Several Mattress Firm customers are furious after finding out documents with their sensitive personal and financial information was dumped in a strip mall dumpster without being destroyed.
"I was pretty stunned," said Frank LaRoe, one of the affected customers.
A few weeks ago, a viewer alerted NBC 5 after spotting what he believed was sensitive information in a set of dumpsters outside a Euless Mattress Firm.
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Within two hours of getting the tip, NBC 5 Investigates consumer specialist Deanna Dewberry -- who was getting ready to anchor the 5 p.m. news -- went to the location, climbed in the dumpster and spotted what turned out to be credit applications containing names, phone numbers, social security numbers and salaries, all in plain sight. She retrieved all the documents she could find to store them in a safe place.
Among the applicants was a teacher, a pilot, a realtor and a truck driver. Dewberry then went to talk to the store manager, who initially said she didn’t know how the documents got in the dumpster. She then refused to answer any further questions, saying the district manager would contact NBC 5 Investigates.
The NBC 5 Investigates - Consumer Unit combed through the documents.
In total, there were more than 1,700 papers with names, addresses and phone numbers, but more troubling were the 70 documents, most from 2002 or 2003, with sensitive personal information. Frank LaRoe's credit application for his mattress purchase was among them.
"I was shocked. I was thinking 'if you had it, who else might have had it?'" LaRoe said.
Mattress Firm, the largest mattress retailer in the country, declined our request for an on camera interview, but via email Casey Zuber, Director of Communications for Mattress Firm said:
"It has come to our attention that during a standard clean-out effort, customer paperwork older than seven years was discarded in a dumpster outside one of our stores in the Dallas area. Unfortunately, some of this paperwork included personally-identifying information such as names, addresses and in some cases credit card or social security numbers.
While we have policies in place to protect sensitive personal information, it is clear that these policies were not clearly communicated in this case, and for that we are truly sorry."
"It literally makes my blood boil," said Todd Mark, Vice President of Education Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas. "We counsel victims of identity theft. This is not a short process. This is long. This is painful. It can leave financial wreckage."
"It's a long painful process that I would wish on no one," Mark continued.
Applying for credit means consumers have to trust a retailer to a certain extent, but Mark said consumers should ask a business about storage and disposal of personal information, including credit reports.
Consumers also need to be vigilant about monitoring credit activity. At annualcreditreport.com, you can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting company. That means three times a year you can pull a free report. And if you believe your information has been compromised contact the credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert or a credit freeze, which stops anyone from opening a new line of credit in your name.
"I'm pretty angry," LaRoe said.
Mattress Firm offered affected customers free credit monitoring for a year.
"We have detailed policies for safeguarding and storing sensitive personal information. Our training and policies suggest destroying personal information, but did not adequately address the exact disposal method for information older than seven years. The most recent incident has caused us to immediately clarify our procedures and add to our training so that this type of disposal does not occur again," said Mattress Firm’s Zuber.
At Mattress Firms request, NBC 5 returned the documents. The company promises to contact all the customers whose credit information was thrown in the trash, then destroy the documents and dispose of them properly.
But LaRoe is worried. The mattress purchase he hoped would help him rest easy now causes him to lose sleep.
"Beware when you go into retail stores and turn over your information to people," he said.