HALLOWELL – In a parking lot Dumpster beside the state’s Lottery Commission on Water Street there were enough discarded state records, including Social Security numbers, names and birth dates, to provide everything a would-be thief would need to steal dozens of identities.

The records were found as part of a News 13 investigation, and the results, according to WGME’s Gregg Lagerquist, “are alarming state leaders and identity theft experts” prompting immediate changes in the way Maine handles archival records.

The News 13 investigation was launched after Maine’s Health and Human Services Department issued an apology for unintentionally giving a half-dozen client records to a woman who had nothing to do with those cases.

According to an Associated Press report last month, “Shana Proctor of Westbook said she was involved in a case with the department and brought paperwork to a state office to be photocopied. When her papers were returned, Proctor found documents that weren’t related to her case mixed in with her papers.”

Those documents contained names, addresses and Medicaid numbers, among other confidential information.

In a test of whether the state followed through on its pledge to better protect personal information, Lagerquist rifled through the contents of a Dumpster last week to see what kinds of records had been tossed there.

Wearing rubber gloves, Lagerquist and a camera crew approached the Dumpster, visible during daylight in a public parking lot, and found one side of the container locked. Walking around another side, Lagerquist found it was open and reached inside.

After pulling out some garbage and cardboard, Lagerquist found a stack of documents with names, Social Security numbers, references to workers compensation claim records, psychiatric and other medical records, police background checks and more. He pulled all of the documents out of the Dumpster within two minutes and wasn’t stopped by anyone from nearby state offices. In many cases, the documents were stamped “confidential” on their covers.

WGME 13 showed the papers to Justin Page, co-founder of Identity Cops, a Maine company specializing in identity theft prevention, who said the documents would be an easy start for any identity thief to steal money from unsuspecting Mainers.

“Basically, a lot of date of births and Social Security numbers, and, for even an amateur identity thief, that’s the keys to the castle,” Page said.

Equally troublesome, Page said, was that the documents could give insight into how the state keeps track of records, giving sophisticated identity thieves a potential wedge to delve more deeply into Mainers’ personal finances and information.

There are, Page said, “a lot of data slips” in keeping, maintaining and discarding confidential personal information, “but this is rather profound.”

After speaking with Page, Lagerquist shared what he found with Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

“It’s bad stuff,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap, who supervises the state’s record-keeping, acknowledged confidential documents “should be either in a locked Dumpster or shredded or somehow destroyed.”

Maine law, according to the secretary of state’s own rules for disposing local government records, requires that (unless otherwise specified by statute or rule), confidential records “may be destroyed by shredding, pulping, burning, burial or other effective means. The removal and destruction process shall be supervised by the official in whose custody the records are held in order to prevent the inadvertent removal and destruction of records of continuing value.”

Continuing value would include personal identifying information.

While Dunlap wasn’t keen on the security lapse being discovered by News 13 instead of state workers, “it’s a lot better than having somebody’s life damaged, because we had a drop. And this is a drop on our part. And I take responsibility for that.”

The records Lagerquist found in the Dumpster were not original documents, but copies of documents forwarded through so-called inter-agency “transfer requests.”

According to Dunlap, Maine treats original documents very carefully but secondary documents, like those in the Hallowell Dumpster, are not so carefully secured. He assured News 13 that the state would make changes to upgrade security for these secondary documents, changes that he started putting in place as soon as he learned of the security lapse.

“We deal with a million people a day,” Dunlap said, “so, this is good that we found this.”

When Lagerquist returned to the Dumpster where he found the documents on Friday, the top of Dumpster was locked tight but someone was pitching trash in there so he was able to peek inside. “I saw bags of now shredded documents,” Lagerquist reported.

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