I-Team: A horrible breach of security

The I-Team found a serious data breach at a Chicago Housing Authority office, and now CHA officials are calling the slip-up "unacceptable." (WLS)
May 8, 2014 3:03:13 PM PDT
Your social security card, birth certificate and other private information is most likely in a safe spot. But what if you found out that copies of those items were in a dumpster?

NEW VIDEO: I-Team turns over documents to CHA officials

The ABC7 I-Team found a serious data breach at a Chicago Housing Authority office, and now CHA officials are calling the slip-up "unacceptable."

These files contain several items of personal and private information for each individual, certainly enough to open up a fraudulent account. So how did these Chicago Housing Authority documents get tossed in the trash? The I-Team started asking questions and now the CHA has launched its own investigation.

Look inside these files: copies of social security cards, birth certificates, voting registration cards, credit reports, addresses, phone numbers, all belonging to Chicago Housing Authority applicants and tenants. And there's this spreadsheet: a list of 795 CHA applicant names and social security numbers. One of them is Sandra Warner's.

ABC7's Jason Knowles asks: "So when you see that I have your social security number, what do you think?"

"You know I am just so shocked. I look on television on identity theft about how you should be careful," said Sandra Warner, CHA tenant.

Luckily for Warner, a dumpster diver, Ronald Thomas, found the paperwork and handed it over to the ABC7 I-Team.

"I think it is a blessing he gave it to you," said Warner.

Thomas says he made the discovery inside a dumpster by the recently renovated CHA Judge Slater Senior Apartments. Most of the files are packed with several different sensitive documents all belonging to each individual.

It is an identity thief's dream. Take a look at all of these documents in all at least 30 people's private and personal information. There's a stack with almost everything on 85-year-old Josephine Vaughn, including her CHA application, credit report and more. Her grandson, Harvey Howard, couldn't believe it.

Knowles: "So this right here is a copy of your grandmother's social security card and state ID."
Howard: "Yeah, that's her. That's crazy. I think that is very, very sad that information is out there."

So the I-Team brought the information to CHA headquarters.

"We definitely take this very seriously, again, we hold our private property management firms accountable. We have retrained most of our staff, we have reiterated that this is a policy with keeping records secure," said Wendy Parks, director of communications for the Chicago Housing Authority.

Parks says the private management company, now under investigation, is the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation. The WCDC released this statement saying in part: "WCDC is committed to swiftly addressing any and all instances of misconduct and violations of Company policies. This matter is an isolated incident where company policy was not followed. Our on-going efforts and control measures will ensure that no further breaches occur."

"This is unacceptable. We want to figure out what happened, we have interviewed people," said Parks.

Parks says there could be "serious sanctions" and that "someone could get fired." She also says this is the CHA's first known data breach and that agency follows its own policies along with state and federal regulations on protecting information.

"This was not done properly, we are looking into this, and we are taking this very seriously," said Parks.

"All of this can leak out and it can leak out quick," said Warner.

"Her name, her social security number, her ID, just some of the things you need, but this is everything!" said Howard.

The Chicago Housing Authority asked us off camera if we would be willing to give the documents to the CHA Inspector General's office, where they will be held in a secure location in accordance with state laws.

The I-Team agreed to hand them back over under those conditions. Most of this information is from 2005, so after the investigation it will most likely be shredded, not just tossed in a dumpster.

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