8News Investigates: Are junk yard thieves getting away with your stuff?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When you go to the junk yard, you maybe picking out a used muffler or a carburetor — but what about picking out a new identity?

It could be as easy as popping open a glove box as 8News reporter Sydney Cameron found out.

It didn’t take long to find valuables left behind in cars. From checks to debit cards and even birth certificates, personal documents were left behind in cars at several local salvage yards that 8News got permission to walk through.

We even found a driver’s license… complete with bank account information.

“Account number, right here. On the second page, also the routing number.”

Tom Gallagher with the Better Business Bureau was shocked by some of our finds.

“This is just crazy,” Gallagher said. “With that birth certificate, they could create a whole life.”

We found with a little work, someone could open a credit card or even buy a car with the information we uncovered.

Ambrosia Barnette could have become a victim when she accidentally left some documents behind in her car.

“When I got that phone call from you, I was like, ‘what is going on?'” Barnette asked.

Remember those documents we found with bank account and driver’s license information on them? They belong to Ambrosia Barnette.

“My address,” Barnette said as she looked over the papers.

Barnette got into a bad car accident on an icy January night, when a tractor trailer swerved and she veered to the side of the highway.

“A second vehicle then came up and hit my passenger side and pretty much totaled my vehicle and slammed my friend up into the guardrail.”

While no one was badly injured, a police investigation was conducted and Barnette wasn’t able to get her things from her car. Barnette said other pressing matters came up and eventually, getting things from her car became low priority.

“I definitely thought about it, but I didn’t think it was that vital.”

When it comes to identity theft, Virginia ranks 31st in the nation with 5,921 complaints in 2014, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network. In 2013, though, the Commonwealth was the 16th state with the highest rate of complaints.

While there are no Virginia laws requiring auto recycling facilities to clean out cars before making them available to the public, some places do it anyway. Like Pop’s Pick and Pay.


“We usually go through the vehicle with a fine tooth comb,” said Jonathon Minor, office manager at Pop’s Pick and Pay. “We take, pretty much all the seats out.”


Troy Webber, President at Chesterfield Auto Parts, said that if something is found in a vehicle there, “we make every attempt that we can to try to get it back to the customers.”


Still, as we showed you, sometimes those important documents still get left behind. Experts like Gallagher said it’s up to you to protect yourself and make sure they don’t land in the wrong hands.


“Clean that thing out. Take a look at everything that’s stuck down all alongside the seats,” Gallagher advised.


Ambrosia Barnette said she knows now what to do for next time.


“I appreciate you for reaching out to me and letting me know,” Barnette told 8News reporter Sydney Cameron. “It’s very, very important.”


It’s important to note: 8News did not take any of the documents we found. The salvage yards 8News talked to said that if they can’t trace the information back to the owner, the information is destroyed.

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