Donors’ personal information mistakenly available for sale at Goodwill Outlet Stores
Emily Watson sent a news tip to WTHR Channel 13, which eventually launched a full-scale internal investigation of the Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. Emily, a longtime customer of Indianapolis-area Goodwill Outlet Stores, called WTHR telling them that for the price of $27.69 she was able to purchase 39 pounds of someone’s personal paperwork from one of the outlets. Emily showed the station a large box containing bank statements, divorce papers, pay stubs, tax returns, medical and dental records, insurance documents, checking and savings account information. “This all belongs to one family. I have their social security numbers. I have their pictures and addresses and children's information. And I pulled it all out of a bin at Goodwill," said Emily. Retail store items that do not sell or cannot be sold due to their condition are moved to one of the charity’s big outlet stores. At these locations items are dropped into rolling bins and then sold by the pound to those willing to sort through it all. Emily said that this wasn’t the first time that she found donors’ personal paperwork at the outlet and so she approached store employees to report the troubling discovery. About speaking to the outlet manager Emily said, "I specified exactly what was in here,” continuing "I specifically said there were social security numbers, birthdates … The manager looked through it and said ‘It doesn't look harmful to me. It's OK.' So I bought it. If I left it there, who was gonna get it? I wanted to take it home because I felt bad for the people who took it there." WTHR 13 Investigates set off on their own undercover report at the three area outlets and found personal information available for sale at every location. On 24 of 28 visits over 2 months, WTHR staffers were able to purchase sensitive personal information that ended up in the donation bins. The list of items that WTHR was able to purchase is astonishing. They reported, “13 Investigates purchased valid debit cards and credit cards, medical histories, prescription records, pay stubs, immigration papers, car titles, legal documents, leases, bills, family photos, tax returns, mortgage statements, student loan applications, employees drug test results, checking account statements, job applications, college transcripts, IRA and 401K statements and living wills. The thousands of pages of personal information donated to Goodwill – then sold by Goodwill – filled three boxes and included hundreds of social security numbers.” Some of those social security numbers found belonged to local police officers so WTHR took their purchases to Indianapolis Metro Police. Sergeant Eric Eads, an ID theft expert with the force told WTHR, "Let me put it to you this way: this is a police nightmare here if someone got ahold of this stuff…It's just shocking the amount of social security numbers and tax records you found." Sergeant Eads was not alone in his feelings. Elesabeth Leclercq’s old tax returns were found by the station. "It's terrible. I don't even know what to say. I'm still stunned and in a state of shock," said Elesabeth. Julie Snyder, Brett Snyder, and their children’s information was compromised on tax returns and medical insurance documents the station found. Julie said, “This isn't anything we would throw away…I mean, we wouldn't have just handed this over to Goodwill. It's shocking. We are completely shocked." Rose, who did not want to reveal her last name, said, "It's pretty devastating, and I've had nightmares about it." Whistleblower Emily Watson was the person that found Rose’s information which launched the investigation. From a cleaning service that sent the boxes to goodwill instead of storage, to accidentally grabbing the wrong box at a donation center, all of those affected point to different mistakes that led to their sensitive information ending up in a Goodwill bin. Goodwill's Marketing Vice President Cindy Graham admitted their mistake and told WTHR, “We do take this very seriously…They don’t want us to have it and we don’t really want to have it either.” Policy changes are on the way after the charity completes their internal investigation. Cindy Graham said, “We’re going to take a look and see how we can prevent that from happening. Our process would have been and should have been and will be, ‘Let’s shred this.’” She also adds that Goodwill encourages all donors to be cognizant of what they are donating so that sensitive documents do not mistakenly end up at their retail stores. The documents WTHR purchased during their investigation were returned their rightful owners or were destroyed.