The thieves who struck Serramonte Infiniti in suburban San Francisco in April ignored the dealership's cash and costly equipment. But they hit the jackpot anyway.
They reached into an unlocked cabinet and stole 57 files of customer transactions. The files included credit reports, bank statements, driver's license numbers, credit card information and Social Security numbers.
Two suspects in the robbery are charged with burglary and credit card fraud. They allegedly used the stolen data to make illegal purchases at department stores.
Fifteen customers of the dealership told police in Colma, Calif., that the robbers tried to steal their identities. The crime embarrassed Sonic Automotive Inc., the nation's third-largest auto retail group, which owns the store.
Each year nearly 10 million Americans are victims of identity theft, a crime that costs them roughly $5 billion a year, the Federal Trade Commission estimates. The FTC does not offer specific figures for dealerships. But dealers and their customers are increasingly vulnerable to thieves and computer hackers, security experts say.
Security breaches can subject dealerships to consumer lawsuits, federal and state penalties and lost sales. Dealers are attractive targets because of the personal information they collect about customers.
Financial institutions that compile similar data have made conspicuous efforts to fight identity theft. Citibank has built a popular advertising campaign around the issue. But many dealers are lagging in their efforts to safeguard their customers' sensitive financial records, experts warn.