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Local 2 Uncovers Personal Information Sent From Houston To Mexico

Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of an Investigates story that aired on Monday, Oct. 29, 2007, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m.

Tonight Local 2 Investigates the security of your personal information. We all work hard to make sure our financial identity doesn't fall into the wrong hands. What you may not know is some of the companies you trust with this sensitive information may be sending it to foreign countries.

It's called outsourcing and KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Robert Arnold joins us with the results of his hidden camera investigation into what one of the countrys largest banking institutions is doing with your personal data.

If you've gotten a loan, you know what type of information is in that file: bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, copies of your driver's license. If the loan is big enough, there's also copies of your tax returns. Our investigation begins with one question: Why is Washington Mutual sending all of this personal information to Mexico?

It's just before 11 a.m. in Juarez, Mexico, and you're watching thousands of files loaded with confidential, personal information from Houston being delivered to a warehouse. Your information could be part of this shipment and you'd never know it.

Before we tell you exactly what these files are, we need to show you were the files came from.

This is Washington Mutual's Consumer Loan records center in northwest Houston. Longtime Washington Mutual employees, who asked not to be identified, tell us more than 1 million consumer loan files from around the country were stored in this secure warehouse.

"You had peoples' lives in your hands or access to them," an employee who worked in the Washington Mutual warehouse said.

But earlier this year Washington Mutual decided to shut down the Houston facility, lay off the employees and ship all the files out. Employees who worked inside this warehouse contacted Local 2 Investigates when they say they became concerned the initial shipments left the warehouse without proper tracking.

"We had several occasions where we knew things had left the building, but they weren't being accounted for on the other end," this confidential source told Local 2.

The other end is Juarez, Mexico.

"You started calling Mexico saying, 'Hey, we need file x-y-z' and Mexico would say what?" Arnold asked.

"We don't have it," our source said.

In May, Local 2 followed one of the trucks as it left Washington Mutual's Houston warehouse and headed west on I-10. We followed that truck through the night to the next morning, hundreds of miles until it arrived in El Paso. A driver from Mexico then picked up the load and we followed him across the border and through the streets of Juarez.

More than 16 hours after leaving Houston, the documents from Washington Mutual loaded with all that sensitive, personal information, finally made it here to the heart of Juarez's "industrial district."

The files were delivered to a warehouse owned by Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, incorporated, or ACS. Our sources say this was part of an outsourcing contract to have all the loan files imaged into a computer data bank then destroyed. Once all the files were shipped Washington Mutual closed its Houston warehouse on July 27.

"When you start outsourcing jobs, that's one thing. When you start outsourcing personal information to another country that makes it even worse," Houston Congressman Ted Poe said. "If I were a consumer and they told me that they were shipping all my loan documents to Mexico I would be a former customer."

But we've learned where the files are being sent may not be the biggest concern.

"On the day the facility was shut down and empty, could Washington Mutual account for every single loan file that was sent to Mexico?" Arnold asked.

"No," our source answered.

Our sources say Washington Mutual lost track of more than 100,000 loan files. Files our sources said were still missing the day the Houston warehouse was shut down.

Poe has concerns about the whole process.

"Somebody else has access to that besides the people that ought to be looking at it," Poe said. "That's very disturbing."

Washington Mutual would not answer Local 2's question as to whether it tracked down all the files. Instead we received this written statement:

"For many years WaMu has worked with vendors based in the U.S. who perform some services in other countries. We don't publicly discuss details of our confidential vendor relationships. The protection of customer information is a top priority for WaMu and our dedicated internal Quality Control organization implements ongoing evaluations of our vendor relationships to ensure that controls are being implemented, both in the transportation of customer information and the management of the information," wrote Missy Latham, Washington Mutual vice president and manager, Southwest Bureau National Public Relations.

We also had questions about how closely guarded your personal information is in Mexico. We'll show you what our hidden cameras spotted and the response from the company handling all that sensitive information. That's tomorrow morning at 6:50.

Then tomorrow night at 10, we'll show you why you may never know when your personal data is sent to a foreign country.