For the majority of the population, throwing old papers in the trash is an innocuous task that you rarely give a second thought. However, your recycling and trash cans can be a potential goldmine and an open invitation for identity theft for thieves.
How many times have you thrown away mail such as utility bills, bank and credit card statements, IRS letters, and everyday documents that detail your personal information? You may think this sensitive information has been disposed of as soon as you close your trash can; however, if these details get into the wrong hands, you could become a victim of fraud.
So, don’t give dumpster divers the opportunity to steal your information. With these five simple steps, you can keep your identity safe and avoid being a victim.
1. Shred Your Sensitive Information
Shredding your personal and sensitive information and making it illegible is a perfect deterrent to identity thieves and one of the best ways to prevent identity theft. This is because potential thieves can use any documents that contain personal details to steal your identity.
Without shredding this information before you throw it out, you are making it easier for people to use your details to sign up for an array of criminal activities, including credit and bank cards, passports, and even rental properties.
The best way to properly shred your documents is with a cross-cut shredder that cuts paper vertically and horizontally; the smaller the pieces, the harder it is for thieves to make out your details.
Alternatively, for an eco-friendly option, try pulping your documents. Place the papers in a large tub and cover them with water. Leave overnight, then use a drill with a paint stirring attachment to mix the damp paper to a fine pulp. Spread out the pulp on a tray and allow it to dry. You can then use the pulp as mulch for your garden.
2. Separate Your Personal Information
If you decide to shred all your sensitive information and cut through the magnetic strips and numbers on credit cards, you should also separate these shredded documents for extra security.
Place parts of each item in different trash bags. This prevents the risk of a thief finding the same document cut up in the same bag. It’s also essential to dispose of them at different times. This is because dedicated identity thieves have the patience to piece together shredded documents and also have no problem doing so if they know there’s money to be stolen.
With shredded documents being placed in different bags and disposed of one at a time, you are drastically reducing the risk of becoming a victim of dumpster diving identity theft.
3. Take Your Receipts With You
While it may seem more convenient to leave ATM and gas station receipts and other forms of similar information in the trash can at the location, it is a much safer idea to take them with you.
This is because identity thieves can cleverly use these receipts to obtain your financial information. Patient thieves can use multiple receipts to piece together full or partial credit card numbers. If the receipts also include the card’s expiry date, they can use the information to make unauthorized purchases or withdraw cash.
So, once you return home, get into a habit of immediately discarding any receipts that don’t need to be kept. This responsible disposal could be the difference between peace of mind and a devastating fraudulent crime waiting to happen.
4. Dispose of Pre-Approval Offers
The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that criminals can retrieve credit cards and loan pre-approvals and attempt to activate the cards without your knowledge. Furthermore, if your mail is delivered to an address where others can readily access it, criminals and identity thieves can easily intercept and redirect your mail to a different location.
With this in mind, shredding and destroying pre-approved offers is just as vital as the responsible disposal of bank statements and other sensitive information. If you want to reduce your risk of identity theft even further, you can opt-out of pre-approval offers. Depending on the financial institution, there are options to either opt-out for five years or opt out permanently.
5. Destroy Any E-Junk
E-junks are electronics that are nearing the end of their product life, such as computers, phones, tablets, and other common products consumers use daily.
When the time comes to upgrade and depart with older models, you need to properly recycle or dispose of your old electronics. Make sure they are wiped of any information that could be deemed sensitive before sending it to be recycled or throwing it in the dumpster.
But, it is not as easy as just deleting a file. This is because when files are deleted, the links to reconstruct the file are disposed of. What is not disposed of is information from the deleted file, which will stay on your computer until someone overwrites it. Until they are overwritten, thieves can recover them using a data recovery program.
These files that you thought no longer existed can contain website passwords to bank and credit card accounts, prescription and medical information, and even old tax returns stored and sitting dormant in forgotten folders. A clever identity thief can easily retrieve this information and exploit it, using it to gain financially.
If this is something you are worried about, there are ways you can ensure your hard drive is completely wiped. You do this by installing a program from your computer manufacturer that will transfer all your data onto your new device. Alternatively, if you want to make sure everything is gone, you can consult a trusted and licensed expert to assess your device and ensure it is clean and safe to discard.
Prevent Dumpster Diving Identity Theft
Dumpster diving is more common than many people believe, and opportunistic criminals can obtain vast amounts of personal identification from documents people consider to be trash.
By properly disposing of papers featuring details like your bank account numbers, Social Security Number, birthday, or any other personal data, you can minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity fraud.
✎ Related: How to Report Identity Theft to the FTC ➔
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