WICHITA, Kan. – U.S. authorities are investigating two suspected identity thieves found with a box filled with hundreds of Dollar Tree job applications apparently obtained by going through trash containers in Wichita, a search warrant shows.
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The executed warrant, filed recently in federal court in Kansas, outlines the investigation. The suspects had employment applications for 429 people, some of which included copies of driver's licenses and Social Security cards.
Dollar Tree, a discount store chain based in based in Chesapeake, Virginia, has 10 stores in Wichita. Court documents did not specify which Dollar Tree store was the source of the job applications found in the possession of the suspected identity thieves.
Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment.
Randy Guiler, vice president of investor relations at Dollar Tree, said in an emailed statement that his company is "committed to safeguarding personal information of all of our associates and job applicants," and has specific processes in place to support this commitment. He declined to provide addition details, saying that Dollar Tree is also investigating.
The Dollar Tree situation is "the exception, not the norm" because there has been so much attention on identity theft, said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit group funded by the insurance industry to conduct fraud investigations.
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"At the very least that is a pretty pathetic way to handle sensitive information that is no longer needed," Scafidi said. "If there are lessons we learned in recent years it is that shredders do serve a purpose and a commercial entity ought to have a big shredder."
The search warrant issued last month by a federal magistrate judge targeted a laptop computer and digital storage device that had been seized three years earlier from a Wichita hotel room where a man and woman were found with the job applications, a notebook containing handwritten identity profiles for various individuals, and forgery tools.
Armed with the search warrant, investigators found on the computer a blank birth certificate; images of checks; and templates for driver licenses, state identification cards, student IDs, pilot licenses, concealed weapons permits, and press and clergy credentials. A check software program was installed on the computer, and an examination of internet activity on the laptop found searches for bank logos used to make checks.
The warrant was executed two weeks ago, and filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas. The Associated Press is not naming the suspects because no charges have been filed so far in the case.
The investigation was sparked when Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy Justin Maxfield while on routine patrol watched two people transferring items from a vehicle to a motel room and recognized one of them as a man who had once driven a stolen vehicle he had pursued.
The pair consented to a search of the room, according to the probable cause affidavit. The man said he had been going through trash to find items of value, and said he had some "paper" in the room, which the deputy wrote is a slang term for identity documents or personal information.
Sifting through trash for identity information is "perhaps one of the oldest forms of obtaining sensitive information about people," Scafidi said. "The saying 'one person's trash is another's treasure' is very true in that regard."