What's left in old cars scrapped in junkyards could lead to identity theft

Thousands of vehicles end up in salvage yards each year whether they've been in serious wrecks, repossessed, or scrapped by owners or dealerships. But it's what's in those cars that could put people at risk.

For a fee, people can buy cars from salvage yards. Most do it for the parts, but they also get everything left inside the car, too.

The information left behind is mindblowing.

"Y'all just waiting for me to find all the good stuff?"

That's Chris Shiflet. He knows the Auto Salvage Co. yard in Ladson like the back of his hand. He can find hidden gems when others think there's nothing.

"I find jewelry, money, drugs, guns..." he said as he digs through a car. "This might be a bank account, though."

He says there are also things he finds that thieves could use to steal an identity -- and it's easy picking with the right hands.

At Auto Salvage and at nearby Coastal Auto Parts, rows of cars are lined up, waiting to be crushed or sold for parts. Many of them are full of paperwork, and it's things most people wouldn't leave sitting out at home.

Shiflet picks cars at random, showing how easy it is to find information.

"Here's a Medicaid number, Social Security number right here, boo," he said. "With this type of information I cannot just become you but I can ruin your credit."

Det. Dustin Turner was surprised by the things Shiflet dug up in the scrapped cars. He's currently investigating two dozen identity theft cases.

"Stealing an identity in South Carolina, you don't really need to have a whole lot, just need to have one piece of information," he said.

That one piece of information could be as simple as a driver's license number.

Turner recommends shredding old paperwork. And for anyone who has a car that might end up in a salvage yard due to an accident or trade-in, he says they need to go through the car completely and pick out any identifying information.

For people who think their identity has been stolen, check bank statements looking for single dollar charges.

"I see this strange dollar charge but I don't know what is it for and then a week later your bank account is empty," Turner said.

If there is a suspicious transaction, report it immediately, Turner says.

Back at the salvage yard, Shiflet has found evidence of identity theft. "Somebody had fraud already, you see it right here," he said, holding up a document.

The victim had apparently reported identity theft, saying someone had her Social Security number and address. Shiflet found enough information to steal her identity again.

"I could probably use this little bit of information to violate you, become you," he said.

Turner says it's a person's own responsibility to protect their identity, and one of the easiest ways to protect it is to not keep a lot of identifying paperwork in a car.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off