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Folders containing people's private information dumped in trash area of North Carolina apartment complex

The Better Business Bureau said apartment complexes like this one have an obligation to protect this information at all times.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dozens of folders containing people's personal information -- including social security numbers, copies of driver's licenses and other critical information -- were dumped out in the trash area of a South Park apartment complex.   

The critical information that could be used to steal someone's identity was thrown out like trash, all still intact inside boxes. WCNC Charlotte first learned about this when a viewer sent a tip via text, so Hunter Sáenz went to investigate what happened.

If you have a tip you'd like to share with WCNC Charlotte, text 704-329-3600.

The folders full of papers were found on the pavement next to the dumpsters at the SouthPark Morrison apartments just off Colony Road. Inside the folders, WCNC Charlotte found rental applications, rental contracts and people's personal information.  

"I'm stammering because I still can't believe it," Steve Murphy said.

Murphy and his wife's folder was in one of the boxes. WCNC Charlotte's Hunter Sáenz called Murphy to notify him about the information and documents found. 

"You don't expect any kind of phone call where people are going to call and say, 'I got all of your information, driver's license, social security number," Murphy said. 

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Murphy and his wife lived in the apartment complex four years ago and trusted that the information they had provided in order to live there would be kept secure. 

"The first word is unprofessional," Murphy, who now lives in Winston-Salem, said. "How unprofessional is that?"

WCNC Charlotte wanted to know how something like this happened in the first place, so Hunter Sáenz walked into the apartment complex's office to ask. 

A property manager wasn't allowed to speak to WCNC Charlotte, but when asked if what was found was the normal approach for discarding information, the manager did have a response.

"Again that's not the protocol that's supposed to happen and that's all I can give at this time," the manager said. 

Minutes later, WCNC Charlotte's cameras were rolling when workers went out to get the boxes of folders. Then, a Cadillac Escalade rolled up to the area, a worker closed the gates, loaded the folders in the back, and drove off.  

"This is your personal identity that's being put out literally to the curb," Tom Bartholomy with the Better Business Bureau said.

Bartholomy said all apartment complexes have a legal obligation to protect this type of information at all times 

WCNC Charlotte asked Bartholomy if the apartment complex broke any laws.

"Yes, they broke a federal law actually -- by not destroying that information properly," Bartholomy said.

Bartholomy said if a victim whose information was in one of the boxes files a complaint, the apartment complex could face fines up to $1,000 for each instance. 

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A spokesperson for SouthPark Morrison released a statement to WCNC Charlotte, saying, "Our team takes data privacy very seriously and we are currently looking into how this occurred."

But for people like Murphy, he's demanding action as he and his wife remain vulnerable.  

"Now we're going to have to do something -- I don't know who looked at it before you picked it up," Murphy said. 

WCNC Charlotte told the apartment complex we plan to give the files we found back to the resident in question, so they can properly dispose of them if desired.

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.