By Bob Schaper
ROCKFORD (WREX) -- An insurance company's move from one office to another leaves private financial information tossed into a Loves Park dumpster. The records, including social security numbers, birth dates and balances, are the property of MetLife and cover dozens, maybe hundreds of customers.
Nobody knows exactly what went wrong during the moving process during the weekend of January 16, and the company says the incident is under investigation. But everybody involved, MetLife, the agent and the customers, all agree that it never should have happened.
"I knew what I was looking at I shouldn't be looking at, so I thought, let's not look anymore, let's just grab the metal and go," says Rich Meyers, an unemployed machinist who makes money on the side by collecting metal from dumpsters and selling the scrap. Monday night he stopped by 4053 N. Perryville Road.
"The wooden structure doors were open and the dumpster lids were open, and so I just looked in, and that's when I seen all this paperwork," he says.
What Meyers said he discovered were hundreds, maybe thousands of papers, containing MetLife's logo thrown into an outside recycling bin. The owner of the building, Illinois Council of Health System Pharmacists, says MetLife moved out of the offices the weekend of January 16.
"My god, I was looking at people's names, addresses, account numbers, social security numbers, dollar amounts that are in these accounts," Meyers says. "I was looking at it all."
Meyers contacted 13 News Monday, Jan. 18, and we sent a camera crew to check it out. And exactly as Meyers said, we found dozens of files in the dumpsters, clearly labeled with MetLife's logo, some stamped confidential, containing personal information just like Meyers said. Some of the folders were open and you could easily see what was inside.
So we then went to MetLife's new location on Reid Farm Road, people there said it wasn't their fault and told us to leave. On Thursday a MetLife spokeswoman in New York, Holly Sheffer, told us the company takes personal privacy very seriously and will mount a thorough investigation.
"Throwing everything in the dumpster, that's what I'm really upset about," says James Evans, a MetLife customer whose information was found in the trash. He says he shreds his own documents at home and the company should too.
"I will be talking to MetLife to try to find out what's going on and everything," he says.
Many of the files belonged to a former agent, Fabian Seyller, who left the company in June 2007 after 24 and a half years. Seyller spoke to 13 News on the phone but declined to come on camera. He calls the incident "scary."
He says once he quit MetLife the files became the property of the company. Seyller claims he left about a thousand accounts in 17 filing cabinets. He says they should have been either shredded or sent to MetLife's long-term storage facility according to company policy.
Michael McRaith, director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, says an investigator from his department is working with MetLife to determine the scope of the incident. He says he'll require the company to notify customers that their information may have been compromised, but he isn't sure how many people will be affected.
"When we learned about the violation one of the first things we did was identify an investigator, an examiner, who's now on site, at the company, at the agency, trying to get at the bottom of the problem," McRaith says.
Under Illinois law insurance companies are supposed to keep records for seven years after a transaction. But federal law requires that the company protects your privacy during the time they hold that information.
These days, McRaith says, most privacy breaches involve computers, not paper records.
"What occurred in Rockford is unusual and particularly clumsy, if not just outright reckless," he says.
As for Meyers, he says he feels better knowing he complained about what he found.
"I've never come across anything like this," he said.
Both MetLife and the state say the documents are out of the dumpster, where they sat for at least four days, and in a secure location pending the investigation. If you have any questions or concerns that your accounts may be involved, MetLife says to call this toll free number, 888-383-5257, to speak to a representative.
And remember, before you give your personal information to any business, experts say it's a good idea to ask about their privacy policies before you share anything.
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