Police are investigating more identify theft cases, and you may not realize how you leave your personal information behind.
WHSV looked into the items some people leave behind when their cars get sent to a junkyard, what salvage yards do to fight the problem and what you should consider next time you are in a car crash.
Kenneth Barkley has been in the salvage business for eight years, now at C&K Metal Recycling in Hardy County. Over the years, he has seen a bit of everything.
"All kinds of statements, bills, statements, bank draft receipts, just about anything and everything has come in these vehicles in these yards,” said Barkley. “We've also had people leave their drivers licenses in vehicles and stuff like that too. We try to get it back to them."
When your car is in an crash or otherwise totaled, it often winds up in a salvage yard. Barkley said more than half of the cars his yard receives have some personal information left behind. He let WHSV check out some cars on the yard. We found motorboat registrations, pharmacy discount cards, account statements and a prescription bag with the receipt on it.
"When you have just a prescription bottle, you think it's no big deal, it's empty, I'm not taking it anymore,” said Officer Brooke Wetherell with the Harrisonburg Police Department. “It's a really big deal for someone else who can come across it and say, 'This is all I needed to start somewhere to take this person's identity and use that information to my advantage.' Then we have victims as a result of that, and that's preventable."
Barkley said the salvage yard tells people to clean out vehicles coming into the yard, but items are left anyway. A small amount of information could put your identity at risk, Wetherell said.
"It's very little, so if you think about just your name, how much information somebody can get just from your name. They can find you on social media, they can find out where you live," she said.
Wetherell has some advice on what you should do in the frantic moments after a car crash.
"Try to make an appointment later to get some of your personal belongings out, not just the things that you definitely need because they're valuable, stuff with your name on it," she said.
From his years of experience on yards, what would Barkley do if his car were destined for the junkyard?
"I'd go through my car with a fine-tooth comb, the way identity theft is these days," he said. "I would clean mine out."