Store's Floor Model Computer Loaded With Woman's Personal Info

Circuit City Says There Should Be No Expectation Of Privacy

Imagine receiving a phone call from a stranger who knew your most private thoughts, knew what you looked like, knew your Social Security number, and even knew how much you make and where you work.

That happened to a Colorado woman after she took her computer to a major electronics store.

Her situation may be surprising given all the warnings about identity theft. But it's not surprising if you think for a moment about what's on your personal computer. There may be files about your income, business records, taxes, personal e-mails, dirty jokes, pictures and more.

It's all personal information unless you took your computer to a local retailer.

Susan, who asked us to conceal her true identity, did just that.

"I do want the general public to know this information. I want them to be aware that their privacy is not protected when they go into that store," said Susan.

That store is Circuit City.

Last June Susan went to the Circuit City store in Boulder to buy a new computer. She asked to have the files from her old computer saved to a disk.

"Let's just say I had many years of private writings, papers, personal information, pictures," Susan said.

Circuit City employees copied those private writings and papers onto a floor model computer then onto a disk. But they never removed Susan's personal files from that floor model computer. A few days later, that computer was sold.

"That evening I got a call from a strange man that I do not know who told me he purchased a desktop floor model computer which contained all of my personal information," Susan said.

When she finished talking with him, she said she felt "shock and fear and anger and disappointment that this happened."

"I can't even express the deep violation that I feel," she said.

Susan said it got worse. She said she questioned Circuit City and was told it was her fault for having those personal files on her computer and for expecting Circuit City to protect her privacy.

That's when she filed suit.

"I don't believe they have a solid legal argument here," said Howard Bernstein, Susan's attorney.

"They're coming up with some argument that it's not really your personal computer or you can't treat it as your personal computer if you bring it into our store. There is no expectation of privacy," Bernstein said.

7NEWS' hidden cameras found a change at Circuit City stores after Susan filed suit.

Employees now offer to transfer files for a fee and promise to protect your information.

"We don't download anything onto our computers whatsoever because it's a liability for you and it's also a liability for us as well," said a Circuit City employee.

That's a change from what Circuit City is telling Susan in court. The company says it had "no contractual duty" because the transfer was done at no charge and with no promises to protect her privacy.

Susan believes any reasonable customer expects a major computer seller would protect their privacy.

"According to them, I'm the only one who feels this way. I'm the only customer who has a problem with the fact that they don't have any respect for a customer's privacy," Susan said.

The two sides will settle their differences later this month.

Because of the pending litigation, officials with Circuit City denied our request for an on-camera interview.

In court documents, the company admits to a mistake with Susan's information but also believes they were under no legal obligation to protect her privacy since she did not specifically ask for protection.

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