Mortgage Customers Risk Identity Theft

By Deborah Gage  |  Posted Thursday, November 22, 2007 02:11 AM

Boxes of papers full of personal information are found abandoned on sidewalks and in dumpsters, according to recent reports.

KCRA TV this month called out Countrywide Home Loans after a woman complained that she found stacks of envelopes from the company sitting unattended outside a post office in West Sacramento, California. Countrywide was mailing its standard disclosure form to people who had applied for mortgages, a spokesman said. He told KCRA that although Countrywide regrets the incident, "nothing as sensitive as social security numbers or bank account numbers" was involved.

But the mortgage industry is careless with customers' information, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper in October described several recent incidents where mortgage documents were exposed, including a maintenance man who found 40 boxes of loan files in a dumpster behind an apartment complex in Atlanta. The files included social security numbers and credit reports on customers of Ameriquest Mortgage Company, which told the Journal it takes security seriously and is investigating.

The Journal attributes these mishaps to the downturn in housing. As mortgage firms downsize and shut down offices, they lose track of files.

The post office in West Sacramento said the problem is simple carelessness. "We see [mail left unattended] all the time, and we caution businesses not to do this," a spokesman told KCRA.

If identity theft does occur, it may be awhile before the business responsible finds out. The Identity Theft Resource Center says 30% of victims don't discover the crime for four months to a year, and another 25% of victims take more than two years to discover it.