The paper trail stretched for blocks, billowing in the cold breeze on Columbus Avenue. It was not litter, but bits and pieces of people's lives.
There were copies of bank statements, 401k statements, credit reports, tax returns and more driver's licenses than we could count.
Elyssa Shapiro was on her way to work and couldn't believe what she was seeing.
"Just all kinds of information. Things that you never want anyone to know about yourself," she said. "It was four blocks worth of personal information and it was identity theft waiting to happen."
The documents belonged to the local office of Citi Habitats, one of New York's best-known real estate firms. Their clients, whose personal information we found amid the trash, were appalled.
"I feel kind of sick to be honest," former client Laura Dannen said.
Dannen used the firm to find an apartment in 2006. We found her name, phone number and annual income on a registration form.
"Just in the gutter? My life was in the gutter. That's nice," she said.
Paul Addessi is a doctor in Arizona. We found a portion of his 2006 tax return, listing his income and his social security number.
"They're getting the information, all this tax information, driver's license and everything, and they're not shredding the documents. They have a responsibility to shred the documents that they don't need," he said.
New York State law requires businesses to destroy or delete personal information before disposing of it.
Citi Habitat's president released a statement that read, in part, "We believe that during a refurbishing of our 465 Columbus Avenue office, paper that should have been shredded was improperly placed as trash.
"We took immediate steps," he insisted, "to investigate and remediate this isolated incident, and are notifying those customers whose information may have been compromised."
The firm did, in fact, send workers to clean up the mess. But we were still finding documents a block away a full eight hours after the clean up was over.
The documents that we saw appeared to pertain to real estate transactions that took place in 2006 and 2007. The firm insists its policy is to destroy all documents that they no longer need, but they could not explain why that did not happen in this case.
NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS
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