When Your Identity Is Tossed Out the Window... Literally

PHOTO: The Hello Kitty Balloon makes its way down New Yorks Central Park West in the 86th annual Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade, Nov 22, 2012.

The scene of the crime is the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year was spectacular --- great entertainment with many new balloons and floats. Fall was in the air and so, too, was the confetti. This year, however, some of it was comprised of shredded confidential documents, floating to the ground, courtesy of the Nassau County Police Department.

You see, the confetti strips dumped on the parade route at 65th Street and Central Park West included Social Security numbers, license plate numbers, phone numbers, police detail assignments, incident reports, and even details about Mitt Romney's motorcade, likely from the second presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island. How do we know the Nassua County Police were involved? The documents included the acronym "NCPD".

I wasn't there, but an 18-year-old Tufts University student named Ethan Finkelstein was. He described one piece of confetti that settled on a friend's coat. "It landed on her shoulder. It says 'SSN' and it's written like a Social Security number, and we're like, 'That's really bizarre.'"

Bizarre, indeed, but I think "insane" is a more appropriate word choice.

That would have to come from our headquarters," a Nassau County police source told the New York Post. "They have stuff that's supposed to be shredded and go to burn piles. It sounds like some of it ended up where it wasn't supposed to be."

Yup, sure sounds like it. Gold star!

Let's start with what we know for sure. Whoever committed this act of super nova-like stupidity (it's too kind to call it negligence) either had one hell of a sense of humor (and disregard for the prospect of future employment) or s/he manifested more than a modicum of brain dysfunction. Actually, both qualities were in evidence.

The actual event suggests a catastrophic failure of policy and procedure that confounds the imagination. How could such a thing be allowed to happen even one time?

Would you believe me if I told you it happened at another parade this year? Last February at New York City's Super Bowl celebration parade for the New York Giants, some of the "confetti" dropped from office buildings was actually unshredded paper containing personal information and records --- an identity thief's El Dorado of Social Security numbers and medical records, including detailed information about a 54-year-old woman's mammogram.

Some may be tempted to make light of such stories --- until you consider that the mammogram results belonged to a woman who actually exists, who would be completely justified in thinking that her privacy had been violated --- and further, that a crime had been committed against her.

Still, some were unconcerned. "I don't get the impression that people are actually going to pick up these pieces of paper and cause something like identity theft or something along those lines," said one bystander. This point of view is dangerous and unsurprising --- after all, identity theft, like the radiation at Chernobyl or the germs that cause cholera, is invisible, and thus easy for non-victims to ignore.

Like cholera, radiation poisoning, and a host of other ills, identity theft is all too real --- even in a pastoral setting like Manhattan. We ignore it at our peril.

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