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Business owner blames file dumping on miscommunication

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Beaverton police recovered seven large boxes of client files in a Dumpster behind Sylvan Learning Center.Sylvan Learning Center owner Tom Van Houten blames a faulty communication between him and his staff in leading to seven boxes of files — some apparently containing personal information such as Social Security numbers — being found on Friday in a Dumpster behind his business.

Van Houten said he wanted staff members to place the four-year-old files in an indoor recycling bin for storage until he had time to take the documents to a paper-shredding event at the Nike World Headquarters campus at Murray Boulevard and Jenkins Road.

Instead, staff members in Van Houten’s absence placed the files neatly in a landfill-bound Dumpster in back of the business at 12225 S.W. Second St.

“They did what they thought I wanted done,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “But I didn’t communicate it in the manner they thought I would. (The files) were inadvertently disposed.

“There was a miscommunication, but the buck stops with me,” he added.

Because of the sensitive nature of information investigators found on many of the documents, such as former clients’ names, birth dates, driver’s license copies and Social Security numbers, Beaverton police turned the boxed files over to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, which is investigating the matter.

Based on the comprehensive Oregon Identity Theft Protection Act, state law requires businesses that take in personal information from customers or clients to keep the documents secure and to dispose of them properly, said Detective Sgt. Jim Shumway, a Beaverton police spokesman.

Following a report on Friday from a staff member at a neighboring business that papers with personal information were inside a Dumpster the businesses share, Beaverton officers took possession of seven large boxes of files containing information linked to the center’s former clients. All the files found were connected with the Sylvan Learning Center, reported KOIN-6 News, a Pamplin Media Group news partner.

Beaverton Police are encouraging anyone who’s submitted personal information to the center to check their accounts and credit ratings to ensure they’re not a victim of identity theft.

Van Houten said he sent an email out to existing clients of the learning center, explaining that the files discovered — which he said he hasn’t yet seen — didn’t pertain to them and were at least four years old.

“I haven’t had a call from a client,” he said.

Officers were initially unable to make contact with anyone associated with the center, but later determined the business placed files in the garbage bin as a regular method of records disposal, Shumway said.

“The patrol sergeant and I talked to (Van Houten). In his statement, his employees called him and asked him what to do and he said, ‘Get rid of them,’” Shumway said. “That’s a statement he made to me personally.

“When the patrol sergeant first talked to the owner, his response was, ‘We pay for that part of the Dumpster,’” Shumway added. “He thought we were calling about illegal dumping. I said, ‘No, we’re calling about you putting files in a Dumpster because they contain personal information.”

In the more than 30 years he’s owned the learning center, which offers supplemental education for students of all ages, Van Houten said he’s never kept clients’ credit card or Social Security number information.

“I don’t know where the information came from that we have files containing Social Security numbers and copies of credit cards. We don’t even deal with Social Security numbers, whatsoever. We have parents’ names, addresses and contact numbers. Sure, we process credit cards, but we hand the customer the receipt,” he said.

Shumway described one of the recovered documents he saw as related to some type of financial assistance or student-oriented loan.

“It’s surprising that he would say that it doesn’t contain personal information that can be used for identity theft,” Shumway said, noting there were names, birthdays and enough corresponding information for an unscrupulous individual to apply for credit cards. “There’s not going to be any denying what (pieces of) information that are inside that file.”

Van Houten, who said he recently returned to work after recovering from throat cancer, said he and an employee typically take files older than four years to a Nike or city of Beaverton-sponsored document-shredding event.

“Normally in the past, I take them down, and we take food to Nike, and we take three or four boxes of food down and they purge the files on a Saturday,” Van Houten said. “Last year we didn’t do it. I never considered explaining to the staff that we were going to shred these. Normally the staff that’s been here awhile would know, but the new staff apparently didn’t.”

The Department of Consumer and Business Services is now handling the case. Current and former clients of the Sylvan Learning Center are encouraged to check their accounts and credit ratings to determine if their identity was stolen.

In the wake of recent media attention on the matter, Van Houten got a call from Cintas, a professional document-shredding company.

“We’ve already signed a contract,” he said.




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