Think documents in the trash are safe from identity thieves? Think again.
No one ever thinks of garbage as valuable, but to an identity theft, your trash can become another person’s treasure. With all of the bills that we pay and the credit card offers that we turn down, there is a paper trail of garbage that contains some of our most personal information.
If someone were to go through your trash and find an unaccepted credit card offer, they might only need to respond to the credit card company and activate the card. Now that the card is usable, a thief can use it to purchase just about anything they wanted. Who is on the hook to pay for all those goods? You.
But if the garbage is stolen from you, are you still liable? The answer is simple: yes. Why? Items discarded in the trash are often classified as abandoned property—meaning the owner has relinquished his claim to the items and doesn’t intend to resume ownership. In 1988, the US Supreme Court actually ruled trash-picking to be legal.
How can you avoid being a victim of a dumpster diver?
- Shred any documents that contain your Social Security number or driver’s license number.
- Shred old bank statements, credit card statements and utility bills.
- If you need to get rid of an old credit card or debit card, make sure you cut it up into pieces first so it can’t be used again.
- Don’t just toss junk mail. Pre-approved credit card offers may allow an identity thief to open an unauthorized account under your name.
- Shred junk mail that discloses your identifying information.
- Do not throw away employment documents and/or tax forms. If you need to get rid of these documents, make sure you shred them first.
- Shred old prescriptions, health insurance forms and medical records.
The key word here is shred. Simply ripping an item a few times by hand will not do. Identity thieves will spend hours putting ripped documents back together like a jigsaw puzzle. After all, they know there can be a huge financial prize for solving the puzzle.
Standard office and home shredders do not offer the peace of mind that comes with knowing your documents are rendered useless with a professional document destruction company. When you consider the time and expenses associated with shredding in-house, it’s definitely in your best interest to outsource your paper shredding needs.
Don’t just toss your unwanted documents. Shred them.
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