Dumpster Diving

Why You Shouldn’t be Throwing Everything in Your Trash

When most people think of identity theft, they may automatically think of internet shopping. Although secure shopping online should always be a top priority for anyone looking to avoid identity theft, there is another risk that you may be overlooking: your trash.

An identity thief can easily obtain valuable personal information including account numbers, credit card information and other financial documents by looking through a person’s trash can. In order to protect yourself from identity theft, it’s a good idea to be careful about what you put into your trash. You can burn your trash or run it through a paper shredder to be safe.

What Can a Thief Learn From my Trash?

Once a person’s trash is outside, it’s considered public property. This means that there is nothing legally stopping anyone from looking through your trash or even taking it home. Whenever a person looks through a trash can, he can immediately target pieces of mail such as bank statements, credit card bills, utility bills or other official documents.

From these documents, an identity thief may be able to glean personal information like account numbers or Social Security numbers. Additionally, there may be blank credit card checks that came with a statement and were ignored by the mail’s recipient; often, people will throw away bills or statements without even looking at them.

One of the easiest ways for an identity thief to access your personal information is to take information from your bills and then call you pretending to be from the utility company. For example, a thief may call to inform you that your last bill was never received and attempt to have you send a credit card payment over the phone. An unwitting consumer can easily give away his bank information this way.

How Do I Protect My Identity?

The best way to protect your identity from trash-picking thieves is to prevent any documents from being placed in the trash. If you are able to burn your trash in your neighborhood, this could be a viable option. Just make sure that you keep your trash stored in a place where no one can get to it until it’s ready to be burned.

A better option for most city-dwellers is to purchase a paper shredder. Manually shredding paper by hand is not good enough; it’s too easy to put documents together that have been torn, and most people don’t have the time or patience to manually shred all of their mail.

Instead, purchase a paper shredder from an office supply store. Shredders are inexpensive and usually quite compact. The shredded paper can be recycled or even used as bedding for small pets. This will help to reduce the amount of waste your household creates and makes it even less likely that thieves will get hold of your documents.

Another option is to switch to paperless billing for all of your accounts. By keeping all of your documents online where they can be protected with a password, you reduce the amount of trash that may have your information on it. Not only does paperless billing cause less of a threat to your security, but it’s also better for the environment.

If you do keep all of your documents online, be sure that your computer is fortified against security breaches. Maintain up-to-date anti-virus software, keep a firewall on your internet and always use secure passwords. All of this will help to protect you from identity theft.