Items in Junkyard Cars May Leave Consumers Vulnerable to ID Theft

You may escape a bad car wreck with just a few bumps and bruises. But if your vehicle is a total wreck and gets sent to the junkyard to be sold for scrap, it may take a piece of you with it.

Documents left behind in your glove box may be a gold mine for identity thieves.

NBC 5 Investigates found examples of personal information in vehicles at area salvage yards, including bank account numbers, driver’s license numbers, and social security numbers. Additionally, NBC 5 Investigates found traffic citations containing personal information and a W-2 gambling winnings form that included a taxpayer identification number.

“They can then use all that information to either take out credit in your name or run other sorts of scams that will really put you in a financially perilous situation,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

While you may think the vehicles get cleaned upon delivery to junkyards, NBC 5 Investigates learned there are no laws in Illinois or Indiana requiring junkyards to remove items from vehicles.

Sandy Blalock is executive director of Automotive Recyclers of Indiana and said the greatest exposure of personal information happens at salvage facilities where customers pay a small fee to search vehicles parked in large lots. Blalock said she visits member businesses yearly to discuss the importance of cleaning out the vehicles.

John Catalano, owner of Bionic Auto Parts & Sales in Chicago and a past president of Illinois Auto and Truck Recyclers, said most junked vehicles arrive already cleaned from auctions while others are towed directly from city streets.

Catalano said his business throws away the items in cars that get left behind.

“We’ve found vehicles with checkbooks,” Catalano said. “It’s the responsibility of the consumer to make sure somebody goes back if there’s a total loss vehicle and takes their personal information and all their personal belongings out of the vehicle,” Catalano said.

Madigan acknowledged that could be the last thing on a car owner’s mind, especially after an accident. But she urged consumers to keep their cars clean of personally identifiable documents.

“We’re so focused on the Internet and putting all your information out there that we’ve really stopped talking about the basics,” Madigan said. “This is an example of the basics are still important.”

NBC 5 Investigates did not take any of the personal documents from the scrapyards. However, we contacted one woman whose social security number was found on a State of Illinois child care application form. She told us the application was left behind in someone else’s car and she was shocked and surprised that we found it.

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