CANBY, Ore. (KOIN) — Jeff Smith and Diana Peters have been Verizon customers for a while. Like anyone with a cell phone, they take and store pictures on their phones.
But the Canby couple was shocked to learn that photos from his phone appeared on the cell phone of a grandmother they didn’t know.
Those photos included pictures of their family — including their child — along with “intimate photos” of Peters.
She said a local Verizon agent suggested they hire a lawyer. So they did, and now Smith is the plaintiff in a $4 million lawsuit over data breach and invasion of privacy.
“I was absolutely shocked, really horrified,” Peters told KOIN 6 News. She said the pictures are 18 months to 2 years old and included pictures of their son and trips Jeff took.
She said she got a Facebook message and then phone calls from a former co-worker, Nick Crommie, who told her he bought a phone for his grandmother and ended up with photos of Jeff and Diana.
On February 7, “Nick went to Verizon with his grandma and bought his grandma a phone and the download from the cloud was going to take, like, 5 hours,” Peters said. “So he said, OK I’ll take it home and do it at home where I have Wi-Fi.”
The next day Crommie contacted Peters and said Jeff’s photos were mixed in with his grandmother’s photos.
“Nick told me he had photos of me and photos of Jeff and he was really concerned for us, that this isn’t right,” she said. “And he was concerned for his grandma, too.”
She said they got in touch with Verizon customer service but got nowhere. “Nobody knew where to direct me,” she said.
Jeff went to the Verizon store in Molalla and “they didn’t have any answers for him as to how or why it happened,” Peters said. Verizon suggested they re-set the phone, “so we re-set the phone but it still downloaded the same photos.”
That’s when, she said, the Verizon agent “told Jeff, ‘I don’t know what you can do except hire a lawyer, pretty much.’ I thought that’s really weird, but, OK, if that’s what Verizon said we should do then I guess that’s what we should do.”
Smith found out about the photos breach on February 8 and filed the lawsuit in US District Court in Portland on February 14. He’s alleging “Verizon’s data breach … (caused) invasion of privacy, shock, horror, and paralyzed his family with anxiety.”
Officials with Verizon have not returned calls for comment to KOIN 6 News.
Peters said it’s important there be some kind of solution when these things happen and she’s concerned this has happened to other people.
“The pictures of myself, OK, I’m a grown-up. I consented to Jeff taking these photos of me,” Peters told KOIN 6 News. But her son had just potty-trained and was in his “big boy underwear. That’s an exciting, proud moment, and should those have gotten into the wrong hands, he could have easily been exploited and his innocence taken away.”
She wants Verizon to be accountable and put procedures in place for when “cyber mishaps of any sort happen, whether it’s a manmade error or just some fluke in the system. There needs to be a way to handle it or to protect privacy.”
Though the lawsuit is for $4 million, she said what really matters is that Verizon be held accountable.
“Nobody’s said anything beyond, ‘Whoops!'” she said. “It can all be summed down to, ‘Whoops! We don’t know.'”
The incident has been very disturbing, she said. “I shouldn’t be ashamed that my fiance’ took a photo of me. It’s not like I sent it to him or anything. It was just a moment and he took a photo.”
But Jeff Smith and Diana Peters have not canceled their service with Verizon.
They’re under contract “and we can’t afford to cancel.”