An investigation by Attorney General Greg Stumbo has revealed that some unidentified Frankfort businesses failed to properly dispose of customers' personal information.
Stumbo declined to name the companies " they could have been fined up to $2,000 per violation " because he said thieves might get sensitive documents before the issue could be corrected.
Investigators by rummaging through dumpsters discovered 33 businesses in Frankfort, Lexington, Louisville and Florence left 500 sensitive documents in publicly accessible trash receptacles.
Fourteen companies threw away documents that included Social Security numbers, driver's licenses, bank and credit card information and medical records for almost 1,000 consumers.
"Consumers face an increased risk of identity theft or loss of privacy when their personal information is not destroyed when records are discarded," Stumbo said.
The 2006 General Assembly passed a consumer protection law requiring businesses to destroy personal records through shredding or erasing. Stumbo said the Office of Consumer Protection has warned the companies that didn't comply with the law.
Stumbo said working with the companies to correct the problem will be more effective than punishing them with possible fines.
Investigators from his office went "dumpster diving" at 121 companies and obtained the information during weekend evenings. The businesses included large and small retailers as well as personal service providers such as attorneys or physicians.
More than 17 million people were the victims of identify theft in 2005 and 2006, Stumbo said, at a cost of $105 billion. Each victim pays an average of $600 out-of-pocket as a result of identify theft, Stumbo said.
There are more than 5,000 reported cases of identify theft in Kentucky each year and dumpster diving is a common way for thieves to obtain personal information, Stumbo said.
His office is working with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Retail Federation and the Better Business Bureau to educate business owners about the steps required to protect sensitive information when discarding records.
"We want to make sure consumers are protected by the fullest extent of the law," Stumbo said.
Investigators will continue to monitor the situation and if problems continue, Stumbo said companies could face stiffer penalties.
"We want them to know we are watching," he said.
The law currently does not provide for specific penalties, and Stumbo said the legislation could be improved. He also said state government should be held to the same standards as businesses.
Consumers are unable to monitor their personal information after they give it to a business or company. If they are concerned about protecting their identity, Stumbo said they should remind businesses about the legal requirements for disposing of sensitive documents.