Local Sanitation workers, the head of Community Board 15 and Sheepshead Bites’ own tax columnist, Joseph Reisman, all went above and beyond the call of duty on Friday, mobilizing to secure hundreds of documents containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers, bank account information and other information coveted by identity thieves that were accidentally strewn across a busy Sheepshead Bay intersection.
The incident was sparked by a tip sent to us by Sheepshead Bites reader Penny, who informed us at approximatly 6:00 p.m. on Friday that hundreds of papers were blowing in the wind on Avenue Z, between East 16th Street and East 17th Street. Upon closer inspection, Penny wrote, the papers were tax records from a local accountant, and contained some of the most sensitive private information about clients – the kind of info that makes ID thieves drool.
We checked it out, and, indeed, it appeared hundreds, if not thousands, of individual’s identities were at risk.
First, we called the accountant listed on the papers, and even knocked on his office door. But no one was in.
Then we called our own tax guru, Reisman, to see if there was a city or state agency able to respond and quickly clean up the mess and possibly notify the accountant and his clients. Reisman wasn’t aware of any, and advised us to call the city.
We then called 311, but the uniqueness of the complaint baffled operators. After being transferred around a couple of times, an operator said all they could do was file a complaint, and, in time, the Sanitation Department would dispatch someone to check out the location and issue the accountant a fine for littering. However, it wasn’t clear if they could get someone to the location within 24 hours.
That wasn’t good enough. With so much personal information so easily accessible to passers-by, we knew every second it remained on the street, people’s credit and identities remained at risk.
So we called Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo. Like other city offices, the Community Board was closed on Friday by the time we called (around 7:00 p.m.), but Scavo answered her cell phone. Recognizing the risk to residents, Scavo immediately reached out to our local Sanitation garage superintendent, Anthony Cardieri. Cardieri made emergency calls to the shift supervisor.
At the same time, our columnist Reisman took matters into his own hand. Reisman’s clients may already know he’s a superhero. Or, at least, they know he dresses up as one during tax season to lighten the mood in the office. And while he didn’t quite don the costume on Friday, he did act the part.
He left a family event, got in his car, and went over to the scene with garbage bags in hand. He and the Sanitation crew – a team that included a car and two trucks – arrived at approximately the same time, and they worked together to collect the documents and haul them off for proper disposal. The papers, we’re told, were properly shredded.
Once they got everything along Avenue Z and East 16th Street, Sanitation packed up and headed back to the garage. But, while walking back to his car, Reisman discovered more documents blowing in the wind on East 17th Street. Luckily, he still had bags left, and he began cleaning it up himself to guard the individuals’ identities.
This morning, Sheepshead Bites called the accountant whose name was on all the documents to ask how his papers could have ended up in the streets. He said such papers are normally shredded, but that a cleaning lady accidentally took them as garbage and put them on the curb. He was made aware of the situation when someone came by this morning to return some of the documents he or she collected (heroes abound in Sheepshead Bay!), and said his office is currently contacting clients and informing them of the error, and the steps they can take to safeguard themselves from identity theft related to the compromised information.
We also reached out to the Sanitation Department to find out the names of the local workers who helped get the job done, and this post will be updated when we receive a response.
A huge thanks to these local heroes, who moved quickly to protect residents’ identities, especially Anthony Cardieri and our local Sanitation workers, Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, Sheepshead Bites columnist Joe Reisman, our tipster Penny, and the unnamed individual who picked papers up and returned them to the accountant this morning.