Bamboozled: Not-so-private parking

Elizabeth Ruebman knows family day trips are often filled with unexpected adventures.

An adventure is exactly what the Montclair woman got when she packed her three children, ages 10, 8 and 6, into her minivan on Sept. 8.

The quartet headed into New York City for a family baking party. Ruebman decided to take the train, leaving her vehicle in Edison ParkFast’s Secaucus location.

The trouble started when they returned. Ruebman dropped her parking ticket while on the escalator.

“I reached in my bag to get it out and have ready when it just slipped out of my hand, and as I reached for it, it slid perfectly between the side of the escalator and the escalator stair,” she said. “It was like in a movie.”

Not good.

Ruebman explained what happened to the assistant manager, who checked a log to make sure the vehicle had not been there overnight. It hadn’t been, but Ruebman would still have to pay the 24-hour fee.

“That was fine,” she said. “I paid and provided my name, address and phone number and then she asked me to bring the car around to see the tags.”

Ruebman did, and she presented her insurance card so the assistant manager could see that the car was in her name. That’s when the assistant manager insisted she make a copy of Ruebman’s driver’s license.

For privacy reasons, Ruebman refused. The assistant manager said Ruebman could not take the car without providing a copy of her license.

“I explained that it was a security risk to allow someone to copy one’s license and that it was clear the car was mine because the insurance card matched my name and the make of the car,” she said.

A dispute ensued. Ruebman asked the assistant manager to see a written policy that required a copy of the driver’s license, and she asked what would be done with her personal information.

The assistant manager didn’t have anything in writing to share and again insisted Ruebman couldn’t leave without giving a copy of her license.

“She said they copy people’s licenses `all the time’ and no one has any problem with it,” Ruebman said. “I offered her a library card, a credit card and anything else with just my name on it. Finally, after a lot of disagreement, she said, `Fine, just let me see your driver’s license.’”

Ruebman handed it to the assistant manager, who, from behind the cashier’s glass and despite Ruebman’s protests, copied down Ruebman’s driver’s license number and added the paper to a pile on a desk.

“I guess that was our `compromise’ after 20 minutes of wrangling. She took my info against my wishes and I got to finally leave the parking lot,” Ruebman said.

For the next several weeks, Ruebman said, she left several messages with customer service. She finally reached district manager Michael Guarnieri, who confirmed that Edison ParkFast requires a license copy before releasing a car.

Ruebman asked what the company does with the information. Guarnieri said the company keeps it in case someone else says the car really belongs to them.

“He said, `It’s just an extra layer of security,’” Ruebman said. “I explained that the license doesn’t even show that I own the car – the insurance card does – but he couldn’t respond to that.”

She asked again for the company’s privacy policy. The request was ignored, but she was told the hand-copied license number would be mailed to her.

Ruebman received another call on Sept. 30, and the caller asked for the date she parked at the facility.

“I told the guy and he said, `Oh, good. Maybe now I can find it,’ and I said, `Find what?’ and he said, ‘The copy of your credit card,’” she said.

Ruebman explained that it wasn’t a credit card issue and she wanted the policies that requires the copy of the license and protects consumer information.

“Seeing as he could not find mine, I’m thinking they lack a policy,” she said.

The caller said he’d get her that information but Ruebman heard nothing after that, so she contacted Bamboozled.

While we waited for Edison ParkFast to return our messages, we reached out to Adam Levin, chairman and founder of and Identity Theft 911. He said a driver’s license number is critical personal information.

“It is an important piece of the mosaic that helps an identity thief more effectively impersonate a victim,” Levin said.

Many thieves have the equipment to create fake licenses using your number with their pictures. Levin said they could walk into a bank and convince a teller they are you for the purpose of invading your bank account or getting additional information about you, ultimately enabling them to open new accounts in your name.

In this case, Levin said he suspects the employees may have been following “an archaic policy or no policy at all.” He said they should have clearly stated why the personal information was being requested, how it would be used, stored and destroyed.

“Making a copy of it, or recording any information, is excessive,” he said. “Never let them take a photocopy of any ID. If asked for a license, we recommend asking to see their policy, have them explain why the information needed, how it’s kept secure, and how it’s destroyed when it is no longer needed. If they can’t answer that, refuse to hand over your license.”

A few hours after our messages to Edison ParkFast, a company rep left Ruebman a message.

“They wanted to return my license info, which had `been kept locked up’ since they took it. He repeated, “Kept locked up,” she said. “It was not locked up when she threw it on a pile of papers. And it was not locked up when they called me back and said that they cannot find it.”

We called Edison ParkFast again to no avail, but Ruebman did get through to Michael Guarnieri, who said the information stays locked in a secure office where only the “audit team” has access. Ruebman again asked for a copy the privacy policy and was told the company does not share “internal documents” but that Ruebman could come to his office to review the policy.

“Wish I had time to take him up on that one,” she said.

We tried Edison ParkFast again for clarification on its privacy policy and security procedures.

“We require the license as a credible form of photo ID in order to prevent auto theft,” spokeswoman Sandy Stuart said. “This information is then stored in a locked area for safekeeping.”

Stuart said Ruebman’s “information” was located and FedExed to her.

We asked Stuart for a copy of the company’s privacy policy, and that’s when we got an email from Ben Feigenbaum, a company executive vice president. He said the company takes customer protection and safety very seriously.

“Frankly, we are surprised by the suggestion that our requiring proof of a state-issued photo identification card before we release a car to a customer that does not have a corresponding ticket is unreasonable,” Feigenbaum said in an email. “This information is required, and confidentially kept in our records, to protect our customers against release of their property to persons who have no right to receive it.”

He said banks, for example, ask for photo ID in some circumstances, and to that we agree. But the bank doesn’t insist on making a copy of the license.

Ruebman never had a problem showing her license. She just didn’t want a copy made.

We again asked via email to see a copy of the company’s privacy policy, but the company didn’t respond.

Ruebman isn’t satisfied.

“I would say that requiring that they see a credible form of ID is reasonable – although they should have that written at the entrance – but that by requiring a copy, they facilitate identity theft,” she said. “And while they may have recently secured my information, it was decidedly not secure at the parking lot office where it was lying in a pile of papers.”