Ask Rick: How to Avoid Data Destruction Disasters!

Help…I’ve Been Using My Trash Bin to dispose of customer documents!

Dear Rick:

I need your advice.  I’m terrified that not only will I lose my business and my life’s dream, but that I have let my customers down.  Maybe it will help if I tell you about myself and what happened.

When other little girls were playing with Legos and Barbie, I was playing a game that I called “office.”  I had a little desk, with an old cell phone of my mother’s, and a shoebox that doubled as a “printer.”  When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was easy: I wanted to own a business.

After college, I accepted a job that offered a great opportunity to learn everything about my chosen field: human resources.  My plan was to work for five years and then start my own H.R. consulting firm.  That careful plan was unexpectedly accelerated by the pandemic.  I was laid off, but that was O.K. with me! I just set up a real office in my guest bedroom and, in fact, my first client was my former employer.

Before long, “Shelley Burroughs, L.L.C” had thirty consulting contracts and two additional, remote employees.  I worked very hard and prided myself on my professionalism.  However, I now know that I made one big mistake that may take my business down.  

I was so busy running my company, many times working seven days a week, that I no longer made time to shred the growing piles of old job applications, contracts, and resumes.  However, by throwing these documents in the trash, I unwittingly played into the hands of unscrupulous information crooks. Today, I received an irate phone call from a customer. Someone had found their employee phone list blowing about outside and contacted the company. The owner put “two and two” together, terminated our contract and has threatened to inform others about this incident.

Rick, what can I do? It never occurred to me that anyone would rifle through my trash cans or that I would compromise the well-being of those that trusted me. Help.

Dear Shelley:

First of all, you are not alone.  Thousands of otherwise competent professionals trustingly throw away sensitive materials, every day, giving away confidential personal information to unscrupulous thieves.

Your field of H.R. is especially vulnerable to identity theft, whereby “dumpster divers” seek resumes and personal information to obtain jobs that require background checks they would not otherwise pass. There were more than 1,100 Federal Trade Commission reports of employment identity fraud in 2020, which was up 36% from 2019.

Also, if you are also disposing of your own business and personal records such as payroll, credit card bills and other documents in the same sloppy manner, your own identity is at risk.

It is EXTREMELY important to properly dispose of confidential data; in fact, in many industries it is the law.  Services such as mine specialize in the safe destruction of such records and, if you are too busy to come to us, we will come to you.

If I were you, I would contact your angry customer and let them know that you have contracted with a firm like mine that provides auditable and certified data destruction services and that is compliant with every industry standard for data sanitization. Send them, and all your customers, a copy of your contract for data disposal.

If I can help, contact me at Business Electronics Recycling, or call me at (612) 423-0205.

FYI: You are very lucky that nothing worse happened: your lack of awareness regarding this issue could have resulted in identify theft of a very serious nature.

Hang in there and learn from your mistakes.  All the best in growing your business!