So you found some records in the street? Now what do you do?

Sometimes people who find documents with personal information don’t know to whom to return them. Other times, they may know, but refuse to return them or stall in returning them. And yet others may decide to go to the media. Why people make the choices they make is beyond the scope of this blog, but sometimes, I find myself questioning whether they are helping or making things worse.

WSBTV reports a case in Atlanta where someone found records in a street that were the property of Atlanta Toyota in Duluth, Georgia. For reasons that are not reported, that person seems to have turned them over to one of the people whose files he had found.

She, in turn, ….. seemingly went to the media and police instead of responding to the car dealership’s requests to return their files. It’s not clear if she went to the police before or after she went to the media. She told WSBTV that she delayed returning the documents to the dealership because she did not know what to do.

Tyler Heard, the area Vice President for Penske Automotive Group, which owns Atlanta Toyota released this statement:

“These files were moved from our property by one of our employees in violation of company policy. Unfortunately, they were then stolen from the vehicle of the employee. Subsequently a good Samaritan found them on the side of the road. We asked her (Ms. Carston) to repeatedly return the files but she has been uncooperative and refused to return the files. We do believe the files contain personal information of costumers, and we have an obligation to seek return of files so we can notify customers. We’ve offered to meet her repeatedly to have files returned to us but because of her lack of cooperation, we have no choice but to file a court action to recover our property and enlist the assistance of local law enforcement to receive the property so we can notify customers. We have no other disputes with her.”

How long was her confusion going on for? And why was she confused? Or was it the case that she was afraid that the dealership might try to cover up the breach?

Whatever her reasons, she put herself in some legal jeopardy. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some options:

  1. Return the materials you found to their source and get a receipt from the entity for them.
  2. Contact your state attorney general’s office consumer protection division and ask them if they want to take custody of the documents. See what they tell you to do.
  3. Contact your local media, tell them, and see if they’ll accept the papers and contact the responsible party.

Sometimes people who find files want to make sure that an incident is not swept under a rug. They want to make sure that people are notified. That’s all well and good, but then follow options 2 or 3 above. There’s no need to put yourself in a situation where you have to defend yourself in court for refusing to return stolen documents you found.

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