Services range from photocopies of pay stubs and utility bills to employee disciplinary and medical records, and include names, addresses, Social Security numbers, prescription information, credit histories and more, said Knabe aide David Sommers.

“The supervisor was outraged to hear that the department had not done more to protect this information,” Sommers said. “This is a massive failure of DPSS to protect” information the agency is trusted with.

DPSS provides 2.2 million county residents annually with social services, Sommers noted, including temporary financial assistance and employment services for low-income families.

“These are our most vulnerable citizens,” he said.

The local NBC television station was the first to investigate the DPSS practice after getting a tip about confidential documents that were found intact at one of the agency’s buildings in Exposition Park, Sommers said. The station’s reporters subsequently discovered that since 2002, the DPSS had sent intact documents to a local recycler that did not shred or pulp them before packing the still-legible papers into 3,000-pound bales and shipping them to recyclers in Asia, he explained.

The recycling company is approved to serve other facilities for the DPSS and other county departments, raising concerns that residents throughout the county may be at risk of identity theft and fraud, Sommers said.

A motion by Knabe that was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed county officials to develop the means to dispose of all confidential documents promptly and securely. It also called on the county’s chief administrative officer to ensure that all county departments comply.

A spokeswoman for DPSS Director Bryce Yokomizo said she was not aware that intact documents were sent overseas, but acknowledged that confidential documents are sent intact to a local recycling company to be destroyed.

The department now plans to enact a shredding-only policy “effective almost immediately,” possibly in-house, said spokeswoman Shirley Christensen.

Christensen said she was aware that some documents intended for recycling were left in an unsecure area of the DPSS building in Exposition Park, where anyone could have taken them. In fact, a woman did take several boxes because she needed the containers to store items during a move, Christensen said.

However, Sommers said the woman complained to DPSS that confidential documents were out in the open, and took the documents to protect them after DPSS failed to respond.

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