|Robert Zorn is a hi-tech scavenger who makes a living refurbishing, reworking and reselling discarded gadgets likes computers, DVD players, VCRs and video game consoles.
"When somebody throws it away," Zorn, 20, of Lafayette, La., told MortgageDaily.com, "that's when I want it."
But he got more than he bargained for from a $9 computer he bought at a Goodwill store in Louisiana.
Once he turned it on Zorn discovered it contained the deeply personal information -- Social Security numbers, mortgage applications, credit reports and more -- of about 800 customers of Coast Capital Mortgage Co., a mortgage broker.
"I was like, whoa, I know this shouldn't be on here," Zorn said.
Zorn performed some maintenance on the computer to restore it to full working order but claims he did not copy or even delve much into the information.
"This was very sensitive material that I knew the company wouldn't want out there," he said. "I mean, somebody could have made a lot of money by stealing these peoples' identifies, but I wasn't about to do anything to make that happen."
Zorn said he made several attempts to return the computer, but the company wasn't receptive. At one point he offered to sell the computer back to the company for $3,500, which he calculated as the time he spent working on the computer and trying to get it back to the company.
Zorn has even turned the computer over to the local district attorney, though he has kept a list of the customers names to let them know that about their personal information.
But Zorn now stands accused of trying to extort the company, is being investigated by the police and has been barred by a judge from releasing any of the information.
"I have no intention of releasing the information," Zorn said. "I could have easily done that, but I tried to return the computer and straighten all this out. Instead, I'm the one who is being made out like the bad guy when it was this company that got rid of a computer with all of this personal information."
Zorn denies the extortion allegation, saying he was only trying to sell the computer and disputed claims that he set a deadline for the computer to make the purchase.
Coast Capital representatives, including CEO Robert Genisman, did not return a phone call to comment. Neither did prosecutors in Louisiana's 15th Judicial District Attorney's Office, which is handling the case.
The Associated Press reported that Genisman did release a statement that an employee discarded the computer and apparently thought the information had been erased.
"Our primary concern was immediately for the safe return of all confidential customer information," Genisman reportedly said in the statement. "We took aggressive and immediate action to regain this information to secure it."
Zorn said he has set up an e-mail address, [email protected], for people to write to see if there information is on the computer. But he is not releasing any information, only letting people know if they are included.
Then, they can deal with the company, he said.
Zorn said he is worried that he could face legal problems or even criminal charges.
"I'm trying to do the right thing," Zorn said. "The whole thing has me flabbergasted."