Do You Know Who's Looking Through Your Trash – The Growing Problem of Identity Theft

Putting trash cans out on the curb is an invitation for criminals to forage through your garbage and find personal papers, cancelled checks, bank statements and rejected credit card offers.

If the wrong person gets this information, he can disrupt your life. Identity theft is a huge problem, and it’s known that trash picking, or dumpster diving, is the primary means by which this happens.

If someone gets a hold of personal documents, they can easily open an account in your name. You won’t know about it until you receive a surprise statement, or discover that your credit is ruined. Straightening out this mess will take hundreds of hours, not to mention the wages lost as a result.

There is also growing awareness among law enforcement officials that trash can picking is extremely lucrative. It’s believed that criminal groups have organized themselves to make sure that all trash cans in a given area are covered.

Since identify theft is on the upswing, and a major inconvenience, here are some ways to save yourself from becoming a victim.

1. Report Any Unusual Activity. There are some harmless trash pickers as well as criminals. Some folks are just looking for empty beer and soda cans to recycle. Others are just looking for leftover food. (Please, if you see someone hungry, give them some real food.) There is also the criminal element. It doesn’t hurt to tell local police that someone is poking through trash cans in your neighborhood.

2. Don’t Put Your Trash Out Too Early. Criminals are familiar with the trash pickup schedule. Placing trash bins out the day before gives them plenty of time to do their work, and they don’t seem to care that it is a very dirty job. If you can, bring your trash to the curb right before the truck comes.

3. Never Put Personal Papers Directly in the Trash. This advice applies even more so to recycling bins. Make sure your personal papers are shredded before disposing of them. I even rip my name off of promotional fliers before putting them out to be recycled. Anything with my name on it will be shredded.

4. Invest in a Paper Shredder. Security experts say a cross-cut paper shredder is best, as if affords more protection against ‘unshredding,’ or reassembling tiny scraps of paper. Believe it or not, this is an area that’s also attractive to criminal groups. You can purchase a decent-quality paper shredder for about $50-$60.