WESLACO – Unwanted vehicles are usually left at junkyards, and sometimes their owners don’t realize they may also be leaving traces of their personal information behind.
Names, addresses, phone numbers, even tax return information have been discovered inside mangled frameworks of cars.
Some paperwork CHANNEL 5 NEWS discovered inside an envelope gave a detailed description about Jessica Pedraza’s life. The left-behind vehicle was in Weslaco, and she resides in Harlingen.
“I ended up selling the car,” Pedraza said.
She said she didn’t even think about the paperwork she left behind.
“When I sold the car, I had it in the garage for a very long time, like at an impound center. We were supposed to get it fixed and I just decided to sell it and everything that was inside, I completely forgot so all the information that was…well there you go,” she said.
Pedraza said she’s not a stranger to identity theft.
“When I was younger my mom’s information, her purse got stolen and so all of my information went along with it when I was younger. So I’ve had that issue before and I didn’t think I had anything like this is in the car,” she said.
Edinburg Community Policing Officer Balde Gomez said identity theft has become a very serious issue.
“It’s happening a lot more than it used to in the Valley,” he said.
He said the junkyard owners are not at fault.
During most of our visits to the junkyards we were escorted. We were only allowed to go into the yard on our own twice.
Gomez mentioned throwing away papers with names, a date of birth and phone numbers is all a thief needs to steal someone’s identity. He said identity theft police reports are filed every day.
“Once you’re a victim to identity theft, odds are you’re not going to be able to stop it. You’re not (going to) say, ‘Please give me another Social Security number.’ They’ll never give you another one,” he said.
Pedraza is relieved to have her personal information back.
“I appreciate you guys actually finding it because I’m sure someone else would’ve,” she said.
Pedraza said she’ll continue to check her credit report and keep her car clean of any documents that could put her identity at risk again.
Gomez said thefts can also happen when a car is repossessed. He said once the vehicle is in a tow company’s possession, people can work with the towing company to retrieve their personal information.
He added the largest number of identity thefts in the Rio Grande Valley comes from online hackers.
The FTC’s latest report shows Texas is ranked 12th in the nation for identity theft complaints and fourth in fraud and other complaints.
Dating back from Jan. 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2016, 33,214 complaints were filed in Texas. In the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area there were 722 identity theft complaints filed. The Brownsville-Harlingen area had 369 complaints.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said more than 25,000 people file as victims of identity thefts every year.
The Texas AG’s Office said if someone is a victim of identity theft they should immediately close all bank accounts. They should also make a list of all accounts including utility, credit and bank accounts.
The victim should get a copy of their credit report and close all accounts which they didn’t open, also call law enforcement and file a report.
People can report identity theft to Federal Trade Commission.
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